by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Depression is a mental illness marked by feelings of profound sadness and lack of interest in activities. People with depression have symptoms that range from persistent feelings of emptiness to thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms can lead to missing days of work or complete disability, making depression a very costly disorder. Standard treatment involves the use of medicine, counseling, and therapy, such as exercise. Exercise has been shown to relieve some of the symptoms of depression.

Researchers wanted to estimate the association of efficacy of resistance exercise training with depressive symptoms. Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance to increase strength. The resistance used may be free weights, body weight, or rubber exercise tubing. This study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that resistance training reduced depressive symptoms among adults.

About the Study

The systematic review of 33 randomized controlled trials included 1,877 adults. The participants had a physical or mental disability, were elderly, or were law enforcement workers. Participants were randomized to an resistance training group and usual care (947 participants) or a control group that had just usual care (930 participants). The training group worked out two to seven days a week for a mean of 16 weeks.

Depressive symptoms were evaluated before the study, in the middle of the study, and after the study. The information was collected using self-reports or a clinician-rated measure of symptoms. Compared to the control group, the resistance training group was associated with reduced depressive symptoms.

How Does this Affect You?

A systematic review combines a number of smaller trials to create a larger pool of participants. The larger the pool of participants, the more reliable the outcomes are. The studies included here had many quality issues. It's unclear which participants were actually diagnosed with a depressive disorder. It is also unclear whether the participants were receiving other interventions, such as medicines, and what they were. The participants also knew which group they were in. All of these factors could have affected how the they reacted to treatments, especially given that many of the outcomes were self-reported.

Several other studies also found exercise to be an effective part of an overall plan to relieve symptoms of depression. There are many different types of exercise. Try different ones to find what works best for you. This makes it easier to keep your exercise program going. There are many different factors that can affect depression. Work with your care team to find which combination of treatment works best for you including lifestyle changes.

RESOURCES—US Department of Health and Human Services 

National Institute of Mental Health 


Gordon BR, McDowell CP, et al. Association of efficacy of resistance exercise training with depressive symptoms: meta-analysis and meta-regression analysis of randomized clinical trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 1;75(6):566-576.

Major depressive disorder (MDD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated August 23, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 08/2018