Exercise is good for depression, but what kind of exercise is better and how well does it work, is resistance training better than aerobic exercise?
The prestigious journal JAMA Psychiatry has published a lengthy meta-analysis of 33 studies looking into the effectiveness of resistance training (RET) in reducing depressive symptoms. RET includes exercises such as weight training, push ups, etc., and is usually recommended for building strength, skeletal muscle mass and endurance, but the antidepressant effect is less well studied.
Aerobic exercise has been well-established as an effective intervention for depression, and exercise is highly recommended because it is affordable, accessible, and has other health benefits, such as reducing cardiovascular diseases.
The current analysis looked at studies that considered the use of resistance training in reducing depressive symptoms in order to see if there was good evidence for such use, and also to try to determine if there is a comparison with the effectiveness of aerobic exercise.
In general, it was found that RET is helpful in reducing depressive symptoms, particularly in those who have received a diagnosis of mild to moderate or severe depression. Supervised training sessions of less than 45 minutes had the best results, with unsupervised training showing less effectiveness.
The effect was not just statistically significant. It was also clinically significant. The mean percentage reduction from baseline scores was 45% – which would make it as effective as antidepressant medications.
More research is needed to clearly compare the antidepressant effects of different types of exercise, including the length and intensity of the resistance training – number of sessions, number of repetitions, etc, and also the effect of social interaction, whether the exercise is done in groups or alone. However, it is clear that exercise of any kind is an important addition to the treatment arsenal for major depression.
For More Information
Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Hallgren M, Meyer JD, Lyons M, Herring MP. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms, Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 09, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572