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Weight Training’s Surprising Effects on Depression

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Could a cure for depression be found in the weight room? Data from a study published in JAMA Psychiatry (2018; 75 [6], 566–76) points to that conclusion. The meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials, featuring 1,877 participants, found a link between resistance training (RET) and a reduction in depressive symptoms.

While this study did not try to determine precisely how weight training might affect depression, Brett Gordon, MS, study author and postgraduate researcher for the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, Ireland, offered some suggestions:

“Cognitive and psychological mechanisms [could] include the expectancy of improved mental health following exercise, social interaction and social support, and improved cognitive control. Neurobiological theories involve systems that [influence] both how depression develops and how exercise affects the brain.”

The study also found that improvements occurred regardless of training volume,
a detail Gordon believes could be investigated further.

“Although a lack of consistent reporting limited our ability to more thoroughly examine features of the exercise stimulus, this finding is consistent with previous research examining the effect of RET on anxiety,” he says. “Future trials are needed to explore the optimal RET routine for improving depressive symptoms.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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