More than 320 million people around the world suffer from depression. Physical activity and sports are effective treatment strategies. Endurance training has already been intensively studied, but any potential antidepressant effect of resistance training is unknown at present, nor is it clear whether this could yield any relevant benefit in clinical use.
The PubMed database was selectively searched for recent studies and review articles concerning the use, efficacy, and safety of resistance training in persons with depressive symptoms and diagnosed depression.
Two meta-analyses revealed that resistance training alleviated depressive symptoms with a low to moderate effect size (0.39-0.66). Resistance training in patients with diagnosed depression was studied in seven randomized controlled trials, in which the duration of the intervention ranged from eight weeks to eight months. In six of these trials, the depressive symptoms were reduced. In one trial, a persistent benefit was seen in the resistance-training group at 26 months of follow-up (adherence, 33%). Moreover, resistance training improved strength, quality of life, and quality of sleep. No serious adverse events occurred; this indicates that resistance training in depression is safe.
Resistance training seems to have an antidepressant effect. Open questions remain concerning its effects in different age groups, as well as the optimal training parameters. Further high-quality trials will be needed to document the effect of resistance training more conclusively and to enable the formulation of treatment recommendations.