Strength Training Has a Mild Antidepressant Effect: Research

Depression, a condition that affected roughly 280 million people globally in 2019, is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Despite the widespread use of medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and psychotherapy, a significant portion of those affected don’t fully recover, highlighting a critical need for complementary treatment strategies.

A recent study published in Psychiatry Research provides evidence in favour of strength training as a potential complementary strategy to combat depression. This research, a meta-analysis of 38 previous studies, demonstrates that strength training can moderately reduce symptoms of depression. The analysis also highlights how the duration of the intervention, weekly frequency, and specifics such as the number of sets and repetitions can influence this antidepressant effect.

Among these, exercise, including strength training, has shown promise in reducing depressive symptoms. However, previous research has not fully explored how different aspects of strength training contribute to its antidepressant effects. This knowledge gap led researchers to conduct a detailed analysis, aiming to refine exercise prescriptions for individuals with depression.

Senior author Lucas Melo Neves explained that his PhD research had focused on the intersection of exercise and brain health. In 2020, he embarked on a postdoctoral journey at the University of São Paulo’s Psychiatry Institute, where he sought to delve deeper into the nuances of how exercise influences mental health.

Initially, over two thousand articles were identified, but through a process of elimination based on titles, abstracts, and full-text assessments, the final analysis included 38 studies. These studies comprised a diverse sample of 2439 participants.

Interestingly, the researchers also explored differences in the antidepressant effects of isolated strength training versus strength training combined with other forms of exercise, such as aerobic training. While strength training alone showed a moderate and significant effect, the combination of strength training with other exercises did not significantly alter the outcome.