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Get Depressed Patients to Lift Weights

Resistance exercise training significantly reduces depressive symptoms, a new meta-analysis has found.

According to international researchers who looked at over 30 randomised clinical trials on the subject, resistance exercise training including activities such as weight lifting reduced depressive symptoms by an average of a third. In fact, the meta-analysis findings suggested that resistance exercise training may be particularly helpful for reducing symptoms in patients with more severe depression.

The study results, published in JAMA Psychiatry, concluded that only four people needed to be treated in order to have one to show significant benefit from the intervention. And the improvement inn depressive symptoms occurred regardless of the patient’s overall health status, the volume of resistance training exercise the patient undertook or any improvements in strength the patient experienced.

And while the study authors made sure to point out their analysis was not comparing this exercise program with other treatments for depression, reducing symptoms by an average of a third certainly compares with other treatments currently available for this condition.

“The available empirical evidence supports [resistance exercise training) as an alternative or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms,” the researchers said.

What we still don’t know, apparently is exactly what sort of exercise, at what intensity, how frequently and for how long is required until a significant improvement in the depression is achieved. Many of the randomised controlled trials included in the meta-analysis did not measure all these parameters. What the researchers did find was that supervised training programs appeared more effective than non-supervised, which may reflect adherence to the exercise regimen. They also said the most common frequency of resistance exercise training was three times a week.

The study authors suggested the limitations of the studies included in this analysis should help direct further research.

“Future trials, matching different exercise modes on relevant features of the exercise stimulus, will allow more rigorous and controlled comparisons between exercise modalities, and the examination of interactions between factors such as frequency, intensity, duration and exercise modality,” they said.

But regardless of the lack of fine print, the results of this moderate-sized effect of resistance exercise training reported in this study and the complete lack of adverse effects, would seem sufficient to justify recommending it to patients with depression, at least as an adjunctive treatment for one of Australia’s most common mental illnesses.

Ref: JAMA Psychiatry doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572