There's no doubt depression can have a host of negative effects on health. Currently, more than 300 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the disease. As if being depressed isn’t bad enough, these individuals also are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and type 2 diabetes. They’re also more prone to disregard medical treatments, and they face greater risk of dying prematurely.

Vigorous aerobic exercise is considered an effective treatment for depression. In fact, Harvard Medical School notes that a rigorous exercise program is "about as effective as antidepressant medications or cognitive behavioral therapy," both of which are considered standard treatments for depression.

But what about weights? Recently, a team of researchers from Ireland, Sweden, and the United Sates investigated the connection between depression and strength training among people middle-aged and older. According to their recently published study, resistance training can have a significant impact, too.[1]

If You Have a Pulse, Strength Exercise Can Help with Depression

This study was a meta-analysis: A review of previous studies—in this case, 33 individual studies including nearly 2,000 participants. Some of the participants had been diagnosed with mental disorders, while others experienced depression because of illness, injury, obesity, anxiety, or old age. About half of the people (930) were placed into a control group that did not receive treatment. The rest (947) actively participated in a regular program of strength training.

In all the studies, strength training was associated with significant reductions in symptoms of depression. This was true regardless of the participant's age, sex, or health status; whether they trained for two weeks or a year; whether they worked out twice a week or every day; and whether their workout was high volume and intense or more moderate. When participants were supervised as they worked out, they experienced even greater relief from depression symptoms.

Lifting Weights Can Help Alleviate Depression

Match Your Workout to Your Training Level

Interestingly, participants in the 33 studies reviewed felt less depressed whether or not they ended up becoming more fit. The researchers did find that the more depressed participants were, the more benefit the training provided. They found that untrained participants received the most benefit from moderate intensity workouts, while trained participants received the most benefit from more vigorous workouts. An earlier study noted that strength training can help alleviate depression among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.[2]

Feel Less Depressed, and More!

A good fitness program comprises an exercise plan that works for you, a healthy meal plan, and proper motivation. If you're just starting out, find a trainer to help you get started, or find a plan that provides good instruction and proper nutrition. Once you do strength training for a week or so, you might discover why many people find it so addicting. You feel great immediately afterward. You may sleep better, too. And you may soon notice that you have more energy than you did before.

  1. Gordon, B. R., McDowell, C. P., Hallgren, M., Meyer, J. D., Lyons, M., & Herring, M. P. (2018). Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry.
  2. Levinger, I., Selig, S., Goodman, C., Jerums, G., Stewart, A., & Hare, D. L. (2011). Resistance training improves depressive symptoms in individuals at high risk for type 2 diabetes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(8), 2328-2333.

About the Author

Hobart Swan

Hobart Swan

Hobart Swan formerly wrote and edited for He also worked as a producer of health content for CBS Radio, and as a health-content specialist at Healthwise, the nation’s...

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