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Living with depression? Weight training might help

Plenty of studies have shown that aerobic exercise (like running, cycling and swimming) can boost your mood, but now new research suggests that strength training has similar feel-good benefits. According to a review of past clinical trials, resistance exercises — from doing push-ups to pumping iron — can help significantly reduce symptoms of depression.

For the review, published in the June issue of JAMA Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland analyzed results from 33 previous experiments, with a total of more than 1,800 participants. As the New York Times reported, these experiments included testing for depression both before and after the prescribed amount of training.

The results? Whether participants worked out a couple of times a week or daily, resistance training of any kind reduced symptoms of depression. What’s more, those with “mild to moderate depression” experienced the greatest improvements, postgraduate researcher and lead study author Brett Gordon told The Independent. In other words, resistance training “may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms,” Gordon explained.

Of the clinical trials included in the review, only a few of them looked at aerobic exercise in addition to strength training, making it difficult to compare the benefits of something like running to weightlifting, according to the New York Times. Still, Gordon and his colleagues concluded that they likely have “similar impacts on depression,” Times reporter Gretchen Reynolds wrote.

Of course, researchers can’t say for certain how or why strength training reduces symptoms of depression, only that it does. As Gordon told the Times, resistance exercises could influence certain functions of the brain, including the release of mood-boosting neurochemicals.

“Expectancy could also be at work,” he added. It’s similar to the placebo effect: People who work out expect to feel better, so they do.

Until more research is done, Gordon and his colleagues agree that strength training could be used as an effective additional treatment (along with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy) for depression.

Gordon's Rx: Try strength training a couple times a week, doing eight to 12 reps of eight to 10 different exercises each time, he told The Independent.

You can muscle those negative thoughts right out of your head!

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About the Author

Shannan Rouss is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for magazines including Self, Prevention, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, and her work has appeared online at, and elsewhere.

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