Can Lifting Weights Ease Depression Symptoms?

By Beth Leipholtz 05/18/18

A new study explored the potential link between resistance training and decreased depression symptoms. 

 Man and woman lifting weights in a gym

If you struggle with depression, frequent trips to lift weights at the gym could benefit more than your physical health, a new study says.

According to The Independent, research from the University of Limerick in Ireland has determined that resistance training (lifting weights) affects the mind in a positive way.

Specifically, researchers state that weight-lifting is connected “with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.”

The research was published in JAMA Psychiatry. For the study, researchers examined 33 different clinical studies involving 1,877 people.

Researchers came to the conclusion that weight-lifting helped “helped improve low mood, a loss of interest in activities and feelings of unworthiness.”

According to the study, this was the case regardless of an individual’s sex, age, health status or specific exercise regimen.

Brett Gordon, the lead author of the study, said in an email to Time that while resistance training is not a cure for depression, it seems to be effective as a form of antidepressant and behavioral therapy.

“Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores, suggesting [resistance exercise training] may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms," he said. 

Though the research is encouraging, Women’s Health reports that researchers weren’t able to determine exactly why a decrease in depression symptoms seemed to be linked with resistance training.

“While Brett’s study found a link, it wasn’t able to dice out exactly why people who do strength training have less symptoms of depression or that strength training even caused the improvement in depression symptoms. (It could be that people in the study who saw improvements in depression symptoms also just happened to lift weights, for example),” the article stated. 

Gordon also told Time that because researchers studied a variety of strength-training programs, one cannot be recommended as the best regimen.

He recommends people follow guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, which state that strength training should be done at least two days per week with eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 different exercises to build strength each time.

Study authors make note that more research is needed to determine whether resistance training is as effective as other types of treatment, such as medications. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.