A Meta-Analysis on the Benefits of Exercise in Treatment of Depression


Schuch,  F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P.B., & Stubbs B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42-51.


The idea that exercise and physical activity can improve symptoms of depression has been around for a long time. Results have been conflicting and there have been concerns about bias. This meta-analysis combined results from 25 randomized controlled trial’s comparing exercise to a control condition as a treatment for depression. The review included nine studies of participants with major depressive disorder. The overall effect size adjusted for bias was very large, 1.11(95%CI 0.79-1.43). Adjusting for publication bias actually resulted in a larger effect size. Larger effects were associated with interventions in people with major depressive disorder, those who engaged in aerobic exercise, and those who exercised in both supervised and unsupervised formats.

I like this report because it represents the coming of age of another non-pharmacological treatment for depression that is non-stigmatizing and popular in people with disabilities that we have studied. Exercise also has many positive side effects. Psychologists can learn to guide home-based exercise and physical activity interventions and should be able to bill for them via Health and Behavior codes. We should not wait to exploit the potential benefits of exercise as another depression treatment option among people with disabilities who are able to engage in moderate physical activity.

THIS MONTH’S REHAB SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT was selected by Charles Bombardier, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Division of Clinical and Neuropsychology at the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington and a member of Division 22’s Science Committee.