Dropout from exercise randomized controlled trials among people with depression: A meta-analysis and meta regression

J Affect Disord. 2016 Jan 15:190:457-466. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.10.019. Epub 2015 Oct 29.


Objective: Exercise has established efficacy in improving depressive symptoms. Dropouts from randomized controlled trials (RCT's) pose a threat to the validity of this evidence base, with dropout rates varying across studies. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the prevalence and predictors of dropout rates among adults with depression participating in exercise RCT's.

Method: Three authors identified RCT's from a recent Cochrane review and conducted updated searches of major electronic databases from 01/2013 to 08/2015. We included RCT's of exercise interventions in people with depression (including major depressive disorder (MDD) and depressive symptoms) that reported dropout rates. A random effects meta-analysis and meta regression were conducted.

Results: Overall, 40 RCT's were included reporting dropout rates across 52 exercise interventions including 1720 people with depression (49.1 years (range=19-76 years), 72% female (range=0-100)). The trim and fill adjusted prevalence of dropout across all studies was 18.1% (95%CI=15.0-21.8%) and 17.2% (95%CI=13.5-21.7, N=31) in MDD only. In MDD participants, higher baseline depressive symptoms (β=0.0409, 95%CI=0.0809-0.0009, P=0.04) predicted greater dropout, whilst supervised interventions delivered by physiotherapists (β=-1.2029, 95%CI=-2.0967 to -0.3091, p=0.008) and exercise physiologists (β=-1.3396, 95%CI=-2.4478 to -0.2313, p=0.01) predicted lower dropout. A comparative meta-analysis (N=29) established dropout was lower in exercise than control conditions (OR=0.642, 95%CI=0.43-0.95, p=0.02).

Conclusions: Exercise is well tolerated by people with depression and drop out in RCT's is lower than control conditions. Thus, exercise is a feasible treatment, in particular when delivered by healthcare professionals with specific training in exercise prescription.

Keywords: Depression; Dropout; Exercise; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*