The effects of exercise on depression have been a source of contentious debate. Meta-analyses have demonstrated a range of effect sizes. Both inclusion criteria and heterogeneity may influence the effect sizes reported. The extent and influence of publication bias is also unknown. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were identified from a recent Cochrane review and searches of major electronic databases from 01/2013 to 08/2015. We included RCTs of exercise interventions in people with depression (including those with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) or ratings on depressive symptoms), comparing exercise versus control conditions. A random effects meta-analysis calculating the standardized mean difference (SMD, 95% confidence interval; CI), meta-regressions, trim and fill and fail-safe n analyses were conducted. Twenty-five RCTs were included comparing exercise versus control comparison groups, including 9 examining participants with MDD. Overall, exercise had a large and significant effect on depression (SMD adjusted for publication bias = 1.11 (95% CI 0.79-1.43)) with a fail-safe number of 1057. Most adjusted analyses suggested publication bias led to an underestimated SMD. Larger effects were found for interventions in MDD, utilising aerobic exercise, at moderate and vigorous intensities, in a supervised and unsupervised format. In MDD, larger effects were found for moderate intensity, aerobic exercise, and interventions supervised by exercise professionals. Exercise has a large and significant antidepressant effect in people with depression (including MDD). Previous meta-analyses may have underestimated the benefits of exercise due to publication bias. Our data strongly support the claim that exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression.
Keywords: Depression; Exercise; Meta-analysis; Meta-regression; Publication bias; Review.
Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.