Skip to content

Aerobic exercise + strength training = lower odds of depression

A USQ-led study has found that people who engaged in both aerobic exercise and strength training were less likely to report a history of diagnosed depression, compared to those who were less active.

Adding strength-based workouts, such as push-ups, sit-ups and squats to your exercise routine could be the key to happiness, according to a study of more than 1.4 million adults.

The research, led by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), found that people who engaged in high levels of both aerobic exercise and strength training were less likely to report a history of diagnosed depression, compared to those who were less active.

While the benefits of aerobic exercise for depression are well-established, this is the largest study to examine the association between the two modes of exercise with clinically diagnosed depression.

The research was based on an analysis of surveys involving 1.48 million adults in the United States between 2011-2017, of which 18 per cent were diagnosed with depression.

The sample was divided into 20 groups according to the amount of combined aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise they did.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines for physical activity encourages adults to do at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity and two muscle-strengthening workouts each week.

The results, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, showed that those who did twice the recommended amount of physical activity reduced their odds of depression by almost 50 per cent compared to those who were inactive.

It also revealed that compared to those doing no activity, there appeared to be anti-depressive benefits among those doing low-to-moderate levels of both aerobic and strength exercise.

“Our study advocates that combining strength training with aerobic activities like jogging or cycling is likely to be the best thing for your mental health,” said lead author Dr Jason Bennie, a Senior Research Fellow from USQ’s Physically Active Lifestyles Research Group.

“With most previous physical activity and depression studies focusing solely on aerobic exercise, our findings provide a further in-depth understanding of the associations between different types of physical activity and mental health.

“This type of research could help guide future approaches to preventing and treating common mental health conditions.

“The study’s main outcomes could be used to inform future clinician-patient interaction at the individual level, to guiding public health policies designed to enhance mental health at the population level.”

Dr Bennie said anyone who thinks strength training only involves lifting heavy weights at the gym should think again.

“In order to prevent chronic disease through exercise, we need to move beyond the common stereotypes associated with strength training,” he said.

“Strength training does not necessarily mean you have to be in the gym at least five days a week training different body parts.

“This and other studies show there is likely to be many health benefits to doing strength training two or more days per week, involving major muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, legs, back and abdominals.

“This can be achieved in a park or in the home by doing push-ups, squats, lunges and sit-ups.

“Importantly, for optimal health and wellbeing, recent studies are now suggesting that if you can combine strength training with aerobic exercise, there is likely to have even more health benefits. This is particularly so when someone goes from doing no activity to doing some activity.”

The study, ‘Joint and dose-dependent associations between aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity with depression: A cross-sectional study of 1.48 million adults between 2011 and 2017’ made adjustments for various factors, including age, gender, income, education, smoking, alcohol and the presence of comorbidities, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and functional limitations.

The study can be accessed here

Man sitting at table
USQ researcher Dr Jason Bennie.