Resistance training shows promise in reducing depressive symptoms among underserved Black men

Jennifer E. Engen

There is previous evidence that exercise can help depression. A study published in BMC Psychiatry investigated if resistance training can benefit Black men, a group that is less likely to seek treatment, with depressive symptoms.

Depression is a highly prevalent and serious problem worldwide. Black men are a group that are especially vulnerable to having depression be underreported and undertreated. There are significant stigmas and barriers to care for Black men who want to seek out help for their mental illness.

Resistance training, such as weightlifting, has been linked to improvement in depression symptoms in previous research. It has not been studied in regard to Black men but could be a very useful intervention for this group, since resistance training is a widely accepted form of exercise for Black men. This study aims to bridge that gap in research and see the effects of resistance training on Black men’s depressive symptoms.

Study author Joseph T. Ciccolo and his colleagues recruited participants from the community who identified as cisgender Black or African American men 21-years-old or older. They had a total of 50 participants and randomized 25 to each group. 44% of participants were HIV positive and the mean age was 41.34 years. Both groups were offered 2 hour-long sessions per week for 12 weeks for a total of 24 offered sessions.

The resistance training group had physical resistance training and behavioral activation, while the attention-control group had health, wellness, and education, where they watched videos and discussed.

Results showed that resistance training showed a significantly higher reduction in depression for Black men than the educational control condition did. These results were seen both immediately after their training program and after a 6-month follow up period. The effect sizes of these results were similar to a recent meta-analysis on antidepressant medication vs placebo, which is especially significant for Black men because exercise does not have the same barriers as psychiatric treatment, especially for this group.

This study took very important steps into understanding how exercise can be an intervention for Black men with depressive symptoms. Despite this, it has some limitations. Firstly, the sample only included men with mild to moderate depressive symptoms and it cannot be assumed the effects would be found in severe depression. Additionally, the intervention was provided by a psychology professional for this study, and it should be tested if the effects would hold if the intervention was provided by a physical trainer.

“The findings are encouraging and suggest more work is warranted,” the researchers concluded. “Future research will be essential for designing community-based [resistance training] programs that could eventually increase access to and acceptability of depression care for Black men. Future work could also explore RT as an adjunctive treatment to standard psychiatric care.”

The study, “Resistance training for Black men with depressive symptoms: a pilot randomized controlled trial to assess acceptability, and feasibility, and preliminary efficacy“, was authored by Joseph T. Ciccolo, Mark E. Louie, Nicholas J. SantaBarbara, Christopher T. Webster, James W. Whitworth, Sanaz Nosrat, Michelle Chrastek, Shira I. Dunsiger, Michael P. Carey, and Andrew M. Busch.

Resistance training shows promise in reducing depressive symptoms among underserved Black men

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