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Aerobic exercise alleviates depressive symptoms in patients with a major non-communicable chronic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Mélanie Béland1,2,3,
  2. Kim L Lavoie2,4,
  3. Samantha Briand2,3,
  4. Una J White2,3,
  5. Claudia Gemme2,4,
  6. Simon L Bacon2,5
  1. 1 Department of Epidemiology, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Laval, Québec, Canada
  2. 2 Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre, CIUSSS-NIM, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  3. 3 Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Science, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  4. 4 Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  5. 5 Exercise Science, Faculty of Arts and Science, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Simon L Bacon, Exercise Science, Concordia University, Montreal, QC H3G 1M8, Canada; simon.bacon{at}


Objective To assess whether aerobic exercise was superior to usual care in alleviating depressive symptoms in patients living with a major non-communicable disease.

Data sources Data were obtained from online databases (PubMed, PsycINFO and SPORTDiscus) as well as from reference lists. The search and collection of eligible studies was conducted up to 18 October 2018 (PROSPERO registration number CRD42017069089).

Study selection We included interventions that compared aerobic exercise with usual care in adults who reported depressive symptoms (ie, not necessarily the clinical diagnosis of depression) and were living with a major non-communicable disease.

Results Twenty-four studies were included in the meta-analysis (4111 patients). Aerobic exercise alleviated depressive symptoms better than did usual care (standardised mean difference (SMD)=0.50; 95% CI 0.25 to 0.76; Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation: low quality). Aerobic exercise was particularly effective in alleviating depressive symptoms in cardiac patients (SMD=0.67; 95% CI 0.35 to 0.99).

Conclusion Aerobic exercise alleviated depressive symptoms in patients living with a major non-communicable disease, particularly in cardiac populations. Whether aerobic exercise treats clinically diagnosed depression was outside the scope of this study.

  • depression
  • exercise
  • intervention
  • systematic review
  • non-communicable chronic disease

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Contributors MB and SLB designed the study and hypothesis, completed all statistical analyses and initial drafts of the manuscript. SB, UJW and CG performed the systematic search and data extraction. KLL contributed to the drafting of the manuscript and revisions. All authors assisted with drafting the final version of the manuscript, including critical revisions for intellectual content.

  • Funding Salary support was received by SLB and KLL from FRQS (chercheurs boursiers), CIHR (New Investigator Awards and SPOR Mentorship Chair (SLB)).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.