Sports Medicine

, Volume 47, Issue 12, pp 2521–2532 | Cite as

The Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

  • Brett R. Gordon
  • Cillian P. McDowell
  • Mark Lyons
  • Matthew P. HerringEmail author
Systematic Review



The salutary effects of resistance exercise training (RET) are well established, including increased strength and function; however, less is known regarding the effects of RET on mental health outcomes. Aerobic exercise has well-documented positive effects on anxiety, but a quantitative synthesis of RET effects on anxiety is needed.


To estimate the population effect size for resistance exercise training (RET) effects on anxiety and to determine whether variables of logical, theoretical, and/or prior empirical relation to anxiety moderate the overall effect.


Thirty-one effects were derived from 16 articles published before February 2017, located using Google Scholar, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, and Web of Science. Trials involved 922 participants (mean age = 43 ± 21 years, 68% female/32% male) and included both randomization to RET (n = 486) or a non-active control condition (n = 436), and a validated anxiety outcome measured at baseline, mid-, and/or post-intervention. Hedges’ d effect sizes were computed and random effects models were used for all analyses. Meta-regression quantified the extent to which participant and trial characteristics moderated the mean effect.


RET significantly reduced anxiety symptoms (Δ = 0.31, 95% CI 0.17–0.44; z = 4.43; p < 0.001). Significant heterogeneity was not indicated (Q T(30) = 40.5, p > 0.09; I 2 = 28.3%, 95% CI 10.17–42.81); sampling error accounted for 77.7% of observed variance. Larger effects were found among healthy participants (Δ = 0.50, 95% CI 0.22–0.78) compared to participants with a physical or mental illness (Δ = 0.19, 95% CI 0.06–0.31, z = 2.16, p < 0.04). Effect sizes did not significantly vary according to sex (β = −0.31), age (β = −0.10), control condition (β = 0.08), program length (β = 0.07), session duration (β = 0.08), frequency (β = −0.10), intensity (β = −0.18), anxiety recall time frame (β = 0.21), or whether strength significantly improved (β = 0.19) (all p ≥ 0.06).


RET significantly improves anxiety symptoms among both healthy participants and participants with a physical or mental illness. Improvements were not moderated by sex, or based on features of RET. Future trials should compare RET to other empirically-supported therapies for anxiety.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


No sources of funding were used to assist in the conduct of this analysis or the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Brett R. Gordon, Cillian P. McDowell, Mark Lyons, and Matthew P. Herring declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this analysis.

Supplementary material

40279_2017_769_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Electronic Supplementary Material Table S1 (DOCX 15 kb)
40279_2017_769_MOESM2_ESM.tif (50 kb)
Electronic Supplementary Material Table S2 (TIFF 49 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical Education and Sport SciencesUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland
  2. 2.Health Research InstituteUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland

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