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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences





Previous randomized controlled trials have led to conflicting findings regarding the effects of exercise on depressive symptoms in adults with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions (AORC). The purpose of this study was to use the meta-analytic approach to resolve these discrepancies.


The inclusion criteria were: (1) randomized controlled trials, (2) exercise (aerobic, strength training, or both) ≥4 weeks, (3) comparative control group, (4) adults with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or systemic lupus erythematosus, (5) published studies in any language since January 1, 1981 and (6) depressive symptoms assessed. Studies were located by searching 10 electronic databases, cross-referencing, hand searching and expert review. Dual-selection of studies and data abstraction was performed. Hedge’s standardized mean difference effect size (g) was calculated for each result and pooled using random-effects models, an approach that accounts for heterogeneity. Non-overlapping 95% confidence intervals (CI) were considered statistically significant. Heterogeneity based on fixed-effect models was estimated using Q and I 2 with alpha values ≤0.10 for Q considered statistically significant.


Of the 500 citations reviewed, 2,449 participants (1,470 exercise, 979 control) nested within 29 studies were included. Length of training, reported as mean ± standard deviation (±SD) was 19 ± 16 weeks, frequency 4 ± 2 times per week and duration 34 ± 17 minutes per session. Overall, statistically significant exercise minus control group reductions were found for depressive symptoms (g = −0.42, 95% CI, −0.58, −0.26, Q = 126.9, P <0.0001, I 2 = 73.2%). The number needed-to-treat was 7 (95% CI, 6 to 11) with an estimated 3.1 million (95% CI, 2.0 to 3.7) United States adults not currently meeting physical activity guidelines improving their depressive symptoms if they began and maintained a regular exercise program. Using Cohen’s U3 Index, the percentile reduction was 16.4% (95% CI, 10.4% to 21.9%). All studies were considered to be at high risk of bias with respect to blinding of participants and personnel to group assignment.

Source Citation

Kelley, G.A., Kelley, K.S. & Hootman, J.M. Effects of exercise on depression in adults with arthritis: a systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arthritis Res Ther 17, 21 (2015).


© 2015 Kelley et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http:// applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.



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