Can high-intensity interval training improve mental health outcomes in the general population and those with physical illnesses? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Rebecca Martland, Nicole Korman, Joseph Firth, Davy Vancampfort, Trevor Thompson, Brendon Stubbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a safe and feasible form of exercise. The aim of this meta-analysis was to investigate the mental health effects of HIIT, in healthy populations and those with physical illnesses, and to compare the mental health effects to non-active controls and other forms of exercise.

DESIGN: Random effects meta-analyses were undertaken for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing HIIT with non-active and/or active (exercise) control conditions for the following coprimary outcomes: mental well-being, symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological stress. Positive and negative affect, distress and sleep outcomes were summarised narratively.

DATA SOURCES: Medline, PsycINFO, Embase and CENTRAL databases were searched from inception to 7 July 2020.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR SELECTING STUDIES: RCTs that investigated HIIT in healthy populations and/or those with physical illnesses and reported change in mental well-being, depression, anxiety, psychological stress, positive/negative affect, distress and/or sleep quality.

RESULTS: Fifty-eight RCTs were retrieved. HIIT led to moderate improvements in mental well-being (standardised mean difference (SMD): 0.418; 95% CI: 0.135 to 0.701; n=12 studies), depression severity (SMD: -0.496; 95% CI: -0.973 to -0.020; n=10) and perceived stress (SMD: -0.474; 95% CI: -0.796 to -0.152; n=4) compared with non-active controls, and small improvements in mental well-being compared with active controls (SMD:0.229; 95% CI: 0.054 to 0.403; n=12). There was a suggestion that HIIT may improve sleep and psychological distress compared with non-active controls: however, these findings were based on a small number of RCTs.

CONCLUSION: These findings support the use of HIIT for mental health in the general population.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: The quality of evidence was moderate-to-high according to the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) criteria.

PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42020182643.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sports Medicine
Early online date16 Sept 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2021

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