Lift Yourself Out of Depression

Physical education student

Exercise physiologist Jason Sawyer is researching the role of exercise in treating depression. 

After running a pilot study in which 10 ​student volunteers participated in six weeks of resistance training (weight lifting), Assistant Professor of Health and Physical Education Jason Sawyer found that they experienced a marked decrease in depression.

“Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than six percent of the population,” he said. “It also has a huge economic cost, when you consider hospitalization, medication and loss of work. This is why I am so dedicated to this line of research.”

Sawyer is a new faculty member in the Department of Health and Physical Education at Rhode Island College. He previously taught at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, where​ he became interested in the effects of resistance training on depression and anxiety. 

“In exercise science, we know that cardiovascular activity, such as running, helps with depression and anxiety,” he said. “What hasn’t been studied is the effect of weight lifting on depression.”


Sawyer’s project at Rhode Island College will test the effect of a single session of resistance training. Assisting in his research is Briana Gough, a RIC senior majoring in community health and wellness, with a concentration in wellness and movement studies. 

Sawyer explained that they’ll be trying to find out if depression and anxiety changes from pre- to post-resistance training. “The hope is that one of the things we can recommend to people is, ‘If you train with weights, you’re going to feel less depressed,’” he said.

“Some sources estimate that 40 percent of college students have had a major depressive or anxiety-filled episode within the past six months. I personally think the percentage is closer to 50 or 60 percent because so many cases go unreported,” he said. “Students don’t necessarily go to their campus counseling center or seek medical attention off campus when they’re suffering from depression or acute anxiety.”

In the future, Sawyer intends to build on this research, examining the differences between males and females and between exercising while on medication and exercising while off, among other variables.

“My hope,” he said, “is that in the future, exercise training will be among the student support services offered at colleges throughout the country.”​