Objective Mental health issues are of increasing public concern, however are often untreated for a variety of reasons. While limited, the research examining the relationship between mental health and martial arts training is generally positive. This systematic review and meta-analysis explored whether martial arts training may be an efficacious sports-based mental health intervention.
Design The meta-analysis used a random effects model and examined three mental health outcomes: wellbeing, internalising mental health, and aggression.
Data sources During January to July 2018 the following electronic databases were searched: CENTRAL, EBSCO, Embase, ERIC, MEDLINE, PUBMED, and ScienceDirect.
Eligibility criteria Eligibility criteria included: (1) martial arts was examined as an intervention or activity resulting in a psychological outcome, (2) the study reported descriptive quantitative results measured using standardised scales that compared results between groups and (3) studies were published as full-length articles in peer reviewed scientific or medical journals.
Results More than 500,000 citations were identified and screened to determine eligibility. Data was extracted from 14 eligible studies. Martial arts training had a significant but small positive effect on wellbeing (d = 0.346, 95% CI = 0.106 to 0.585, I2 = 59.51%) and a medium effect on internalising mental health (d = 0.620, 95% CI = 0.006 to 1.23, I2 = 84.84%). Martial arts training had a minimal non-significant positive effect in reducing aggression (d = 0.022, 95% CI = −0.191 to 0.236, I2 = 58.12%).
Summary/conclusion Whilst there is considerable variance across the studies included in the meta-analyses, there is support for martial arts training as an efficacious sports-based mental health intervention for improving wellbeing and reducing symptoms associated with internalising mental health.