In most trials and systematic reviews that evaluate exercise-based interventions in reducing depressive symptoms, it is difficult to separate treatment from prevention.To evaluate the effectiveness of exercise-based interventions in reducing depressive symptoms in people without clinical depression.We searched PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, WOS, SPORTDiscus, CENTRAL, OpenGrey and other sources up to 25 May 2020. We selected randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared exclusively exercise-based interventions with control groups, enrolling participants without clinical depression, as measured using validated instruments, and whose outcome was reduction of depressive symptoms and/or incidence of new cases of people with depression. Pooled standardised mean differences (SMDs) were calculated using random-effect models (registration at PROSPERO: CRD42017055726).A total of 14 RCTs (18 comparisons) evaluated 1737 adults without clinical depression from eight countries and four continents. The pooled SMD was -0.34 (95% CI -0.51 to -0.17; P < 0.001) and sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness of this result. We found no statistical evidence of publication bias and heterogeneity was moderate (I2 = 54%; 95% CI 22-73%). Only two RCTs had an overall low risk of bias and three had long-term follow-up. Multivariate meta-regression found that a larger sample size, country (Asia) and selective prevention (i.e. people exposed to risk factors for depression) were associated with lower effectiveness, although only sample size remained significant when adjustment for multiple tests was considered. According to the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation tool, the quality of evidence was low.Exercise-based interventions have a small effect on the reduction of depressive symptoms in people without clinical depression. It could be an alternative to or complement psychological programmes, although further higher-quality trials with larger samples and long-term follow-up are needed.