Strength Training for Your Mental Health

To my friends and family, I am known as a keen runner, but only a few people know how much I actually love to push weights around in the gym too. There’s something very  empowering about feeling (and by all means BEING) strong. I decided to look into this a little further to see what research had been done on the link between strength training and an uplifted mood.

How Strength Training Alleviates Depression

“Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms” is the title of a recent review that has been carried out and published on JAMA Psychiatry. It is one of very few studies that looks into the effects of strength training particularly, as opposed to movement on a whole.  

The review took into account feedback from various randomised trials, which made sure to include a variety of health profiles amongst the participants. Interestingly, they did not see any additional benefit of weight-lifting for those with existing strength, comparative to those with no experience of resistance training. This gives newbies all the more reason to get cracking!

The control group—those who were already involved in exercise routines and those who were not—was crucial to the foundation of the study for establishing a baseline of depressive symptoms before and during the intervention of strength training.

Aside from the study mentioned above, it’s also brilliant news to hear that “runners high” isn’t limited to, well, running. Endorphins are released during resistance training too! These are basically “feel good” chemicals that stimulate the pleasure parts of your brain and elevate your mood. Using lighter weights and higher repetitions (and thus an increased heartrate) – hypertrophy if you like - will help us achieve that endorphin rush more, as opposed to heavy-weight/low rep “powerlifting” style.

How Strength Training Alleviates Anxiety

In a separate study, O'Connor, Herring and Caravalho (2010) summarised that resistance training is a meaningful intervention for people suffering from anxiety. Interestingly, two of the seven studies they conducted compared the effects of high-intensity resistance training (exercises performed at 80% of 1-repetition maximum {1-RM}) versus moderate-intensity (50%-60% of 1-RM) and found that anxiety was better reduced with the moderate-intensity resistance training.

You can read the full article here

Other Benefits

Although the research in this area is rather insufficient, here are some other benefits that I personally gain from strength training, that I know other weight-lifting friends have also found too!

  • Improved self-esteem – primarily from an aesthetic/body image point of view
  • Improved relationship with food – deciding to take strength training more seriously has encouraged me to eat a more nutritionally dense diet, which not only serves for making #gainz but also works wonders on our energy levels
  • Better sleep – I am far less restless at night, which has decreased sleepless nights dramatically
  • Community – a lot of people are introverted gym-goers, and prefer to stick their earphones in, but for those who immerse themselves in the community that the gym can provide, making friends and acquaintances in the gym can improve our sense of belonging and connectedness to the world
  • Improved self-efficacy – there is a lot to be said for feeling strong, and knowing you can lift heavy things!

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