Weight training has been shown to help you pack on muscle mass, lose weight, and even boost your energy, but a new study shows that lifting weights can come with some beneficial mental health improvements, as well. According to a meta-analysis published recently in JAMA Psychiatry, strength training can actually help you fight depression and improve your mood. So time to pick up those dumbbells, and get regular weight lifting into your workout rotation.
“Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, total prescribed volume of RET [resistance exercise training], or significant improvements in strength,” the study authors wrote.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Women and millennials, most notably, tend to be the most affected by depression, so finding natural ways to help fight and treat it is more important than ever.
With nearly 2,000 people taking part in this recent study, researchers were able to find that across the board — no matter the participants’ age, sex, or their current physical levels — they were not only able to improve in their fitness abilities but saw improved depressive symptoms.
“Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores, suggesting RET may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms,” Brett R. Gordon, MSc, the study’s lead author, tells Time.
Gordon and his co-authors also note that the best way to truly gain those benefits is to follow the tips set by the American College of Sports Medicine: completing a strength training workout two non-consecutive days every week. With ten different weight training moves, and anywhere from eight to twelve reps of each, you can begin to see the depressive symptoms decreasing.
And here’s why:
1. Strength training increases your endorphins
Because strength training is often a more sped-up workout option, it increases blood flow and releases endorphins into the brain that signal the “happiness hormone.”
“There is evidence to suggest that the addition of cognitive-behavioral therapies, specifically exercise, can improve treatment outcomes for many patients,” researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine determined in a 2004 study. “Exercise is a behavioral intervention that has shown great promise in alleviating symptoms of depression.”
And more specifically, they found that non-aerobic exercise — which included strength training and flexibility training, among other routines — was found to be an effective way to help reduce symptoms of depression because it released a high level of endorphins throughout the workout, similar to the “runner’s high” that you might get from a long cardio run.
2. Strength training improves your sleep
Because depression can often manifest in the form of sleep disorders or the inability to fall asleep (and stay asleep), it can be alleviated by targeting and treating some of the more challenging symptoms [insomnia] through alternative methods like strength training.
And a 2005 study from Texas Tech University agrees. According to the researchers, resistance training improves sleep quality by nearly 38 percent. Because your body is naturally “tired out” from heavy lifting, strength training not only helps you fall asleep faster but can also improve the duration and quality of your snooze, thereby fighting one of the most common side effects of depression.
3. Strength training boosts self-esteem
“When you challenge yourself and push yourself, it’s really hard not to feel pride when you’re done, and pride is the opposite of that depressive, powerless feeling,” personal trainer Kelly Coffey tells U.S. News and World Report. “You cannot help but feel proud and empowered and satisfied at the end of a good lift.”
Since strength training helps with weight loss (it builds muscles, which work to burn fat even when you’re at rest), a natural boost in self-esteem and self-confidence go hand-in-hand with seeing results.
Plus, the more you train, the heavier weights you’ll be able to lift, giving you an undeniable “I can do it!” attitude that will translate both during and after your lifting session. And even better, strength training can be easily done at home (you can set up your own weight lifting area with just a few sets of dumbbells). It takes very little investment and comes at a low-cost.
Though strength training does have the ability to help increase happiness and lessen depressive symptoms, it’s important to note that it’s not an all-in-one cure. It’s yet another tool to have in your mental health arsenal. Plus, with the added benefits of sleep improvement and heightened self-esteem, it might just give you a reason to add weight training to your ultimate mental health day to-do list.
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