When someone thinks of strength training, it is common to automatically think of big guys in the gym lifting heavy weights. While it is true that strength training builds muscle mass, it also offers overall health benefits to your brain. Recent research has shown that strength training can even benefit one's mood and can help relieve symptoms of depression.
According to the study, people suffering from symptoms of mild to moderate depression saw the most improvement when they integrated strength training into their routine. Strength training may not be a cure for depression, but it can improve depressive symptoms and increase the effectiveness of antidepressants and behavioral therapies.
In this study, a variety of strength training programs were beneficial, so doing any strength training two days a week with 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises can boost mental health.
Past research has also highlighted the psychological benefits of strength training, including a study that found an increase in physical strength is associated with reduced symptoms of depression in stroke survivors. Other studies have shown that strength training in adults can reduce anxiety symptoms, improve cognition, improve sleep quality, improve self-esteem, and improve morale and one's quality of life.
Both strength training and cardio exercise are effective for depression. This could be due to the increased blood flow to your brain during periods of physical exertion or the release of endorphins, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are all "feel good" hormones.
Exercise may also improve people's perceived quality of life and make them feel like they can better manage it. Exercise such as strength training also leads to the growth of neurons that are designed to release GABA, which helps induce a natural state of calm in the same way that anti-anxiety drugs work, however, the mood-boosting effects of exercise happen immediately after exercising and continue for a longer period of time.
Additionally, there is a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that is very important to one's mental health. Levels of this protein tend to be very low in people suffering from depression. Exercise is able to promote the production of a protein called FNDC5, which then triggers the production of BDNF.
BDNF helps to both preserve brain cells and create new neurons to make the brain grow larger. Researchers are finding a strong link between exercise, depression, and BDNF. In fact, BDNF is critical to the survival and growth of neurons in the brain circuits that are involved in cognitive and emotional function.
Studies have shown that people have a lower likelihood of being depressed even if they incorporate one hour of low level exercise into their routine each week, no matter what the intensity is. Mind-body exercises, such as yoga, focus on detail and the precise alignment of one's posture in combination with deep breathing. This can help reduce symptoms of depression in people who are not taking medication.
The fact is, almost every type of physical activity has the potential to benefit your mood and can help heal symptoms of depression. If you live a sedentary life, adding just a little bit of activity to your routine might be enough for you to notice a positive change in your mental health.
While strength training can get overshadowed by aerobic exercises, it is important to know that they are equally as important for optimal health. It is easy to do small body weight exercises at home without any equipment. This means that almost anyone can do strength training, whether you are a member of a gym or not.
Only 22% of Americans do enough strength training exercises. Yet rates of depression continue to be on the rise. Strength training is a simple intervention that may help decrease the rates of depression and improve quality of life.