Can weight training help depression?
Lifting weights might lift moods, according to an important new review of dozens of studies about strength training and depression.
Depression can be stove off and treated by exercise in general, which is no big news as there already is considerable evidence on this. But it’s not just running. Two new studies confirm that weightlifting provides a boost to mental health and can help fight depression just as well.
The first study, published in 2017 in the journal Sports Medicine, found that lifting weights reduces the symptoms of anxiety. The second, published in 2018 in JAMA Psychiatry, found that lifting weights can help ease and even prevent depression. Both of these studies are particularly valuable because they are meta-analyses (comprehensive reviews of multiple experiments). In other words, these aren’t just one-off findings.
According to the research, this form of exercise is about as effective at treating depression as aerobic exercise, giving medical professionals a fresh way to fight depression. Depressioni s an extremely common form of mental illness, with major depression diagnosis rates rapidly on the rise especially since the pandemic started.
A series of studies have been carried out to prove how important weight lifting can be to contrast depression. One of the most recent ones, carried out in 2020 and appearing on Nature, involved healthy young adults, barbells and lunges, and indicates that regular weight training substantially reduces anxiety, a finding with particular relevance during these unsettling, bumpy days.
The study published in 2018 in JAMA Psychiatry found something similar: the authors found that people with mild to moderate depression who performed resistance training two or more days a week saw “significant” reductions in their symptoms, compared with people who did not. The findings also suggested that resistance exercises may be even more beneficial for those with more severe depressive symptoms.
Another group of scientists from the University of Limerick set out to discover whether weight training had any effect on common symptoms of depression – things like low self-esteem, a loss of interest in activities and feelings of hopelessness and sadness. Turns out, getting stuck into the squat rack is as beneficial for your mind as it is for your muscle. The researchers analysed 33 different clinical studies spanning 1,877 people, and found that weightlifting “significantly reduced” depression symptoms. Depression is a paucity of hope, and anxiety is a paucity of confidence.
And this is precisely why weightlifting is so effective. Weightlifting makes you feel empowered, confident, and ready to take on any challenge there may be the rest of the day. Though the effects of weightlifting on mental health are encouraging, it is not—nor is any other exercise—a substitute for therapy or medication, especially in more severe cases of anxiety and depression. But what the evidence does show is that lifting, starting at just two days per week, can help ease the burden and, once someone is in recovery, prevent relapse.
All the studies conducted so far show that larger improvements are found among adults with mild-to-moderate depression, but – quite surprisingly – the number of weekly workouts don’t seem to matter. The benefits of weight lifting appear to be the same whether you are training twice or five times a week. Improvements in physical strength don’t seem to correlate with less depression, but just getting the weight training done seem to help.
Adding weights to a regular exercise routine has been shown to add muscle tone, decrease injury risk, and improve bone health. Your bones need to stay challenged, just like your brain needs exercise to stay sharp. After about age 30, you start to lose bone density at a small percentage each year. Resistance training creates force on the bone and helps it stay strong.
Moreover, along with keeping away chronic disease, strength training has you burning through glucose, which is good news for those grappling with Type 2 diabetes who consistently need to manage blood sugar levels. Weight lifting can also improve your chances at boosting your metabolism and helping you lose fat in your body.
A new research from the University of Adelaide suggests that stopping exercise can increase depressive symptoms – such as lpw mood, restlessness and irritability – in just 72 hours in some subjects, in between one and two weeks for others. Scientists still don’t fully understand why bailing on your workout could bring about depressive symptoms, but it’s worth knowing the risk exists.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise each week. At the moment, the best advice is to engage in any and all exercise types, and strive to achieve at least WHO physical activity guidelines.