Studies show that exercise has mental, physical, and emotional benefits. A Harvard study shows that weight lifting can treat moderate depression as efficiently as counseling and antidepressant drugs, but without the medication side-effects. This is particularly essential for women since depression is more common in young women than men.
There are many mental health recovery stories, but Brooke’s story struck us as remarkable and inspiring! Brooke struggled with depression for 8 years, and despite her daily struggles she eventually sought help. She never felt notable improvements until she started strength training. The more that Brooke lifted weights, her confidence appeared to improved.
She slept better and overcame the physical and mental challenges life threw at her. Presently, her periods of depression and hypomania have significantly decreased.
Personally, "calm" isn't the first word that comes to mind when I hear weight lifting or strength training, but Brooke's story resonated with me since I had a similar experience. So I decided to apply some of the same tactics. As I started to complete daily workouts, I began to feel a sense of relief.
The barbell’s weight on my upper back supported me mentally, focusing my attention on the workout until I finished each set.
I felt calm, and my mind entered an almost meditative state. Weight lifting calmed my inner chatter and allowed me to enjoy the process of exercising.
My experience with strength training isn’t unique. Research indicates that people with mental illnesses encounter similar benefits from weight lifting, and you only need to work out three times a week.
So what’s this unique form of exercise that’s renowned for helping sufferers manage mental health issues?
Weight lifting is a strength training workout that is done by utilizing the force of gravity in the form of weight stacks, dumbbells, or weighted bars to oppose the force created by muscle via eccentric and concentric contraction. And how does weight lifting help improve mental health?
Before now, lifting weights was all about building an aesthetically charming physique, but not anymore!
True, utilizing a barbell, can tone your muscles, improve posture, and increase muscle mass. But a toned figure is secondary to the mental and emotional benefits that accompany a weight lifting exercise. And the science behind it is credible and accurate.
When you exercise and lift weights you:
Modern life can be demanding and exhausting. Unlike our ancestors whose main concerns were getting basic needs met, we now have more stress that affects our health. When you're stressed, you'll feel depressed, restless, and anxious. The good news is, weight lifting can help. A study showed that mild-intensity strength training reduced anxiety symptoms significantly.
In another study, scientists examined a group of women with an anxiety disorder and assigned them to one of these groups—aerobic exercise, weight lifting, and a control group. Both aerobic exercise and weight lifting exercise helped reduce symptoms of anxiety in healthy participants and those with a psychological disorder.
Improve Sleep Quality
Weight lifting may improve sleep quality. A 2018 study concluded that high resistance training exercise improves sleep patterns, and this can be attributed to cortisol reduction, including reductions in blood pressure and body fat.
When we lift weights, the body releases hormones and endorphins that make us relaxed and happy.
Improve Cognitive Function
Studies show that weight lifting can delay memory decline. A clinical trial examined mild cognitively impaired people with a notable decline in cognitive abilities. Participants who did a combination of strength training exercise and brain training experienced improved cognitive function compared to those who underwent brain training therapy alone.
While weight lifting is not a “cure,” it can lessen depressive symptoms and improve quality of life.
How Does Lifting Weight Affect Your Mental Health?
Exercise does not only stimulate your heart and muscles, it stimulates your brain. Just like your muscles, your brain can change itself when there is an external or internal influence. Recent research shows that certain parts of the brain can change, adapt, and develop.
Therefore, when you exercise, your body will secret hormones, which then crosses from your blood into the brain, activating changes in its function and formation. Some of these changes include the creation of new blood vessels and brain cells. When this happens, your brain gets the oxygen and important nutrients it needs.
Consistent weight lifting can also develop specific parts of the brain. And this development had been tied to an improvement in cognitive function.
Now let's talk about mindfulness and what occurs when you lift weights. Mindfulness is a great way to lessen the symptoms of depression and improve the quality of life. Mindfulness involves being present and engaged with your feelings and thoughts which is what occurs when you lift weights. A deadlift, for example, requires you to focus on the present moment. Positioning your body in the right way and ensuring that every rep is done properly. That requires intense focus.
The first week of my weight training exercise was tough. I could feel pain sensations sweeping through my body. Although I thought of quitting, I ignored those thoughts and pushed past the pain and discomfort.
That’s another distinctive characteristic of mindfulness—recognizing your feelings and thoughts while being withdrawn from them. MRI scans reveal that programs like mindfulness can cause structural and functional changes in the brain. Lifting weights a few times weekly may also creates these changes.
Lifting weights can keep the mind and body in top shape. In most cases, it may offer results similar to psychotherapy and medications. It is important to note that strength training alone may not help cure anxiety and depression; however, it can help you feel better, manage depression, improve your cognitive well-being.