It is no secret that strength training offers several physical health benefits. These benefits commonly include muscle mass growth, strength and body toning, increased bone density, and fat loss. It also reduces the risk of falls and joint injuries and improves cardiovascular health. However, little do people know about its benefits for their mental health. Several studies show that strength training, in particular, improves low mood, loss of interest, and feelings of worthlessness.
Why Strength Training?
Physical activity has countless benefits for the body, but it also has antidepressant effects. For example, a study published in the journal “PLoS ONE” found that when women participated in resistance training three times a week, their symptoms of depression improved. Remember that several symptoms of depression make an individual feel weighed down; thus, they tend not physically to stay active.
Research has shown that strength training improves mental health. It is due to the simple fact that physical activity releases what is known as brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). These are responsible for the growth and development of neurons. Other than improving symptoms associated with depression, strength training reduces anxiety and stress levels, and improves sleep habits. So it’s clear that there are plenty of reasons to start strength training, not just for your physical health but for your mental health as well!
Assessing Your Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, it’s vital to get an accurate picture of your current state. It means taking a look at both your mental and physical health. Assessing your physical health includes several measures, including blood pressure, body composition, and cholesterol levels. Likewise, you can assess mental health through self-reporting questionnaires and thorough clinical assessments.
When assessing your mental health, you must consider how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis and over extended periods. You must also consider how you perform in specific areas of your life. Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- How is my mood?
- Do I have difficulties concentrating or making decisions?
- Do I feel like I’m struggling to cope with things?
- Do I feel like I’m experiencing frequent feelings of sadness or loneliness?
- Are there times when I feel really good, and other times I feel really bad?
- Do I find it hard to make friends or socialise?
- Am I having trouble sleeping or staying asleep?
If you answer “yes” to any three of these questions, you may have mental health issues to deal with. In such cases, it is crucial to contact a mental health professional. In addition, you must never self-medicate. While exercise certainly helps with mental health grievances, it is up to a doctor or professional to advise your treatment plan.
Strength Training as a Tool
Strong muscles can help you feel stronger and more confident. Furthermore, it can help you with improved self-esteem and the ability to manage stress better. That makes strength training a great tool to keep your mental and physical well-being. There are several known ways in which strength training has shown significant improvement in functioning.
Studies have found that strength exercise can help patients with mild to moderate depression, almost as well as antidepressants. Research shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing or finding yourself with worse symptoms than before.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter because it promotes neural growth, reduces inflammation, and ensures all kinds of changes in the brain that make you feel good. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energise your spirits and provide pleasure to the body. Finally, exercise can be a distraction and give you much-needed quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that tend to feed depression.
Exercise has scientific advantages in alleviating general anxiety. Interestingly, you will get outstanding results when you focus on your exercise movements instead of zoning out while you are doing it. Since strength training requires you to use moderate to heavy weights, you will have to focus on the movement more closely to avoid getting injured. Adding mindfulness to your workout can help improve your condition and help to rid yourself of worries by focusing on the sensations going through your body as you exercise.
PTSD: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
To combat PTSD or trauma, people sometimes focus on how their body feels. By paying close attention to physical sensations, the tense, nervous system can become unstuck and begin to move out of the immobilisation stress response. Strength training most likely helps improve movements that involve cross movement and multi-limb coordination, such as walking or running, swimming, weight-training or dancing. That is why strength training is such a good option.
Some physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, back or neck pain, and muscle cramps. You may also experience stomach aches and constipation. The physical symptoms can lead to more stress, creating a vicious cycle between the mind and body.
Exercising is an excellent way to break the cycle that this disorder can cause. Additionally, when your body feels better, your mind also feels great.
Strength training can help reduce and manage pain from chronic issues. For example, a common form of chronic pain is lower back pain, which a disc injury or muscle strain can cause. Strength training for these issues reduces pain and increases physical functioning for back pain sufferers. Furthermore, strength training may also have mental benefits such as symptom reduction for knee and hip osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
Boosts Brain Health
With strength training, people of all ages can have better brain power and less cognitive decline. For example, during a study, older adults over 55 who exercised twice weekly for six months had improved brain scores.
In another study, adults lifted 80% of their 1RM or the maximum amount of weight they could lift for one rep. It roughly equates to the amount of weight they could lift for eight reps without breaking form. As you age, it is essential to continue with the same power and elasticity as you had when you were relatively younger. It helps with daily functioning and obtaining an overall higher quality of life.
Several studies and research prove the positive effect of exercises (particularly strength training) on mental health. Scientific evidence and surveys show that strength training exercises can help alleviate symptoms of various mental health disorders, be it anxiety, depression or just stress. Therefore, it is vital to stay active. Strength training is one of the most adjustable ways to stay active and does not impair daily functioning.
Overcoming Obstacles to Exercise
Besides regular health benefits, strength training can also help to prevent or reduce the symptoms of various conditions such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Unfortunately, some people find exercising or doing so regularly difficult. However, as we have seen, this can be detrimental to your health. It is vital to keep your body active and mobile, no matter what. Therefore, if you experience any issues with the same, here are some tips for overcoming obstacles to exercise:
Set Small Goals
When starting, it can be helpful to set smaller goals to build momentum. This way, you’re more likely to stick with your routine and see actual results.
Find a Community
Joining a strength training group or club can be a great way to connect with others who share your interest in fitness and wellness. It can encourage you to stay motivated and keep up with your exercise regime.
Set Realistic Expectations
Just because you start exercising doesn’t mean you must become a gym rat overnight. Remember that everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for another. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts over time as you see progress.
Get Enough Sleep
It is one of the most ignored yet critical practices. Working out or exercising energises you and activates your muscles. However, your body requires enough rest to rejuvenate and recover muscles. Hence, it is vital to get enough sleep and rest to be able to continue with your exercise routines.
Strength training can improve your mental health in a variety of ways. Not only does it help you maintain or achieve your fitness goals, but it also has the potential to improve your mood, cognitive function, and even stress levels. Therefore, strength training is an excellent option if you’re looking for an effective way to boost your mental well-being.