Lifting weights for mental health is a surprisingly powerful activity. That said, the majority of people take on this type of training for physical strength. This trend is starting to change as a growing number of people discover the link between physical and mental health.
When you start lifting weights for mental health, you begin to take your wellness into your own hands. Many mental health conditions can greatly benefit from regularly taking part in physical fitness. While that can involve cardio such as running or even just walking, strength training is a growing option as well.
How to Start Lifting Weights for Mental Health
The following are some handy tips to help you to begin lifting weights for mental health. This can help you to ease or even overcome symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression.
- Decide to start – Choose to make an important change in your life. Agree with yourself that it’s time to do better for your mental health and that physical fitness will be an important part of that path. This might not sound like much but coming to this conclusion and commitment is very meaningful.
- Choose your path – Not all strength training strategies are the same. If you’re new to lifting weights for mental health, speak with your doctor to get a better idea of what you should be doing. Next, you might find that consulting with a personal trainer will be very helpful. This will help you to target your current fitness level and future goals while avoiding injury.
- Try new things – Just because a physical trainer says he or she knows the key to lifting weights for mental health, it doesn’t mean it will be the perfect solution for you. Keep being open to trying new things until you find what works specifically for your body, mind and personal taste.
- Eat right – Keep in mind that your performance, comfort level and enjoyment of lifting weights for mental health are greatly affected by the fuel you give your body. Take the time to gradually learn more about how you should be eating and what works for you. You may thrive while following a strict diet. You may also find that making gradual changes works best for you. Be willing to take the time to make this discovery.
- Celebrate your accomplishments – Set both large goals and small ones. Take the opportunity to celebrate reaching your smaller goals. This will help to keep your motivation high.
Research into Strength Training and Mental Illness
Lots of research shows that exercise is a great way to stave off depression and anxiety. It can help keep symptoms away or ease those that are already there. New studies are showing that the same can be said about other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and in some ways, bipolar disorder, as well.
However, though there is certainly research into lifting weights for mental health, when it comes to the benefits of exercise in mental wellness, cardio and aerobic exercise has received the majority of science’s attention. Cycling and jogging are some of the most highly researched exercises.
That said, the JAMA Psychiatry journal published an important paper looking into the impact of lifting weights for mental health, instead. This focused on strength training instead of cardio. It was an analysis of 33 experiments on strength training and depression.
What the researchers in the analysis found was that, across the board, weight training provided meaningful improvements in depressive mental health symptoms. These included all the major categories including:
- Low mood
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest in activities that used to appeal
By no means did the research suggest that strength training was a cure for depression. Instead, it was found to help to ease existing symptoms. Lead author of the paper, Brett Gordon, a researcher from the University of Limerick in Ireland, explained that the largest improvements were measured among adults who had mild-to-moderate depression symptoms when compared to adults whose symptoms didn’t fall into that measure.
Gordon speculated that this trend indicates that people with more severe depressive symptoms may find weight training to be “particularly effective”.
Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter how many times the study participants were lifting weights for mental health. Whether they did two or five workouts each week, the impact on depression symptoms was the same. Moreover, there didn’t appear to be any connection between physical strength improvements and the benefits to the mental illness symptoms. Regardless of how much strength – if any – was gained to the physical body, depressive symptoms were consistently relieved.
Should You Start Lifting Weights for Mental Health?
There is no single answer to that question. Many people can benefit form lifting weights for mental health. However, that depends on your physical health, fitness level, and whether your doctor and/or therapist feel it is appropriate for your body and mind. Before taking on any lifestyle changes in the name of your physical or mental wellbeing, it’s always a good idea to speak with your health care provider.