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September 13, 2021

5 Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training | Max Swahn

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.

Most people lift weights to improve their physique, but now you have another reason to do it. Strength training may benefit your mental health, too. Even if you have an enviable physique and the strength of an ox, it won’t bring you joy if you’re stressed out with poor mental health. Fortunately, strength training has you covered on both counts. Here are five surprising mental health benefits of working your body against resistance.

Strength Training is a Mood Booster

When you launch into a workout, changes take place in your brain. Some of these changes include the behavior of brain chemicals that affect mood. Studies show even a single exercise session causes a change in levels of neurotransmitters that affect how you feel and your state of mind.

Exercise also boosts the release of feel-good, pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins that lift your mood and help you feel calmer. Runners enjoy the benefits of endorphins, but even strength training may boost endorphins if you do it with enough intensity. Studies show exercise intensity determines endorphin release. If you move quickly from exercise to exercise and work up a sweat, strength-training can cause endorphin release too.

Strength Training Reduces Anxiety

 

What could be worse than sweaty palms and constant worry because of stress and anxiety? Strength training can help you get a handle on those runaway, anxious thoughts. There’s growing evidence that strength training improves how people manage stress. One study found that regular strength training reduced anxiety and stress-related symptoms even more than aerobic exercise in healthy adults without anxiety disorders. It’s not surprising. Strength training builds confidence and self-esteem that can better help people deal with stressful situations. And unlike anti-anxiety medications, the side effects are only positive. Most research looking at strength training and anxiety focused on younger people. It’s not clear whether older individuals experience the same benefits.

Strength Training Improves Sleep

It’s frustrating when you struggle to fall asleep, and it’s not beneficial for your mental or physical health to be sleep deprived. Studies show that cardiovascular exercise improves sleep, especially among people who work out in the morning. However, strength training may have similar benefits. A study carried out by researchers at Appalachian State University that used sleep tracking devices found participants drifted off faster to sleep if they strength trained in the morning as opposed to the afternoon or early evening. Strangely though, those who lifted in the evening had better quality sleep with fewer nighttime awakenings. So, if you have no problems falling asleep but awaken often, strength training in the evening may give you a better night’s sleep. But, regardless of when you do it, working your body against resistance may improve how you slumber.

Strength Training Improves Self-Esteem

If you have a strong self-esteem and you’re more mentally resilient, strength-training may help boost how you feel about yourself. Boosting strength and mastering strength-training movements builds confidence and gives you a “can do” spirit that helps you succeed in other areas. Studies show strength-training improves self-esteem in young people and young adults and that could lead to greater success in life.

Strength Training May Improve Cognition

One of the most important functions your brain does is process information. Studies show that aerobic exercise builds new connections between brain cells for better connectivity. That can improve how your brain processes information and how well you remember. But what about strength training? A 2010 study found strength training improves some aspects of cognition in older adults, including memory and executive functioning. One study of older women found that strength training once or twice per week boosted executive function.

The Bottom Line

 

Staying physically active is important for mental health and brain function, but it’s not just aerobic exercise, like cycling and running, that offers benefits. Strength training can give your brain and mental health a boost, too. So, while you’re building your physique, you’re also boosting the health of your brain.

References:

  • MDLinx.com. “What are the hidden health benefits of strength training?”
  • Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD, Matthew P. Herring, MS, Amanda Caravalho. First Published May 7, 2010.
  • Resistance Training Improves Mental Health. Amenda Ramirez and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.O’Connor, P.J., Herring, M.P. and Carvalho, A. (2010). Mental health benefits of strength training in adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396.
  • MedicalNewsToday.com. “Endorphin Release Differs By Exercise Intensity, Study Finds”
  • Liu-Ambrose T, Nagamatsu LS, Graf P, Beattie BL, Ashe MC, Handy TC. Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(2):170-178. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.494
  • Gordon, B.R., McDowell, C.P., Lyons, M. et al. Resistance exercise training for anxiety and worry symptoms among young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Sci Rep 10, 17548 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-74608-6
  • Medscape.com. “Resistance Training Improves Generalized Anxiety Disorder”
  • IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “Resistance Training Improves Mental Health”Science Daily. “Sustained aerobic exercise increases adult neurogenesis in the brain”
  • Alley, Jessica R.; Mazzochi, John W.; Smith, Caroline J.; Morris, David M.; Collier, Scott R. Effects of Resistance Exercise Timing on Sleep Architecture and Nocturnal Blood Pressure, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2015 – Volume 29 – Issue 5 – p 1378-1385 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000750.
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