Exercising can have an interesting effect on mental health, and it’s vital to be aware of just how these two spheres—the physical and the mental—are connected. Here’s the important link between weightlifting and depression.
We’ve all heard of the usual, traditional, and somewhat obvious benefits of regularly lifting up a pair of dumbbells at the gym. If you do your routines right, you bulk up, decrease injury risk, and even improve bone health—all in all, pretty good things. But, as it turns out, there seems to be a subtler and more profound benefit to weightlifting: emotional health.
The mind truly craves for physical activity. That’s how we evolved, after all: our bodies developed through movement and natural exercise. So it should not come as a surprise that a happy body—meaning physically active and healthy—means a happy mind. This seemingly good advice has now been confirmed by science, as recent evidence suggests regular weight training can both help prevent and treat depression.
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A meta-analysis study (meaning a study that evaluated many other studies on the subject) was published last year outlining the evidence and implications of the findings, which all point towards an all-around benefit for exercising. No surprise there, right?
The meta-analysis was published in JAMA Psychiatry, and it surveyed over 30 randomly selected, controlled studies about depression and strength training. More than 2,000 people participated in the studies, both men and women, of many ages.
Even those participants who didn’t actually have any significant physical change from the workout would have improved emotional states by the end of the study.
We already suspected it
This is not the first study to ultimately suggest exercising can be a measurable aid against depression. A 2012 study, among others, also found a link between positive mental health and aerobic exercises (like running or swimming). Though the exact mechanisms at play are still unknown, several theories have been proposed, such as social support during exercise or even the expectancy of improved physical well-being after a workout. However, more research needs to be done to confirm exactly what’s going on. But even if we don’t yet know why it happens, we know that it does: exercise can be important to treat or prevent depression. And that’s great news.
What’s more, weight training has also been shown to be a good treatment for anxiety. So, it’s not just specific for depression: various kinds of exercise are beneficial for mental health on several levels.
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We should be exercising anyway, right?
Future studies will also focus on pinpointing the ideal intensity and duration for hitting that happiness sweet spot. If exercise is to become an accepted treatment for anxiety and depression, we should know exactly how much of it is exactly needed to obtain the best results.
For now, the World Health Organization recommends about 150 minutes of moderate training, or about 75 minutes of intense exercise, each week for all adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Even if you’re not depressed, there’s certainly no harm in being healthier anyway. And who knows, perhaps this way you can prevent those future melancholic bouts we’re all susceptible to.
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