New Research Says Weightlifting May Help Fight Depression
Resistance training doesn't just boost your muscles—it may also boost your mood.
That invincible feeling you get from crushing a strength training routine (like this four-minute TRX routine that blasts your upper bod) is no joke. According to a new meta-analysis of research, strength training doesn't just pump up your muscles-it may also boost your mood.
The link between exercise and mental health is well-established (see: 13 science-backed brain benefits of working out). "Exercise releases endorphins which, in the short term, can relax you and help you feel more calm," explains Alissa Rumsey, C.S.C.S., a fitness and nutrition expert in New York. "Exercise also increases blood circulation in the brain, which can help improve mood, lower stress, and promote increased attention and productivity."
To date, a lot of the research on exercise and mood has focused on cardio, so researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland wanted to understand how much weightlifting could pump up your mood. In a meta-analysis of studies published in JAMA Psychiatry, the team looked at 33 different studies that involved more than 1,800 people and found that strength training significantly reduced symptoms of depression.
Exactly how this works is still a little fuzzy. "There are potential social, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that could help explain how and why resistance training may reduce depressive symptoms," says Brett Gordon, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Limerick and lead author on the study. Example: The social interaction you get from bonding with a lifting community could help reduce depression, or there could be a placebo effect in knowing that exercise is supposed to boost your mood.
Another theory: "Exercise strengthens your muscles and increases your endurance, which helps your body work more efficiently to send oxygen and nutrients to your brain," Rumsey (who was not involved in the study) says.
Better yet, you don't need to become a full-on CrossFitter to experience these mental health benefits. The authors concluded that resistance training significantly lowered symptoms of depression whether people lifted a couple of times a week or every day (and also whether or not their strength actually improved).
Of course, there are other reasons you should lift weights on the reg. The benefits of strength training include upping your body's ability to burn calories, reducing your risk of osteoporosis as you age, and improving memory. "For most people, I recommend some type of full-body strength training once or twice per week," Rumsey says. Ready to graduate from the two-pounders you pick up in a cycling class? Check out the beginner's guide to lifting heavy weights.