Strength-training exercises can help fight depression

Combating depression takes heavy lifting.

Strength-training exercises like bench pressing, deadlifts and pull-ups can alleviate symptoms of depression, a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found.

Researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland analyzed 33 clinical trials involving 1,877 participants with symptoms of depression, including thoughts of worthlessness and poor morale, that examined the effects of resistance exercise training on depression symptoms. They found that strength training was associated with improvements in low mood regardless of a person’s age, health status, sex and specific exercise routine.

While the workout is physically rewarding, strength training has positive mental benefits, too. Someone lifting weights can physically see their accomplishments, reversing depressing and negative thoughts like “I can’t” and boosting self-confidence that gives off a natural high instead.

Another study found that 80 percent of older adults with depression experienced reduced symptoms after a 10-week resistance training program. And other research that analyzed adults over age 60 found that those who were assigned to a similar high-intensity resistance training program reduced their symptoms by 50 percent.

Those experiencing feelings of low self-worth are not alone. More than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally, according to the World Health Organization, and millennials, in particular, are at greater risk. According to a separate study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, millennials are twice as likely to develop mental health problems like depression resulting from loneliness and anxiety compared to older people, particularly due to the rise of isolating social media apps like Instagram and Facebook.

While the strength-training study didn’t mention a specific workout or exercise that lends itself best to mental health, head researcher Brett Gordon recommended implementing some form of strength training into exercise routines at least two days per week, performing eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 different muscle-building exercises each time. Increased blood flow from exercise in general also triggers mood-enhancing endorphins and results in improved self-esteem. Still, it’s important to note that exercise isn’t a cure-all for mental health issues and those experiencing symptoms of depression should seek health through a trusted counselor or psychologist.

Many millennials are already on the right track. A survey by nutrition company My Protein found that they spend $155 per month on health and fitness; that’s $112,000 in their entire lifetime. And attendance at boutique fitness studios like CrossFit, which incorporates strength training, grew by 70 percent from 2012 to 2015, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sports club Association. And these gyms now make up 35 percent of the $25.8 billion fitness market.

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