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Mental Health Fitness

Strength Training and Mental Health

The focus of human survival has undergone a transformation. Day to day survival is not challenged the way it had been for centuries. For most that read this, the physical stress of hunting daily for food, water, or shelter may not be a concern. Instead, struggles with confidence, self-worth, purpose, anxiety, and depression have crept in. In a world of comfort, it seems that mental disease has taken the place of those previously mentioned ‘physical’ burdens. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that depression and another commonly associated mental health condition, anxiety, are fairly common throughout the world. Depression alone affects well over 250 million people worldwide, with depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy 1 trillion dollars a year. That’s not taking into account any other mental health conditions. Adding more complication to the matter, pharmacological or psychological help may either be too expensive or not easily accessible. Regular exercise (specifically weight training, and aerobic exercise) can provide a budget-conscious solution while avoiding some of the adverse effects of medications.

Regular strength training can provide a myriad of benefits outside of it’s potential to reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions. A review of studies done so far involving strength training concerning patients with mental health conditions concluded that strength training reduces:

  • Anxiety symptoms in healthy adults
  • Depression symptoms in healthy and clinically diagnosed patients
  • Symptoms of chronic fatigue and pain

The review also concluded that strength training boosts self-esteem, cognitive functions in older adults, and sleep quality for those suffering from symptoms of mental health condition. The exact neural mechanisms that lead to these improvements are currently unknown and only speculated upon but proposed to be the combined result of all the adaptations the body undergoes while strength training. Both Psychology Today and the American Council on Exercise (ACE) have listed some other less quantifiable benefits of strength training on mental health. Among some of the already discussed benefits were:

  • Increased easy of activities of daily living (stronger muscles = less difficult work around the house)
  • Added “You” time (for thinking, planning, etc.)
  • Improvements in focus and discipline
  • Better balance

One of the few limitations of strength training as a treatment for mental health conditions can be learning how to execute or program exercises properly. Hiring a personal trainer can be a great way to get started learning proper form techniques and even receive coaching in other helpful areas such as nutrition. Even though most of the research performed regarding mental health and exercise suggests that strength training alone can help, improving nutritional habits will likely only make the process more efficient. Having a person in your corner that will listen to you, analyze, and then customize or adapt your strength training or nutritional needs based on your current situation is an invaluable resource.