Lifting weights and strength training help to reduce depression, a new review of the research finds.
Strength training can substantially improve people’s symptoms even for those with moderate depression and those who do not train that often.
In fact, strength training, including weight-lifting, is particularly effective for people who have more severe depression symptoms, the study concluded.
It also didn’t matter if people ‘bulked up’ or not — there was no link between having more muscle and feeling better.
The main thing was just to do the workout.
After strength training or weight-lifting, people felt more interested in all activities, in a better mood and it reduced feelings of worthlessness.
The studies cannot tell us why strength training is beneficial, but it may be because it increases blood flow to the brain.
Previous studies have also shown that weight-lifting reduces anxiety symptoms.
Mr Brett Gordon, the study’s first author, said:
“Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores, suggesting RET may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms.”
The conclusions come from a review of 33 separate studies involving 1,877 people.
The studies included both the depressed and nondepressed.
The results showed it didn’t matter if people went to the gym five times a week or just twice a week, or how many repetitions they completed — the benefits were roughly the same.
All that really mattered was showing up and completing the workout.
The study’s authors conclude:
“Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, total prescribed volume of RET, or significant improvements in strength.”
Weight training has similar benefits to mental health to those provided by aerobic exercise, like jogging.
This is quite apart from its physiological benefits, such as increasing bone strength and preventing other chronic conditions.
The authors recommend working out at least twice a week and performing around 10 repetitions of 10 different strength-building exercises.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry (Gordon et al., 2018).