It’s very common to associate exercise with physical health because that’s what it’s generally focused on and what most people talk about when they work out, but did you know that mental health can greatly benefit from exercise as well? Whether you’re a person that struggles with depression or anxiety, or you just want to feel a sense of achievement in your daily life, exercise is a great way to give your brain some peace of mind and help it focus only on what’s happening at the moment without letting your mind wander.
You may already be familiar with particular activities being related to mental health, such as doing yoga or jogging outdoors, but exercising in general, no matter how you do it, can do wonders for your well-being and improve your quality of life. It’s widely known that strength training is the best way to develop muscle mass and grow bigger and stronger muscles, but its mental health advantages aren’t talked about enough… And there are many! We’ll go over the mental health benefits of strength training, so you can understand why it makes you feel good and how you can use that for your mental benefit, so you can start strength training at the gym or home for more than a sculpted body.
Reduces depression symptoms
Depression isn’t fun, and it’s something that many people struggle with. Even if you usually live a happy life and are just going through a tough time at the moment, the feelings of sadness and negative thinking can be incredibly taxing on your mental health, and fighting it off can be tough. Depression symptoms can range from feeling sad and tired to having trouble sleeping, eating, and generally getting through the day, but exercise has been proven time and time again to be effective for improving your mental health, and there have been numerous studies and clinical trials done particularly on strength and resistance training and the role they play in reducing depression symptoms.
A meta-analysis published by the JAMA Psychiatry journal studied the effects of resistance training on depression and found that resistance training can significantly reduce symptoms of depression in adults, regardless of the total amount of exercise performed, their strength improvement, or even their health status.  Another study on older adults by the Neuropsychobiology journal found that adding strength training on a moderate intensity to their usual treatment promotes a greater reduction of major depressive disorder symptoms.  These studies help us understand how strength and resistance training can benefit mental health just by being a physical activity that takes your mind off other things since exercise volume or gains had no impact on the results. The simple act of lifting weights and moving your body can be enough to significantly improve your mood. Additionally, strength training (and exercise in general) have been found to play an important role in cognitive function, boosting your memory and thinking skills, which can be often affected due to depression and anxiety. This takes us to the next point...
Anxiety can stem from depression or it can be a completely separate issue, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be chronic. Anyone can experience anxiety at any moment of their lives because daily life can be stressful! If you have a demanding job, you’re studying for an important test, or if you’re just trying to plan the perfect vacation, feeling anxious around things that you either can or can’t control can be very exhausting. For a lot of people, easing their anxiety means getting to relax, watching their favorite show, fidget with a toy, or taking a moment to step outside and breathe some fresh air - and among these activities, there’s exercise too! Strength and resistance training to reduce anxiety is a great way to keep your mind off of what’s worrying you, and this has been backed by extensive research over the years. Additionally, one of the key physiological benefits of physical activity such as strength training is that, when you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These are chemicals that help diminish your perception of pain, helping you relieve stress and even produce a feeling of euphoria.
A study published by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders compared aerobic exercise and resistance training, finding that both are effective to fight off anxiety and that resistance training particularly improves disorder-specific symptoms, anxiety sensitivity, distress tolerance, and the intolerance of uncertainty.  Further research from another study published by the Sports Medicine journal shows that resistance exercise training significantly improves symptoms of anxiety regardless of whether the participants were healthy or had any sort of physical or mental illness.  This shows that exercise, particularly strength and resistance training, can be beneficial to anyone who’s suffering from anxiety regardless of their particular circumstances, making it generally effective to treat anxiety symptoms. So, if you’re an anxious person or are going through some tense times, you can try lifting some weights to improve your mood and relax your brain!
Boosts your self-esteem
It’s no secret that strength training helps you achieve a stronger and leaner body, and this can do wonders for your self-esteem, but just like we talked about in the beginning, exercising isn’t just about your physical appearance. Of course, visually seeing progress in the mirror feels amazing and fuels you to keep going, but self-esteem can be boosted in a lot of different ways when you’re strength training. Lifting weights can make you feel powerful, regardless of the gains you’re making, just because you feel confident enough to get your workout done. And this translates to other aspects of your life, helping you value yourself and your abilities more because you know that you’re capable. Building your confidence and boosting your feeling of self-worth by weight lifting can help improve your interpersonal relationships as well as your relationship with yourself. And weight training, naturally, makes you stronger, so you’ll be physically more confident too! Whether you need to run errands all day, or you’re moving and need to pack, unpack, and move boxes around, knowing that you’re able to do it all can be wonderful for your mental health. Of course, all this isn’t to say that looking great isn’t important, because there’s nothing more empowering than liking what you see in the mirror! All in all, strength training can be amazing for your well-being in every aspect, from body image to mental stability.
Increases your energy
Strength training requires you to be active, and this can do wonders for your daily life! Mental health can be severely impacted by illnesses, complex circumstances, or even small things that bother you to a point where you feel like you can’t even get out of bed. By exercising, you can find the strength to get up on those days where you don’t feel like it because your energy levels are higher when you stay active. A good workout can also help you get better and deeper sleep, letting you rest adequately, harboring more energy for the next day! This increase in energy subsequently improves your mood, helping you get through the day without struggling to do your basic tasks. When everything feels like an obstacle, your mental health suffers, which is why being able to get up and get going can feel so relieving, lifting that weight off your shoulders that might be pushing your mood down.
Distracts you in a healthy way
When you’re down or feel like your mental health isn’t at its best, your brain tries to find a way to ease those negative feelings. These are known as coping mechanisms, they help you manage your emotions, and exercise is among the best and healthiest ones that you can use! When you have a lot on your mind, lifting some weights and moving your body can help you distract yourself and focus only on your movements. This isn’t only true for those moments when you’re down, you can use strength training as a healthy distraction when you’re bored too! You don’t need to feel sad or anxious to need a distraction, you might just have a lot of free time in your hands. Some people stay in bed and watch movies all day while eating their favorite snacks, and while this isn’t necessarily bad, making it your go-to distraction all the time might not be the healthiest option for you. This is why having a pair of dumbbells or a set of resistance bands at home can be so useful! You don’t need to get out of your house to get some strength training done, you can just pick up your weights and head to your favorite workout room or your backyard and do your favorite exercises to give your mind a nice break. Not only you’ll be keeping your body active and your blood running, but you’ll also feel better about yourself knowing that you’re taking care of your body!
All in all, strength training can be a serious mood booster, and anyone can benefit from it! Prioritizing mental health is always essential if you want to live a long and healthy life, so taking care of your mental stability should always be important. And if you end up finding that strength training isn’t really for you, don’t worry, there are plenty of activities and types of exercise that you can try! Cardio such as walking or running, yoga, team sports… It doesn’t matter if it’s low or high-intensity, it’s up to you and what feels more comfortable, after all, your mental health thrives when you’re doing something that you enjoy!