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Weightlifting and Mental Health: Are They Related?

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The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Many people who suffer from mental illnesses or severe stress levels turn to exercise as a coping technique. Studies show that exercise is a powerful, yet natural, technique for improving mental health and lowering stress levels. Going for a run or attending a spin class to get your heart pumping could be exactly what someone needs to improve their mental health. But what if you don’t enjoy doing cardio? What if you prefer weight lifting? Continue reading to see if weightlifting and mental health are related.

Does Weightlifting Help Mental Health?

According to a study published in Scientific Reports, weight lifting is a powerful tool to fight anxiety and anxious thoughts. The effect of weightlifting on the participants in the study was “larger than anticipated,” Brett Gordon, a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State College of Medicine, said about the findings. This study, which was only released in October of 2020, was ground breaking for those who prefer resistance training over cardio workouts.

The research on the relationship between mental health and exercise primarily covers cardio, not weight lifting. Jacob Meyer, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, notes in a Washington Post article that this is because, “From a research perspective, aerobic exercise is simpler, more straightforward and more easily quantifiable to study than resistance exercise.” Jacob Meyer oversaw a study in June of 2018, which connected weight lifting with lower levels of depression, regardless of health status.

With all of this being said, weightlifting and improved mental health are related. This is excellent news to anyone who is wanting to try a natural approach to improving their mental health or stress levels. Cardio does not have to be the only outlet when using exercise as a coping technique. Weightlifting can be an excellent option if cardio isn’t your personal preference.

Why Does Weightlifting Help Mental Health?

In the study mentioned above about cardio improving mental health, we get some insight into why that form of exercise helps. Cardio helps your blood to pump faster and creates hormones that make you feel happier, or even euphoric. But, with weight lifting, the reasons for improving mental health are surprisingly different.

Builds Resilience

Weight lifting takes a considerable amount of dedication, focus, and hard work. It requires research and attention to achieve the correct form and the right workouts. This hard work and strength improvement often results in mental and physical resilience. Over time, the hard work someone puts into building muscle will make them stronger mentally.

Nerve Cell Generation

Amenda Ramirez and Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico Albuquerque propose the idea that improved cognition and mental health from weight lifting could be due to nerve cell generation. Exercise can increase neurotransmitters, and can help build new brain blood vessels, which increases the amount of new blood the brain gets. The new blood and new blood vessels help deliver oxygen to the brain, and even aid in removing waste. This healthier brain environment likely has an impact on the mental health of weight lifters, which is why weight lifting and mental health are related.

Better Sleep

We know that a lack of sleep can destroy someone’s mental health, even if they had no symptoms of mental illnesses beforehand. Perhaps you have even noticed that you aren’t as happy or are more anxious when you haven’t been sleeping well. The great news is, weightlifters often experience better sleep than those who do not weight lift. Amenda Ramirez and Dr. Len Kravitz report that those with sleep disorders experience 30% improvement in sleep with regular resistance training. So, if you suffer from a sleep disorder, or bad sleep in general, weightlifting can be extremely helpful.

Start Weightlifting!

No matter your exercise experience, age, gender, etc., start resistance training! You don’t have to go to the most expensive gym in town, just five-pound dumbbells at home will work. Any form of resistance training can benefit your mental health, as well as your physical health. Just get started!

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

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The Rx Review is an independent fitness website, reporting on the Sport of Fitness, functional fitness news, The CrossFit Games, health and diet related information, and also provides reviews on sports performance products.