Weight lifting; Beneficial for the mind and body - by Jessica Bryan
We’ve all heard of the benefits of exercise, whether you’re running, going on a stroll, or attending a class. There’s plenty of research out there to show that exercise can help with mental health, but most seem to focus on aerobic exercise, such as cycling or jogging. While this is great, why is weight lifting ignored?
Lifting weights doesn’t just make us physically stronger – it can help boost our mental health too. The adrenaline rush you receive from working out with weights is unlike anything else. It gives you this feeling of invincibility, and the confidence from hitting personal bests, or even just mastering a particular lift can stay with you for a couple days.
BRING ON THOSE ENDORPHINS
With any form of activity, your body releases endorphins so you earn the feel-good factor after your workout. Through releasing them, they not only stimulate the pleasure parts of the brain and elevate your mood, but also reduce stress and anxiety.
It’s through lifting that we can release all the pent-up stress from daily inconveniences or long-term problems. Strength training can help you to forget them or help you solve them with a clear perspective on them after you’ve finished in the gym. Win win really!
BOOST YOUR BRAIN POWER
Don’t believe us? Look at the facts! Research was conducted around the mental benefits of strength training. Collating the results of 24 studies on the topic of strength training and cognitive performance then published in the journal Psychological Research there were two main benefits:
- Boosting cognitive ability as a whole, including memory, attention, and the ability to learn and solve problems
- Increased executive function, which is related to motivation and willpower.
So not only are you growing your muscles, you’re growing your mind too. Pretty neat, huh?
SMASH THOSE ANXIETIES
Resistance training, it turns out, is also a highly effective way to manage symptoms of anxiety. When researchers rounded up all the studies on resistance training and anxiety, they found that lifting weights reduced anxiety symptoms in both healthy participants as well as those with a physical or mental illness. In fact, lifting weights just twice a week led to a remission rate that was on par with antidepressants.
Studies have revealed that after 6 months of resistance training, specific parts of the brain grow to a larger size too. There was a correlation between this physical alteration to the brain and a rise in cognitive ability. It is not hard to see similarities between practicing “mindfulness” and working out with weights.
Being more mindful means focusing more on the here and now, including your own thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Mindfulness also shows you that your thoughts and feelings come and go. You have the option of acting on them or letting them pass.
In fact, it is all very similar to the experience of weightlifting at a gym. For instance, you are forced to focus on the current moment when squatting with a big weight across your shoulders. It takes a lot of mental energy and focus to get your body in the ideal posture for each rep, from your head to your feet, and guide the movements in a safe and controlled fashion.
Sleep (isn’t) for the weak
While strength training can leave you feeling exhausted, it can also lead to better sleep. Exercising for as little as 20 minutes a day has been demonstrated to improve sleep quality. In particular, strength training has been linked to stabilising key physiological processes like glucose metabolism at rest, blood pressure, and metabolic rate. All of these things enable you to relax your body and get a better night’s rest. In addition, research shows that regular weight training can improve your sleep quality and lengthen the time you spend in REM sleep. Improved sleep quality is associated with increased alertness and positivity during the day.
Scary gym folk are giant teddy bears
Whether you lift at a gym or work out at home, there’s a huge social side to training that shouldn’t be overlooked. Social interaction and inclusiveness are essential for sustaining good mental health, and joining a club is a proven way to turn a temporary hobby into a long-term commitment. For example, if you join Barbell Training Complex, there’s plenty of opportunities to regularly engage with other members and trainers who share your interests and motivations. Whether you want advice on technique, information about nutrition or even just a chat, the folk at Barbell are there to help. Feeling nervous? Start the conversation online by joining a facebook group or follow some people that inspire you to help you build up the courage.
Talk to your doctor or another qualified practitioner if you are having mental health issues. They can supply you with a range of treatments and assist you in creating a recovery plan or coping strategies, which could potentially include weight lifting. If you want more info on this topic, the mental health charity Mind is an excellent place to start.