How Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood

You know strength training is good for your body, but did you know it is also good for your mind?

More and more research studies are showing that resistance exercise has a positive impact on anxiety, depression and overall mental health – but with interesting exceptions.

It is called the anxiolytic effect, and it applies to all types of strength training including lifting weights, using resistance bands or using your body weight for exercises like push-ups.

But not just any kind of strength training, and not just for anyone. Here is what the research found:

1. Firstly, less is more. A 2014 review of studies, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that the anxiolytic effect is higher when you work out at a lower intensity. That is, at less than 70% of your maximum.

And in even better news for people who do not want to “go hard”, the review found that exercise performed at low intensities with long rests between sets (50-55% intensity with 90 seconds rest) “produced robust decreases in state anxiety relative to high intensities with short rests”.

2. Secondly, the effect is even more marked in women. Research found that women showed “robust decreases” in anxiety after resistance training.

3. And thirdly, resistance training combined with cardio had the best effect of all. A study of women with generalised anxiety disorder found that, “When resistance training was combined with aerobic exercise, which alone failed to decrease anxiety symptoms, robust decreases in anxiety were observed. This effect suggests that resistance exercise may enhance the effects of other modes of exercise, or conversely, other modes of exercise may enhance the effects of resistance training.”

Lift your depression

Resistance training is proven to help relieve depression. In a 2018 meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials that included 1877 participants, resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.

It was shown to work for all adults, male and female, regardless of fitness, weight or other health status.

It is thought that the weight lifting helps trigger a release of endorphins which in turn lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.