Strength Training for Mental Health

Strength Training for Mental Health

It’s no secret that regular strength training improves physique… but aesthetics aren’t what keep us motivated to return to the weights when life gets in the way.

Ask anyone who prioritizes weight lifting despite their busy schedules why - and chances are the first thing they’ll say is they rely on the overall well-being consistent training provides.

After all, while getting closer to our ideal physique is a definite plus - bigger biceps or stronger glutes don’t get us through the weeds when the going gets tough.

Our current mental health state determines how resilient we are to unexpected challenges that we undoubtedly will continue to face. And mental health, just like physical health, is something that everyone has and everyone experiences shifts in.

Next time you have a leg day, recognize that by keeping a powerful mind muscle connection, you not only build stronger quads and hamstrings - you’re also building stronger command of your mind

We created Better Body in 2020 as a response to having no access to gyms during lockdown. But our mission wasn’t driven by the thought that people want to maintain their physique. 

What motivated us was the negative impact on mental health we knew having no access to strength training would cause. 

In this article, we cover exactly what mental health is, and how consistent strength training can ease common struggles like depression and anxiety through:

  • Stimulating Brain Neuroplasticity
  • Mindful Reps
  • Cultivating Self Esteem
  • Improving Sleep Quality

Home Fitness EquipmentIn photo: Better Body Hex Dumbbells, Barbell and Competition Plates Bundle, Squat Rack, Adjustable Weighted Vest

What is mental health?

Mental health is not something just some people have to worry about. Just like we all have physical health - we all have mental health. And to achieve overall well being, we must do what we can to take care of both.

Just like physical health, there can be many factors that affect our mental health. Biological factors like genetics or brain chemistry or life experiences like trauma or abuse affect our mental health. There are also modern societal factors like economics, climate concerns and ever increasing digital connectivity that have created emotional and mental stress not experienced by humanity until the last decade, causing a drastic increase in mental health concerns.

In other words, there are a lot of external factors that lead to stress and worry. Compounded over time, these stressful feelings can develop into symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Anxiety and depression are the two are the most common mental health concerns in North America, with the United States ranking as the most anxious population and Canada ranking 3rd. Half of those diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with depression.

In the past, studies on the impact of exercise on mental health were focused largely on aerobic exercises. According to Jacob Meyer, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, “aerobic exercise is simpler, more straightforward and more easily quantifiable to study than resistance exercise.”

Recent studies are showing that consistent weight training is associated with a significant reduction in depression symptoms and generalized anxiety symptoms

We don’t need a professional diagnosis of generalized anxiety or clinical depression. Everyone experiences varying degrees of anxiety and depression symptoms - and everyone can improve their mental well-being with a consistent strength training schedule.

Better Body Barbell, Weights and Exercise MatIn photo: Barbell and Weight Plate Bundle, Exercise Mat

How does strength training ease symptoms of anxiety & depression?

NEUROPLASTICITY: Strength training changes our brains. 

It’s not just our muscles, heart and lungs that are getting a workout when we train. 

Until 1960, the scientific consensus was that adult brains are fixed and stable - so the relationship between mental illness and brain structure was not often considered. 

Scientists now recognize that recovery from mental illness is possible by changing the neural pathways in our brain - a process called neuroplasticity.

Resistance exercise has been proven to reduce patients’ depression levels. A strength training regimen stimulates neuroplasticity by “reshaping the brain structure of depression patients, activating the function of related brain areas, promoting behavioural adaptation changes, and maintaining the integrity of hippocampal and white matter volume.”

We’ve known that exercise stimulates endorphin production… But it also strengthens the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning - which improves our creativity and memory retention. 

Brain function might not be the be all end all of mental health - but when we operate at a higher capacity mentally, we have a greater capacity for resilience against life’s stressors.

By including consistent strength training in our routines, we can change the neural pathways in our minds to improve our brain function and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Home Fitness Equipment - Adjustable DumbbellsIn Photo: Better Body Pro Adjustable Dumbbells

MINDFULNESS: The Mind-Muscle Connection isn’t just for your muscles.

You might have heard of ‘mindfulness meditation’ as a form of seated meditation one can practice to improve their mental health.

But did you know that mindfulness is also a skill we can practice during our most challenging work-outs? 

Mindfulness, put simply, is a way of being. It’s a cue to recognize that our thoughts are just thoughts, they come and go. We can reduce the mental clutter and focus on what we are doing and feeling in the present moment. Does that sound familiar?

It should! Because there are serious parallels between ‘mindfulness’ and that focus you experience trying to connect your mind to your muscle and make the most of every rep.

After all, we must be fully engaged in the moment to safely squat or deadlift heavy weights without injury. We check in with our bodies to ensure we have proper form. We focus on our breathing to get us through the last reps. We hear those thoughts telling us to quit early and we breathe through them - choosing to finish on our own terms.

MRI scans have also shown that mindfulness meditation leads to activation in brain areas involved in self regulation and problem solving - helping to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Results indicate that meditation leads to activation in brain areas involved in processing self-relevant information, self-regulation, focused problem-solving, adaptive behavior, and interoception.

While strength training alone is unlikely to serve as a cure for severe depression and anxiety, it can help ease the symptoms of both conditions and improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. 

Adjustable Dumbbells SquatIn photo: Better Body Adjustable Twist Dumbbells & Rack

PROGRESS LEADS TO CONFIDENCE: Strength training for self-esteem.

Those who have recurring symptoms of anxiety often also find themselves struggling with low self esteem, experiencing poor self confidence and low self worth. 

Low self esteem can be described as a condition when someone lacks confidence about who they are and what they can do, ending up feeling incompetent, unloved, or inadequate. This is a stifling feeling, as those with low self esteem are constantly afraid of letting others down or making mistakes.

A regular strength training routine improves self-esteem because at the end of the day - there is no one who is picking up those weights except you.

That person who showed up to train even if they didn’t feel like it?

That was you.

That person who feels stronger doing something random ‘in real life’ and recognizing that they are actually more fit because of regular training?

That was you.

That wicked set executed with perfect form, with 3 extra reps than you thought you could do?
That was you.

It won’t be overnight, but with enough time and consistency these little wins can build our confidence within ourselves so we can feel more resilient in the face of stress and conflict.

Tips for Better Sleep

SLEEP QUALITY: Sleep is for muscle repair and mental health.

Sleep is just as important to our health as eating, drinking water, and breathing - allowing our bodies to repair themselves, heal muscle tissue, and process information. 

Poor sleep is linked to a weakened immune system and increased risk of mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. Those who've been diagnosed with a mental illness are more likely to have poor sleep quality compared to the general population.

It’s a self fulfilling cycle, as common causes of insomnia and poor sleep quality include stress, anxiety and depression.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that regular exercise leads to an easier time falling asleep. If your body is tired, your mind will be tired too. Those who exercise less than once a week are more likely to experience poor sleep quality and struggles falling and staying asleep. 

And we are now seeing scientific studies illustrating the benefits strength training specifically has on sleep quality. A German study found that any muscle-strengthening exercise was associated with reduced occurrence of poor or very poor sleep. 

Lovers of strength training already know the power of sleep - because it’s during this period of rest that our muscles release protein-building amino acids, which helps them grow bigger and stronger over time. 

But we should understand and appreciate the link between strength training, sleep, and better mental health outcomes. By challenging our mind and body with weight lifting, we can fall asleep quicker, rest deeper, and stay asleep longer.

Home Fitness Adjustable DumbbellsIn Photo: Better Body Adjustable Twist Dumbbells & Adjustable Heavy Duty Bench

Strength training is for your body and your mind. 

Mental health is something we all struggle with from time to time. After all, despite all its conveniences, our modern society isn’t an easy environment to cope with mentally and emotionally. 

There are tons of external factors that lead to stress and worry, which compounded over time and combined with our genetics and life experiences, can cause anxiety and depression.

While we can’t control these external factors, we can control the training we do to be physically and mentally fit.

A regular strength training routine will make us physically fit while increasing our energy levels, strengthening our mental resilience, easing depression and anxiety symptoms, improving our self esteem, and boosting brain performance.

You don’t need a gym to start. We supply the highest performing home fitness equipment to help you get your better body and better mind from the comfort of your home, no matter how much or how little space you have.  

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