Mental Health Awareness Week 2018: Lifting weights can reduce symptoms of depression, study finds

Picking up a dumbbell might have a positive effect on both your mind and your muscles

Rachel Hosie
Monday 14 May 2018 09:49 BST

It’s not uncommon to hear stories of people improving their mental health by exercising, but a new study has found that resistance training in particular has a positive effect on the mind.

According to research by the University of Limerick, lifting weights is associated “with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.”

The researchers concluded that strength training could be used as an alternative or addition to therapy for depressive symptoms.

While once the reserve of bodybuilders and “gym bros,” weight lifting has in recent years become increasingly popular amongst the average gym-goer.

It’s particularly growing in popularity amongst women too, as more and more people realise picking up a dumbbell isn’t going to make you look like an Olympic powerlifter but rather create a lean, sculpted physique and boost your metabolism.

But one of the reasons many people stick to strength training once they’ve tried it is because it’s so empowering, confidence-building and satisfying to see yourself progress.

And this is supported by the study’s findings.

Rachel Hosie works out with weights and PT Rich Tidmarsh

The researchers analysed the results of 33 different clinical studies tracking a total of 1,877 people - they were aiming to discover whether resistance training had an effect on symptoms of depression such as feelings of worthlessness, experiencing low mood and loss of interest in activities.

Postgraduate researcher Brett Gordon said: “Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores, suggesting RET [resistance exercise training] may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms.”

You needn’t jump straight into deadlifts if you’ve never lifted a dumbbell before though - Gordon recommends incorporating weight training into your workouts two days a week, doing eight to 12 reps of eight to 10 different exercises each time.

And remember resistance training can take many forms - if you prefer, you can use resistance bands, TRX suspension training or machines such as leg press instead of free weights.

The study authors note that more research is needed to confirm whether strength training could be as effective as “other empirically supported treatments” such as medication, but they suggest hitting the weights room could have a positive effect on your mind as well as your muscles.

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