Depression is the number one psychiatric disorder on earth and is believed to affect roughly 120 million adults worldwide (1). According to the National Institute of Health, in 2016, suicide was the number 10 overall cause of death in the United States with over 45,000 individuals taking their own lives (4). Organized therapy with a trained professional and medication should always be the first course of action in dealing with issues like depression. In addition, recent research indicates that resistance training has been shown to both reverse signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as prevent the onset of such issues to begin with (4).
The physical health benefits of resistance training are numerous and well documented. Over the last decade the evidence has increasingly shown resistance training to benefit mental well-being in addition to physical health. In the short term, resistance training increases blood flow to the brain and causes the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins which causes acute feelings of euphoria and reduced stress. Over the long term, resistance training can cause changes in neural pathways affecting cognitive function, behavior, and moods (1). Other ways that resistance training exercise fights depression is by improving self-image and opening up the doors for greater social interaction, removing the sense of isolation and loneliness common amongst those suffering from anxiety and depression.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of recent studies is that the intensity and frequency of resistance training apparently matters very little with regards to fighting depression. Additionally, results were consistent across both men and women, young and old (2). In other words, it doesn’t matter who you are, how hard you train, or how often, just get into the gym and move your body. This may not be a cure-all, but there is a plethora of evidence to suggest that resistance training will both reverse and prevent anxiety and depression and improve overall mental well-being.
Blake, Holly. Physical Activity and Exercise in the Treatment of Depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, December 2012.
Gordon, BR, et. Al. The Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Anxiety: a Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Sports Medicine, Dec 2017: 2521-2532.
Reynolds, Gretchen. Weight Training May Help to Ease or Prevent Depression. New York Times, June 6, 2018.