treat depression with strength training

Progressive Resistance Training is an Effective Mood Lifter

You probably already knew that exercise was an effective way to fight back against moderate depression. But did you know that strength training can help to ameliorate and even lessen a case of the blues over the long term?

I am not just saying this as some kind of theoretical construct or because I love hitting the weights – I’m saying it because according to scientific research, it’s for real!

The benefits of strength training are not limited to looking fit. The research tells us that strength training helps people experience a more restful night’s sleep, have more energy, slow down aging and ultimately, feel better. What’s more, young and old alike can experience a sustained mood lift from progressive resistance training over the course of time.

As a wellness therapist in Chicago that offers different counseling services, I can tell you that I’ve seen first-hand the therapeutic benefits of strength training with clients.

 

 

Strength Training Stereotypes

Many people become intimidated when they hear words like strength training. Let’s face it – weight lifting conjures up all sorts of mental imagery, like super-attractive models covering popular fitness magazines or slender beach bods sporting six pack abs.

But here’s the deal – most folks who engage in strength training do so because they know it is an effective way to cope with stress and because it gives them a sense of personal empowerment over their bodies. They are not looking to be the next iron man or become some kind of power-lifter.

Strength Training vs. Body Building

It is important to not confuse strength training with body building. These are two entirely different animals. Strength training is all about progressive resistance that builds muscle over the course of time. On the flipside, body building is mostly concerned with shaping the physique and ultimately, competition. While they may share similar characteristics, they are not the same.

The reason I have recommended strength training to countless clients as part of an overall strategy to fight back against mild depression is fairly simple – it works. And while physical activity is a good way to push back against the blues, strength training provides the added long-term benefits of helping to stabilize mood while increasing two anti-depression bio-chemicals – serotonin and endorphins.

Want some other benefits of strength training? Check these out:

  • Improved muscle and bone health
  • Improved cardio-vascular functioning
  • Enhanced metabolism
  • Reduction of body fat
  • Better self-image
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Higher libido

Going Beyond Physical Activity

When clients with moderate depression ask me about natural ways to prevent depression, many of them are already involved with some type of physical activity, like walking, running or swimming. A lot of them have already experienced the maximum physiological and psychological benefits from these activities. And so these folks are looking for something different that challenges their bodies in new ways.

On these occasions, I ask these clients to consider taking part in strength training after first gaining medical clearance. I make this suggestion because the science tells us that resistance training helps in the battle against depression.

Additionally, if they join a gym, they now have added a healthy activity to their weekly schedule that aids in ritualizing wellness and offers an opportunity to become social with others – which are two important therapeutic approaches as part of a wider anti-depression tool-box.

Strength Training for Newbies

If you are new to strength training and unsure where or how to begin, there are a number of approaches you may wish to consider. One excellent option is to hire a personal trainer to help you learn the basics. A simple Internet search in your home town will likely provide lots of resources. Look for a trainer that is certified by one of the major certification organizations, such as ACE or NASM.

If you have some experience with strength training or want to learn on your own, I recommend Weight Training for Dummies. This book is fairly straight forward, easy to understand and provides lots of exercises to choose from.

 

 

Finally on this point, keep in mind that progressive resistance training doesn’t necessarily have to involve weights. Many people engage in strength training through the use of bands and isometric exercises.

Summary

I recognize that strength training is not for everyone and the thought of working out at a gym can be intimidating. This is particularly true if we have body image issues. But if you are looking for a new approach to wellness that has the multiple benefits of ameliorating depression, giving you more energy and helping you look and feel better, I encourage you to give serious thought to some type of strength training program.

The trick is to start out slowly and build momentum over the course of time. Most of the folks I have worked with experience meaningful mood lifting results in a few short weeks. Typically, they start out with a one-hour workout 3 to four times a week. Make sure gym safety is part of any approach you take to working out.

Strength training to help push back against depression isn’t a “magic bullet” and it takes time to experience the results. As mentioned previously, it is important to gain medical clearance before partaking in any exercise program, including resistance training. Diet also needs to be included as part of the dynamic.

With that shared, if you are looking for the ultimate natural way to push back against depression while investing in yourself, strength training could be just what you are looking for.

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