At the outset of a New Year, many of us are looking for new ways to support our physical and mental health.
Thankfully, there’s a natural mood-boosting, brain, and body strengthening practice that delivers big health results: weight training.
Yes, weight training is a wellness marvel.
And, you don’t have to become a bodybuilder or join a gym to do it. Weight training is incredibly user-friendly and easy to do at home. Strength, or resistance, training can be adjusted so that people of all ages, body types and fitness levels can participate.
Strength training is a physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance. That resistance can come from any number of things including traditional free weights/dumbbells, weight machines, elastic tubing, resistance bands, medicine balls, your own body weight, or even soup cans or milk jugs filled with sand.
Benefits of Weight Training
In addition to the fitness rewards that come with strength and weight training, you’ll likely receive numerous health returns on the time and effort you invest.
One of the greatest physical benefits of resistance training is that it combats muscle loss and helps to increase bone mineral density. As we age, muscle mass decreases approximately 3-8% per decade after the age of 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. Post-menopausal women are also at a greater risk for bone loss. This makes weight training a great practice for aging bodies.
Using resistance exercises to work your muscles can help fire up the metabolism to burn more calories, which can aid in weight loss and help to lower abdominal fat. It can also improve sleep, normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels, boost cardiovascular health, and improve flexibility and mobility.
There are a host of brain health benefits, too. Over the past few years, several studies have shown that resistance training is linked to improved cognition, memory, mood, and a reduction in anxious feelings.
Relief for Mood Challenges
While research on the mental health benefits of aerobic exercise have been studied for a long time, the mental health effects of strength training are only now being understood.
Some clinical trials have found that resistance training is associated with a significant reduction of low mood. Although researchers aren’t entirely sure how weight training changes the brain to boost mood, there are some clues.
First, similar to aerobic exercise, strength training stimulates the brain’s pituitary gland to release endorphins, which are morphine-like hormone molecules that enter the brain’s neurons. This action can block pain impulses, resulting in a mildly euphoric feeling.
Another chemical stimulated by aerobic exercise and strength training is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is produced in the hippocampus and has mood-boosting properties. BDNF is found in lower levels in people who suffer from low mood, hence the benefit of ensuring healthy levels of this protein.
There are some feel-good brain effects thought to be unique to strength training. Researchers have hypothesized that physiological adaptations associated with strength gains and muscle growth from resistance training might interact with the neurobiology associated with low mood, resulting in a mood boost.
Resistance exercise may help to reduce anxious feelings, too. Weight training can help to lessen anxious thoughts in both healthy participants and those with mental health issues.
Understanding exactly how strength exercises may help with low mood and anxious thoughts, by acting on the same neurobiological systems, offers a rich opportunity for further study.
How to Start Weight Training
The great news is that you can start weight training right now at home.
You can begin by doing squats with a chair, push-ups, planks, or other movements that require you to use your own body weight as resistance. These exercises will strengthen your core and help your posture (a strong posture is also linked to a positive outlook).
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 different exercises that target all major muscle groups at least twice a week, and to give yourself at least one day off after a strength training session.
The American Council on Exercise offers a free collection of body-weight exercises. These are great for all levels of fitness.
Of course, you can work with a personal trainer too or take a strength training fitness course. Many personal trainers and fitness studios have online offerings at this time.
A Final Thought
Researchers and laypeople alike have discovered the positive mental effects associated with weight training. Many with a consistent weight training regimen can attest to how much more confident they feel and how much more physically able they are to do daily tasks.