For many people, starting a fitness journey is about far more than losing weight. More and more people are using exercise and fitness trends, such as weightlifting, as a tool to improve their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health.
A study by the University of Limerick recently reported that lifting weights is associated “with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms”, with researchers suggesting that strength training could even be used as an alternative or addition to therapy for depressive symptoms.
And you don’t necessarily have to be pumping iron for hours a day to feel the benefits. By incorporating weight-training into your workouts just two days a week – say by doing 8-12 reps of 8-10 different exercises each time – you could begin to see these positive changes in your own life.
Here are 7 ways weightlifting can be good for mental wellbeing:
1. It improves sleep and energy levels
Besides the aesthetic, physiological and strength benefits, weight-training can have an affect on how we feel and also how we think. It’s been found that weight-training can help improve your sleep pattern and the quality of sleep you get – and sleep is so important in everyday life. Good quality sleep helps improve stress levels, regulate hormones, and can also help you lose weight and feel more energised throughout the day.
2. It lets you challenge yourself
The transformation of your body from undertaking weight-training is a large incentive for many people. However, a more toned physique isn’t the only reward for your efforts in the gym: Weight-training allows you to challenge yourself, which can work wonders on improving your sense of self-esteem by setting new goals for yourself and beating them, which can in turn help boost mental wellbeing and motivation levels.
3. And could transform your body-confidence
It’s little wonder the ‘strong not skinny’ movement has caught on so much. Weight-training encourages people to see their body in a whole new light, where the focus is on getting strong and healthy, rather than focusing on being as slim as possible. Fans of the fitness trend often say it’s enabled them to appreciate their body for what it can do, rather than just how it looks.
4. Weight-lifting releases endorphins
Exercise in general leads to the release of endorphins – those ‘feel-good’ chemicals that stimulate the pleasure part of your brain and elevate your mood – and this includes weight-training. This is often why many gym-goers talk about having a buzz of energy and boosted mood after a gym session – and there’s strong evidence that it can be highly effective for managing mental health symptoms too. “Exercise and any form of physical activity has been shown to be the best intervention for mental health problems, particularly anxiety and depression,” says personal Trainer, James Clewlow, a firm believer in the positive effects weight training can have on mental health.
Lifting weights also increases norepinephrine, which can help boost your brain’s ability to cope with stress.
5. A sense of connection
Hitting the gym to start weight-training might feel intimidating at first – so why not rope in a friend or two and make it a social affair? Or you could join a class at your gym which works with weights, or a bootcamp-style group – there are lots of them up and down the country. You’ll soon find that once you start working out regularly, you’ll meet a tight-knit and supportive community of lifters – and being part of a ‘club’, so to speak, and making friends is a big part of what makes it so enjoyable and mood-boosting for lots of people.
6. Boosted cognitive functions
Research has shown that people who undertake physical exercise also see improved awareness and cognition. The repetition involved in the movements is also said to increase both short-term and long-term memory.
7. It gives you much needed break from everyday stress
Although strength-training requires focus and discipline, it gives your brain a much needed rest from the stresses of everyday life. You can stop thinking about work and other demands and worries, and focus on your form and completing your workout.
Incorporating weightlifting into your life may even give you a new sense of calm, says Clewlow: “Creating a sustainable program, which fits the individual’s needs, could prove invaluable for improving their wellbeing.”
The mere act of carving out some time for yourself could mean you begin to see your mood soar.