How Weightlifting Can Help Reduce Depression

Depression is very real, and it is more common than many people might think.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that 300 million people worldwide—roughly 5 percent of the world’s population—suffer from depression, with fewer than 50 percent getting adequate treatment. Even worse, depression has been linked to suicide, which accounts for some 800,000 deaths across the globe annually.

Beating Depression

There are many ways to treat depression depending on the specific person. One of the most effective, and healthiest, ways is through exercise.

The Harvard Medical School, in an article on exercise and depression, considers exercise as “an all-natural treatment to fight depression.” It explains that low-intensity exercise sustained over time spurs the release of neurotrophic proteins that “cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections.” These new connections then enhance brain function, which in turn makes a person feel better. Also, these neurotrophic proteins keep the hippocampus from getting small. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that aids in regulating mood, and the Harvard study notes that people suffering from depression have a smaller-than-normal hippocampus.

The Mayo Clinic, in its own article on depression and anxiety, explains that regular exercise counters depression primarily by releasing endorphins, natural chemicals produced by the pituitary gland that enhance your sense of well-being. Exercising also helps people break free from negative thoughts by focusing on something else other than their worries.

The psychological and emotional benefits of exercising can also help combat depression. Working out, for example, helps with self-confidence when fitness-related goals, however small or simple, are met. Working out is also an excellent means to socialize with others and even the most mundane of interactions with people can go a long way in improving a person’s mood.

The Benefits of Weightlifting

Whether suffering from depression or not, weightlifting is a good exercise for better health. Health IQ reveals that people who lifted weights reduced their cardiovascular disease mortality rate by approximately 41%. As illness is one of depressions biggest causes it demonstrates how weightlifting can improve the mind and the body. The site also reported that people who engaged in weight training had a 46% reduction in mortality compared to those who did not lift weights, and reduced their cancer mortality by 19%.

Weightlifting is an excellent therapy for depression. In an article on The Inquirer, Philly Personal Training owner Brian Maher says that pumping iron might just be the best therapy against depression. Maher cites studies from two prestigious universities to back up his claim. The first one, a Harvard study from the 1990s, revealed that lifting heavier weights helps combat depression faster. The second one, a Duke University research report showed that depressed participants overcame their depression without medication by engaging in 40-minute weightlifting sessions four times a week for four months.

Additionally, Maher points out how the rise in core body temperature following a particularly intense weightlifting session can help the brain stem “create feelings of relaxation and reduce muscular tension.” He also emphasized that exercise releases endorphins that spur on positive feelings and improves a person’s sense of wellbeing. He discusses how the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, typically diminished in depressed patients, inundate the brain after a workout.

A US News article on weightlifting and depression recounted the case of Becky Stuto, a former victim of depression who turned to weightlifting as therapy, as evidence on how lifting weights can possibly counter depression. The article focuses on the mental benefits of weightlifting as a remedy for a depressed mind, with clinical psychologist Li Faustino mentioning the “different highs” weightlifters experience when they lift a certain weight or when they complete their program for the day.

In the same US News article, personal trainer Kelly Coffey emphasizes that when people push themselves and succeed, they feel a certain level of pride that can often outweigh feelings of depression and powerlessness. Coffey herself turned to weightlifting after she was diagnosed with depression some 12 years ago.

All Pumped Up

While depression is very real, it can be beaten, as both Becky Stuto and Kelly Coffey have proven. There is neither a magic bullet nor a cure-all to deal with depression, but there are certainly plenty of possible remedies to try out, including lifting weights.

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