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How Resistance Training Improves Mental Health

corporate wellness stress management May 17, 2024
How Resistance Training Improves Mental Health

Anxiety and depression have become increasingly prevalent in today's fast-paced and demanding world.

While traditional treatments such as therapy and medication remain essential, an emerging body of research suggests that resistance training, commonly known as weightlifting or strength training, can be an effective complementary approach in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Think of resistance training as another tool in your mental-wellness toolbox.

Disclaimer: I am a strength and conditioning coach, not a doctor. The information is based on my experience and knowledge of the peer-reviewed literature. It's not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a mental health issue. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for any health-related concerns or before starting any new exercise or fitness program.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the link between resistance training and mental health, highlighting how this form of exercise can positively impact anxiety and depression.

So, grab a set of dumbbells and get ready to discover the transformative power of progressive resistance exercise.

The Science Behind Anxiety and Depression

Before delving into the benefits of resistance training, it is crucial to understand the science behind anxiety and depression.

Anxiety is characterized by excessive worrying, restlessness, and a sense of impending doom, while depression involves persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and low energy levels.

These mental health conditions can be caused by various factors, including genetics, environmental stressors, and imbalances in brain chemistry.

Undoubtedly it's a serious topic, but sometimes a little laughter can help lift your spirits.

You know you have anxiety when you're at a party and someone says, "Just be yourself," and you're like, "Yeah, but which version? Panic attack in the corner or awkward small talk enthusiast?"

Depression can make even the simplest tasks feel like climbing Mount Everest. You ask someone with depression to "cheer up," and it's like telling a sloth to do a backflip. It's just not gonna happen.

Remember, these jokes are not meant to undermine the seriousness of mental health issues.

It's a real struggle that many people face, and seeking professional help is crucial.

But if you can find a moment to share a laugh and lighten the load, then maybe you can make the journey a little bit easier.

How Resistance Training Improves Mental Health

Strength training, a form of exercise that focuses on building and strengthening muscles, has numerous physical benefits; however, its positive impact extends far beyond the physical realm.

Engaging in regular strength training can also play a significant role in relieving stress and promoting overall mental well-being.

This connection between strength training and stress relief stems from various physiological and psychological factors that come into play during and after a workout session.

Resistance training has a profound impact on the brain's neurochemistry, which can positively influence anxiety and depression symptoms.

When engaging in resistance training, the brain releases endorphins, known as the "feel-good" hormones.

These endorphins act as natural painkillers and mood boosters, reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.

When you engage in strength training exercises, such as lifting weights or performing resistance exercises, your body releases these endorphins, leading to feelings of euphoria and an overall sense of well-being.

This natural "high" can counteract the negative effects of stress, helping you feel more relaxed and content.

Additionally, resistance training stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of neurons. Studies have shown that individuals with depression tend to have lower levels of BDNF.

By engaging in resistance training, BDNF levels increase, promoting neuroplasticity and enhancing mood regulation.

Stress Reduction and Enhanced Coping Mechanisms

Resistance training not only improves physical strength but also strengthens mental resilience. One of the key benefits of this form of exercise is its ability to reduce stress levels.

When you engage in resistance training, your body experiences controlled stress in the form of resistance or weight. Over time, your body adapts to this stress, leading to an increased tolerance for stressors in everyday life.

This enhanced ability to handle stressors can significantly reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

Moreover, strength training offers a productive outlet for pent-up emotions and tension.

When you're stressed, your body undergoes physiological changes, such as increased muscle tension and elevated heart rate.

By engaging in strength training, you provide an opportunity for physical exertion, allowing your muscles to release tension and providing a healthy outlet for the build-up of stress.

This physical release can be incredibly cathartic, leaving you feeling more relaxed and centered after a workout session.

Social Support and Community Connection

Joining a fitness-and-nutrition coaching program can provide an excellent opportunity for social support and community connection.

Engaging in regular exercise with like-minded individuals can alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a sense of belonging.

The camaraderie and support from fellow gym-goers can create a positive and motivating environment that fosters mental well-being.

Also, resistance training provides a sense of empowerment and mastery.

Setting goals, tracking progress, and achieving personal records in the gym can empower you by boosting self-esteem and self-confidence, which are often diminished in individuals with anxiety and depression.

The sense of accomplishment gained from resistance training can translate into increased confidence in other areas of your life.

As you witness improvements in your physical strength and appearance, you develop a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

This newfound confidence translates into other areas of your life, allowing you to approach challenges with a positive mindset and reduced anxiety.

By building physical strength, you also build mental strength, equipping yourself with the tools to face and overcome stressful situations more effectively.

The social aspect of strength training can also contribute to stress relief.

Joining a gym or participating in group exercise classes provides opportunities for social interaction and connection.

Engaging with like-minded individuals who share similar fitness goals can be a great source of support and encouragement.

These social interactions can help alleviate feelings of loneliness or isolation, which are often associated with stress.

Creating a Balanced Exercise Routine

While resistance training offers significant benefits for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, it is essential to create a balanced exercise routine.

Incorporating moderate-intensity conditioning exercises such as running, swimming, or cycling can further enhance mental health benefits.

Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, releases endorphins, and improves overall cardiovascular health.

It is important to note that individual preferences and circumstances vary, and what works for one person may not work for another.

However, incorporating strength training into your lifestyle, even in small doses, can have a positive impact on stress reduction.

Whether you prefer lifting weights at the gym, performing bodyweight exercises at home, or engaging in other forms of resistance training, finding a routine that works for you is key.

If you want to check out some of the research, here are two studies that explore the impact of resistance training on anxiety and depression:

This review article discusses the effects of physical activity, including resistance training, on various mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. It provides an overview of the potential neurobiological mechanisms involved and highlights the beneficial effects of resistance training.

Ströhle, A. (2009). Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission, 116(6), 777-784. doi:10.1007/s00702-008-0092-x

This meta-analysis examines the association between resistance exercise training and depressive symptoms. It includes a comprehensive analysis of randomized clinical trials and provides evidence supporting the positive impact of resistance training on reducing depressive symptoms.

Gordon, B. R., McDowell, C. P., Hallgren, M., Meyer, J. D., Lyons, M., & Herring, M. P. (2018). Association of efficacy of resistance exercise training with depressive symptoms: Meta-analysis and meta-regression analysis of randomized clinical trials. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(6), 566-576. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572


Resistance training can be a powerful tool in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. By understanding the neurological effects, stress reduction mechanisms, and social support gained from resistance training, individuals can take proactive steps towards better mental well-being. However, it is crucial to remember that resistance training is not a substitute for professional treatment. It should be used in conjunction with therapy, medication, and guidance from your mental health professional.

To your success,

Coach Joe



Joseph Arangio helps 40+ men and women get leaner, stronger, and happier. He's delivered over 100,000 transformation programs to satisfied clients around the globe. If you want to lose weight from home, with the best online longevity personal trainer, or you want to visit the best age-management personal trainer in the Lehigh Valley, you can take a free 14-day trial.

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