Strength Training—Your Next Best Defense Against Depression

Not into body-building? It turns out that strength training has a bigger effect on your body than bulking up muscles. In fact, new research shows that this type of physical exercise can improve depression symptoms too.

The new study was actually a meta-analysis of 33 studies, covering over 1800 participants. It was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in May 2018.

According to the authors, although science has proven the physical benefits for strength training, no research has concluded the mental benefits.

Specifically, the researchers were looking at depression.

READ: Connecting Depression and Exercise

As any good scientist should, these researchers sought the best information possible in their analysis. They included clinical trials that used a randomized process or a control group.

Then, they identified four main areas to compare. These included:

  • the total amount of strength training prescribed
  • a “blinded” research process
  • the physical or mental health of participants
  • and any improvements in strength from the exercise.

Their findings? No matter a person’s health, strength improvements or amount of exercise, strength training did reduce depression symptoms.

That’s a significant finding given the number of people experiencing depression every single year.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 16 million adults suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2016. These represented nearly 7 percent of America’s adult population.

Interestingly, the highest rate happened in those between ages 18-25, a rather young, able-bodied population. How much relief could happen all across the country if people could add one simple change to their daily routines?

In an email to the magazine Time, author Brett Gordon admitted how the researchers couldn’t pinpoint the reason why strength training works.

Still, other experts swear by its effects. In one article published by Harvard Medical School, Dr. Michael Craig Miller points out that exercise encourages nerve cells in the brain to grow.

People who are depressed benefit from these nerve cells because it helps the brain’s mood center grow as well.

In short, exercise improves mood and just makes people feel good. What better excuse do you need in order to get moving?

Study Limitations

This study was limited somewhat by relying on past findings. Researchers couldn’t control the exact conditions in which the studies took place; so they had to work with the information on hand.

In addition, researchers found a reduced benefit when the studies included a blinded process. A blinded process means that either participants weren’t aware of their prescription or perhaps its benefit.

It could also mean the researchers didn’t know an individual’s prescription while assessing the results.

In any case, the improvement these people found in depression symptoms were interesting. Perhaps in the future, strength training will work alongside or take the place of other depression treatments, like antidepressants.