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Strengthen your mood with weight training

The study's authors came to this conclusion after examining the results of 33 randomized clinical trials involving more than 1,800 people. They found that people with mild to moderate depression who performed resistance training two or more days a week saw "significant" reductions in their symptoms, compared with people who did not. The findings also suggested that resistance exercises may be even more beneficial for those with more severe depressive symptoms.

In addition, study authors also found that people got a mood boost from resistance training, regardless of their health status, how often they performed resistance training, and whether or not they actually got stronger as a result of their workouts.

The findings seem to support the idea that resistance training — which the study authors defined as exercises designed to increase muscle mass, strength, endurance, and power — can be used to help improve mood, when performed either alone or in combination with other strategies.

"If women find that resistance training appeals to them, there is some pretty strong evidence coming from a meta-analysis of almost three dozen randomized trials showing that this is something that can benefit their mood," says Dr. Olivia Okereke, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.


Few costs and plenty of benefits

The idea that resistance training can help with depression is especially good news because exercise in general has advantages when compared with medication and psychotherapy — today's first-line treatments for depression. You can exercise for free or with only a small initial investment in some simple equipment. Exercise is also free of side effects, and it's readily accessible if you do it at home.

Plus, a potential mood boost isn't the only benefit: exercise of any type can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, which, as the study's authors point out, is the leading cause of death in people suffering from major depressive disorder.

"There is a wealth of data showing that regular physical activity can lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and is related to better overall health and cognitive aging over time," says Dr. Okereke.

Resistance training, in particular, can also help preserve muscle and bone mass, which begins to dwindle in middle age.

"I would put these findings in a larger context of exercise and mood," Dr. Okereke adds.

"There have been a number of observational studies, including the Nurses' Health Study, that show a favorable association between physical activity and lower depression risk." This includes aerobic exercise and moderate or brisk walking. So, resistance training isn't the only option when it comes to exercising to combat depression. "Frequent exercise of any type appears helpful for mood," she says.


How much is enough?

So how much exercise do you need to do to boost your mood? Study authors struggled with this question, because exercise frequency varied among the studies they looked at. They did note, however, that the most common study design among those they examined called for resistance training at least three days a week, so that may be a good benchmark to shoot for, says Dr. Okereke. That amount of exercise has also been shown to bring physical benefits.

It's important to note that this analysis did have some limitations, among them that the authors didn't know details about medication use, including antidepressants, by the individuals in the 33 studies.

They also didn't have an idea of how sedentary the participants were when they weren't exercising, says Dr. Okereke. If people were sitting around all day when they weren't exercising, that might have dampened mood improvements.

"It's hard to understand the extent to which sedentary behavior may reduce the level of benefit someone might get from resistance exercise," she says.

Even so, the evidence is still strong that exercise — including strength training as well as the often-cited cardio activity — is good for your mental health as well as your body.



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Assume Good Intent

Einstein famously said, "We cannot solve problems with the mindset that created them. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."