Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Heavy Lifting for Mental Health

Some of us have happily promoted the psychic value of aerobic conditioning. Scores of studies have shown it to be an excellent treatment for depression and for other assorted emotional disturbances.

We have downplayed the importance of strength training or resistance training, though, to be fair, we have done our fair share of weight training. The machines are there in the gym; why not use them? 

As the old saying goes, you should start an exercise program while you are young. Otherwise you will end up in your late seventies sounding like Joe Biden. 

Lacking any professional expertise in the field of exercise physiology, we offer up some new research into the value of strength training with due skepticism. And yet, it certainly seems promising.

Lorne David Opler has the story for the Washington Post. He compares exercise regimens to the use of medication… and prefers the former.

I’ve struggled with depressive illness since childhood, and throughout the years, my brain and body have often felt like a one-man clinical trial for every antidepressant that came to the market. Prozac? Been there! Luvox? Done that! Effexor? Check! Paxil, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Zoloft? Check . . . check . . . check . . . and check-a-rooni!

Although mood-stabilizing pill packs have entered and exited my life with varying degrees of success over the past 30 years, one treatment option has remained a constant, reliable, no-fail mood booster throughout the decades. That would be exercise. But not just any exercise. Not the elliptical. Not spin class. Not the recumbent bike nor the rowing machine. In fact, it’s not aerobic exercise at all, which has been most commonly linked to a reduction in depressive illness.

It’s strength training — the muscle-building, body-toning and sometimes grunt-inducing workout — that has helped transform my chronic mental illness into better mental health. In fact, once I began a regular regimen of resistance training, the positive shift in my mood, my confidence and my self-image was so pronounced that I switched careers.

Of course, the article would not be complete without the latest scientific studies:

Meyer was among the authors of a recent meta-analysis of the link between resistance training and depressive symptoms conducted by Brett Gordon, then a postgraduate researcher at the University of Limerick’s Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences and now a postdoctoral fellow studying exercise and cancer at Penn State. The study, published in the June 2018 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed 33 clinical trials for the effects of resistance exercise on depression. Results showed that resistance exercise “significantly reduced depressive symptoms” among research participants.

From the Journal of the American Medical Association, weight training significantly reduces depressive symptoms. What causes the improvement?

One notable finding was that participants showed an improvement in their mood regardless of whether they grew physically stronger from the exercises. That means that triggering a mood boost may not depend on how many exercises you do or how hard you train. “Perhaps it might be the sense of accomplishment and confidence that comes from exercising, rather than the achievement of actual strength gains, to explain why study subjects felt better,” Meyer says.

A useful point: some of the benefit comes from having accomplished something and therefore from building confidence.

Now, one more point. Weight training does not just improve depressive symptoms. It also lowers anxiety.

Resistance exercise doesn’t affect depression alone; research shows that it can reduce symptoms of anxiety, too. For a 2017 study published in the journal Sports Medicine, Gordon and his colleagues conducted another meta-analysis of 16 studies involving 992 total participants; it concluded that resistance training “significantly improves anxiety symptoms among both healthy participants and participants with a physical or mental illness.”

Matthew Herring, an author of both meta-analyses, says, “Evidence from studies of both animals and humans supports that resistance exercise training may improve both anxiety and depression by acting on those same neurobiological systems, particularly neurotransmitters and neurotrophic and growth factors.” More research, however, needs to be done, adds Herring, a lecturer in sport, exercise and performance psychology at the University of Limerick.

Resistance training, like other exercise, induces the release of a protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, into the hippocampus region of the brain. Among other functions, the hippocampus is responsible for mood regulation, and in people who are depressed, it shrinks up to 25 percent of its normal volume. The release of BDNF triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, restoring it to its full size and improving communication between cells.

Evidently, I do not even know what the hippocampus is. Still and all, we all do well to pay close attention to this research. It is promising. And, working out is certainly a good thing.


Giordano Bruno said...

This is the triad for mental and psychical strength, which is synonymous with health.




It's all there, just needs will. This is a bad time to be weak. Weak get erased.

jfmoris said...

Happiness Chemicals and how to hack them

DOPAMINE THE REWARD CHEMICAL • Completing a task • Doing self-care activities • Eating food • Celebrating little wins

OXYTOCIN THE LOVE HORMONE • Playing with a dog • Playing with a baby • Holding hand • Hugging your family • Give compliment

SEROTONIN THE MOOD STABILIZER • Meditating • Running • Sun exposure • Walk in nature • Swimming • Cycling

ENDORPHIN THE PAIN KILLER • Laughter exercise • Essential oils • Watch a comedy • Dark chocolate • Exercising