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Resistance exercise training (RET) is celebrated for its myriad of performance and health benefits, from enhancing strength to improving longevity. However the positive effects of resistance training on mental health are less well published and often outshone by the perhaps more obvious physical enhancements. Recent research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine is helping to change this and found that hitting the gym likely supports a calmer, less anxious mind (in addition to all the other great physical benefits). In this article, we’ll look at the study’s findings and explore actionable steps you can take to use resistance training to help manage your own anxiety.

The study examined 16 previously published research papers, collecting data from 922 participants. The research included both healthy individuals and those with physical or mental illnesses and found the following key takeaways:

Key Findings

  • Anxiety Reduction: The most compelling finding was that RET significantly reduced anxiety symptoms.
  • Universal Benefits: The positive effects of RET were not limited to specific demographics. Both healthy participants and individuals with physical or mental illnesses experienced benefits. For healthy individuals, the impact was even more pronounced.
  • No Gender or Age Bias: Unlike some therapies that may be more effective for certain age groups or genders, RET’s effectiveness on anxiety did not significantly vary based on sex or age. It’s truly an inclusive solution.
  • Features of RET: Interestingly, the study found that various features of RET, such as program length, session duration, frequency, and intensity, didn’t significantly affect its effectiveness on anxiety. So, whether you’re doing shorter, more intense sessions or longer, less frequent ones, you can still enjoy the anxiety-reducing benefits.
  • No Need for Strength Improvement: Another encouraging discovery was that RET’s effects on anxiety were not dependent on whether your strength improved during the training.

Actions You Can Take

Now that we’ve understand the key findings, let’s explore the practical steps you can take to enjoy the benefits:

  • Incorporate Regular RET Into Your Routine: Firstly, you need to ensure RET has a regular spot in your weekly routine. This could be in the form of weightlifting, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises. Aim to include a minimum of 2 sessions per week. 
  • Adapt to Your Preferences: The study shows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach required to benefit from RET. Tailor your exercise program to your preferences and experience level. You can vary the volume, frequency and intensity significantly and still achieve the anxiety reducing benefits. Upper / lower splits or full body workouts all work well. 

The link between resistance exercise and mental health is great news for individuals seeking effective strategies to manage their anxiety. Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer or just starting to explore strength training, its clear the benefits are well worth the effort. Embrace the opportunity to fortify your mind and body through resistance exercise – your future self will thank you.

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