Can we use Strength Training for depression?
Any keen gym goer would have heard of the film “Pumping Iron” – and the subsequent revolution of Bodybuilding. Besides from being built like Hercules and having a positive-B sample, Strength Training has a lot of wonderful benefits for men and women. But what about Strength Training for depression?
Well, a recent meta-analysis published in the journal: JAMA Psychiatry may have just eluded some neat findings for Strength Training as an adjunct for reducing depression. The meta-analysis included: 33 clinical trials, with 1,877 participants. Gordon and colleagues found: “resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.”
Promising news. However, there are limitations to consider… “total volume of resistance exercise training, health status and strength improvements were not associated with an antidepressant effect”.
So what could be some potential hypothesis that are contributing to the antidepressant effects experienced by the participants?
Filling in the gaps for using Strength Training for depression
First and foremost – we are born to move! When are ancestors became bipedal – moving to find food, water and shelter was essential.
And what happens when there is an unexpected reward? Dopamine is released, which causes a surge (reward dependent) of this wonderful catecholamine increasing the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated – such as moving to find more resources, or more dumbbells!
Secondly, Strength Training has noteworthy benefits in the release of particular growth hormones and hypertrophic increases in muscle tissue. It would be plausible that an increase in testosterone, along with bigger muscles, would most definitely increase motor behaviour (going to the gym), along with libido (I will leave you with your own imagination). Which would equate to more energy being utilized, while also affecting higher cognitive regions in the frontal lobe improving: attention, motivation and reduced impulsiveness. The same areas of the brain that are inhibited by depression!
Lastly, although are ancestors missed out on dubstep, listening to music whilst exercising greatly activates many brain regions, along with an endogenous release of natural opioids that increase euphoria. I can see Hippocrates prescribing dubstep for his melancholic patients…
So hopefully I’ve filled in some missing gaps in the aforementioned meta-analysis that would be difficult to quantify.
Key take home points when using Strength Training for depression:
- Work with an accredited Exercise Physiologist/Scientist – to move with confidence. While also being guided about specific exercise prescription for your current goals, or medical condition.
- Make a sweet as music-playlist to increase baseline mood when Strength Training. Creating your own playlist will likely increase adherence to Strength Training along with enjoyment and motivation.
- Lastly, always consult your GP – if you are currently inactive, and wanting to increase your physical activity levels. The team at iNform can assist you from there onwards.
About the author
Exercise was my last resort. I’ve heard this statement only a couple of times, but each time it makes my head spin. I have to ask what it is that makes people choose to undergo a surgical procedure, try multiple medications and every alternative therapy under the sun before resorting to exercise.
Is exercise hard work?
One option is that people sometimes view exercise as being hard work and prefer to take an “easier path” to deal with their issues. Essentially the hope is that someone else will fix them. You have a bad knee, get a surgeon to throw a new one in and you’ll be right to go. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. The months of rehab work (exercise) needed post-surgery will make you wish you just tried exercise to start with. Medications may help with many conditions, exercise may cure the condition or prevent its occurrence in the first place.
Exercise doesn’t have to be hard work. Sometimes the right exercise for a condition won’t even raise your breathing rate, heart rate or bring on a sweat. It’s not all about boot camps and working till you drop. It’s about finding the right exercise for you, for your needs and taking solace in the fact that it’s doing great things for you.
Lack of advice?
Could it be a lack of quality information from those we go to for advice? A series on low back pain by the global medical journal, The Lancet, mentions that most low back pain sufferers aren’t getting the most effective treatment and advice which is to stay active and to exercise (exercise appropriately is key!). Instead, advice given is often to rest, take pain killers, get spinal injections and surgery.
I am hopefully that times are changing and the importance of regular exercise is more at the forefront of people’s minds when thinking about how to best address injury and illness.
Own Your Health!
Your body is yours and your health is yours. Others can give you advice and point you in the right direction but in the end you need to do the work to reap the reward. I strongly believe that every person out there can benefit in some way from a well tailored exercise program.
In the end, exercise can be a free and easy way to make change to your health issues. All you need to do is grab it with both hands and don’t let go. Ultimately exercise should be your first stop on your journey to good health and well-being. Get some advice from a quality health professional and give exercise a red hot go before you move towards other options.
About the author
Exercise to improve mental health and well-being comes across as rhetorical. And to throw a pun in: it’s a no-brainer!
A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has found exercise can reduce depression globally by as much as 15%! Now, 15% does-not sound like much. However, with data collected worldwide – with a population cohort of 266,939, 15% starts to sound pretty darn good; or for you statistical nerds out there: a neat reliable confidence interval.
Take me through the interrogatives and detail James!
The authors didn’t elude how much physical activity is required to elicit an anti-depressant effect. If you read my last blog, you would know what the recommended physical activity guidelines are. What is more important, is the neuroprotective effect(s) exercise has. And from interpreting the paper: participants were followed longitudinally over six to eight years, which correlates nicely that exercise has a protective buffer to continuous stress. Depression is highly complex; interacting with genes the immune system and the environment. However the solution is simple: all one needs to do is-to huff and puff a little bit – from day to day, to statistically decrease depression!
Tips for using exercise to improve mental health:
Exercise needs to be enjoyable!
- A brisk walk on the beach..
- Kicking the footy with the lads/lasses..
- Or, hitting the gym for a workout or group-fitness class..
The list goes on..
When you choose the exercise that resonates with yourself the likelihood for adherence is higher. Enjoyable activity results in more brain regions becoming active – and neuromodulators releasing sweet beneficial chemicals, affecting your mood, motivation – and thus well-being!
So what are you waiting for? – Lets get moving together!
About the Author
It can be really hard to be motivated to exercise. Much like most people in today’s society, we throw ourselves into a fast paced world where work, family and life are not always balanced. We are typically overtired, our to-do lists overflow and we tend to still say yes to things we maybe shouldn’t. On top of all this, we get told we need to look after ourselves. Eat well, move often, become more mindful etc etc. It is seriously tough stuff!
I know I should but I just don’t feel motivated to exercise!
I have recently gone back to study and I find myself sitting long periods attempting to use my brain (it’s hard work). By the end of the day, I am worn out. I am not sure what you feel like, but I feel like I have run a marathon. All from the confines of my small desk. Although I preach the joy and benefits you get from moving your body, to be honest sometimes it is the last thing I feel like doing. I want to go home, tick off annoying to-do list items and then if I have time I watch Netflix and cuddle with my dog.
Here comes the big but! I am a member of a pretty rocking hockey team and we train consistently on Tuesday and Thursday nights. So, no matter the weather, or how tired I feel, I peel myself off the couch and head out.
The tide turns once I move my body!
During the first 5 or so minutes, I am still not super excited to be running around but then a miracle happens. Slowly, I start feeling better, my energy returns, I don’t feel miserable and I am actually happy. We all tend to leave training in a better mood. I get home and tick off some to-do items and then I happily pass out for the night. I sleep really well, not only because exercise helps regulate my circadian rhythm, but because I know I have made my 10,000+ steps.
Acute changes to exercise: It is not a miracle, it’s science baby
- Exercise acts directly on our central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue. Notably, the improvements in energy and fatigue are not related to increases in aerobic fitness.
- When your heart rate increases acutely it increase the brain’s blood supply. This makes you more alert, enhances your motivation to complete focused tasks, and improves mental clarity. It even creates neurons!
- Acute stress levels decrease post one exercise session thanks to increases in hormones that makes us feel awesome (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine). If you want to know more, read Jacinta’s blog on exercise, mood and stress.
- Also, psychologically we have achieved a mini-goal of exercising for that day so our confidence thanks to our sense of accomplishment (cue no internal guilt trip)
Some tips to help you beat the motivated to exercise fatigue barrier?
- Get into your active wear. It helps.
- Even if you don’t smash it, just show up. Something is better than nothing and you never know, it may become amazing.
- Ask yourself: Are you really exhausted or are you just tired (exhaustion may need sleep, tiredness/fatigue may need exercise)?
- Have an appointment – whether that is a group class, a specific time in your diary, an appointment with your EP/PT.
- Think about what you will feel like both during and after. You won’t regret it!
About the Author
Let’s start with hard facts:
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) worldwide – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually.
Nearly one in three (29.7%) adults are insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week), while 14.8% are inactive (no exercise in the last week).
We know exercise is good for us! Even if we don’t really know how or why – we all know it’s good for us, it’s almost in innate knowledge. So why aren’t more of us exercising?! I think it’s fairly safe to say our motivation to exercise is a pretty universal barrier for most of us, so let’s talk about that.
Motivation to Exercise and the F Word
I’m going to go a bit left field here, stick with me… I’ve just finished reading Mark Manson’s book and a lot of what he said resonated with me not just in life, but particularly toward our motivation to exercise.
Failure is a relative concept. It totally depends on how we’re choosing to measure our success towards our goals. And our goals should be driven by our values.
The Link Between Our Values & Motivation to Exercise
Sometimes, where we go wrong is that our values aren’t quite right to help foster a positive, successful experience that builds self-efficacy and growth.
For instance, if I measure my effort at the gym by “do I look like Jennifer Aniston yet?”, I will be self-critical and negative as this is something I don’t really have control over. We have different genetics, different body types, enjoy different types of exercise, have different time constraints (the list goes on). But if I adopt the metric “maintain a regular and consistent exercise routine”, I can live up to my value of “Live a healthy, balanced life”.
Toddlers learning to walk continually fail. They stand up, take half a step, wobble, fall over, and repeat that cycle a few thousand times before they can actually walk. Never do they think “my god, I suck at this, I don’t think walking is for me!”.
However, improvement on anything is based on thousands of tiny failures. And the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because they have failed at it more than you have. (Or done it many more times, and therefore have refined the skill and have the capacity to do it better!)
Important note: Pain is part of the process! (mentally and physically). You can’t make a muscle without tearing a few fibers!
For most of us, our proudest achievements come in the face of our greatest adversity. I know that when I’m feeling lazy and I squat 20kg I feel alright…but when I manage to push myself and squat 55kg (closer to my 1RM), I feel like I just earnt athlete status! This usually involves some stern positive self-talk at the time, and some muscle soreness the next day. Neither are comfortable, but both build resilience, strength and capacity. Both also build my motivation to exercise!
The “just do SOMETHING” Principle
To come full circle; action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it is also the cause of it.
Most of us only commit to action if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume it’s a chain reaction.
The thing is, it’s not a chain, it’s an endless loop.
If we start doing something, this sparks inspiration, and then before we know it, we have motivation, and so we keep doing that thing (all the while, improving and feeling more confident) and then we feel inspired to challenge ourselves a little further, and look at that – more motivation!
Tim Ferris (American author) spoke of a story he once heard about a novelist who wrote over seventy novels. Someone asked how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated. He replied, “two hundred crappy words per day, that’s it.”
The idea was that if he forced himself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him; and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down on the page.
Take home messages to improve your motivation to exercise:
- Pick small, achievable tasks or challenges
- Do SOMETHING. Something is better than nothing! (and it breeds motivation to do more)
- Make sure the way you’re measuring your success comes down to your actions and input (not other, external factors)
About the Author
Endurance athletes love long distances. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Most endurance guys (and gals) place a premium on long-distance, steady state exercise. With this in mind, when training to improve distance performance, the most typical method of training progression employed is an increase in training distance. I’d like to share with you how gym training for cycling and running can significantly improve many aspects of your performance!
Now, while I would be the first to admit that to get good at running (or cycling, or swimming etc. etc. etc.) long distances you do need to undertake some longer training sessions, they aren’t necessarily the best or only way to improve endurance performance. In fact, I would go as far to suggest that increasing training distance is a somewhat illogical form of progression.
In my mind, if we train by running (or cycling) a greater distance at the same speed (or possibly even slower) that we normally use during training, we are unlikely to get faster. I would argue that getting faster (and being able to maintain that faster speed) is the name of the game, right?!
But fortunately for us there are other training methods that we can use to improve performance.
Some of these are sport specific (which we aren’t going to touch on today), whereas others involve gym based training (which is what we are going to talk about today – in case the title didn’t give it away…).
Gym training for the endurance beast
Strength and endurance training are often viewed at complete opposite ends of the training spectrum – where it is typically suggested that improvements in one will lead to subsequent reductions in the other.
But in reality, it’s not that simple.
When we really consider endurance performance, we should be able to see that it is effectively the ability to maintain or repeat a given force output repeatedly – each step (or each pedal stroke) represents force being applied to the ground.
Which is where getting stronger (or increasing the amount of force we can produce) comes into play.
You see, if someone gets stronger relative to their bodyweight, they can apply more force with each step of the foot, or stroke of the pedal. This means that they will require less relative force each step to maintain the same pace they did prior increasing their strength.
This in turn means that each step uses less energy, as it is at a lower percentage of their maximal force production. As a result, they now have the ability to move faster (and further) each step, despite using the exact same amount of energy.
Why does gym training make me faster?
So, you might be wondering how gym training can make you faster? And to answer that, we are going to have to get our science on for a second (nerd pleasure…).
You see, strength training has repeatedly shown to improve endurance performance in both recreational, and highly trained athletes. In fact, this research has actually shown that including strength training into an endurance training program will improve endurance performance to a much greater degree than endurance training alone.
These improvements have been measured by improvements in movement economy (also known as energy efficiency), increases in velocity at VO2max, and increases in maximal anaerobic running speed.
In short, it clearly demonstrates that strength training will make you faster at a given energy output.
It essentially becomes easier!
These specific strength training interventions tend to result in substantial improvements in strength, with only small increases in lean mass – this actually suggests that the strength increases observed are mainly a result of improved neural efficiency, meaning that they result in significant improvements in relative force production, and you wont really get any heavier.
Additionally, this same training has been shown to cause a shift in muscle fibre type from type IIx (Super explosive muscle fibre type) to type IIa (less explosive, slightly greater endurance capacity) fibre types, which has been shown to further improve endurance capacity.
And to top it off, strength training has also been shown to causes an increase in musculotendinous unit stiffness (say that three times fast).
This increased stiffness results in an improved ability to store elastic energy during eccentric muscle actions (eg. landing each step), which in turn increases concentric muscle force (eg. Pushing off the ground). This results in less energy used per step, and a noticeable increase in movement economy.
So, if were to summarise the science – strength training makes you more efficient.
Not to mention it also has the capacity to improve your ability to absorb force and therefore protect you from injuries (which is a topic I will save for another day)
Applying gym training for cycling and running improvements: the practical implications
So, we know that gym based training can improve our endurance performance – but how should we use this information.
Well, I would suggest including two full-body strength sessions per week into your training would be a great place to start. This would be enough to stimulate improvement in strength, and therefore improvements in efficiency.
With this in mind, the focus should be on large compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges to improve lower body strength, working within strength based rep ranges (such as 6×3, 5×4, 4×6). These rep ranges have been shown to elicit neural based strength adaptations, while minimising potential muscle growth – meaning they are the perfect way to maximise your strength without increasing your body weight.
I would also strongly recommend the inclusion of loaded carries, some pulling movements (inverted rows, dumbbell rows etc.), and some direct trunk stability work if time permits, as these can go a very long way to strengthening the muscles of the upper back and core, improving posture and preventing injuries.
If you are not sure where to start, or have some questions around introducing strength training into your regime, drop us a comment and we will get back to you ASAP!
Hoff, Jan, Arne Gran, and Jan Helgerud. “Maximal strength training improves aerobic endurance performance.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 12.5 (2002): 288-295.
Kraemer, WILLIAM J., et al. “Compatibility of high-intensity strength and endurance training on hormonal and skeletal muscle adaptations.” Journal of applied physiology. (1995). Vol 78, no.3.
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