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.

James

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