There’s a slew of research showing that aerobic exercise, such as running or biking, helps with depression and anxiety.  The question is whether or not lifting weights works just as well?

A research paper published recently in the journal JAMA Psychiatry showed that the answer is yes! Strength training was associated with improvements in the symptoms of depression, such as low mood, loss of interest in activities, and feelings of worthlessness, as well as with the symptoms of anxiety.

What’s exciting is that larger improvements were found in adults with symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression as compared to those without symptoms, suggesting that weight training may be especially helpful for those with depression.

The benefits were seen in as few as two training sessions per week. In fact, lifting weights just twice a week led to a remission rate that was on par with antidepressants. (Antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects and placebo has been shown to work almost as well as drugs in some studies!). The key with any form of exercise, especially strength training, is to be consistent!

Researchers believe strength training ramps up chemicals in the brain that trigger changes in its structure and function known as neuroplasticity.  The changes include new brain cell formation, stronger connections between these cells, and new blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the brain.  Six months of resistance training has also been shown to increase the size of certain regions of the brain. And this change in brain structure was tied to an improvement in mental function.

What’s more, a University of Sydney study found that muscle strength improved brain function in adults 55 and older with Mild Cognitive Impairment. In other words, the stronger people became, the greater the brain benefits!

There’s also the connection between mindfulness while lifting weights and a reduction in anxiety and depression. You have no choice but to be in the present moment when concentrating on proper lifting form and moving heavy weights. We know that practicing mindfulness can lead to functional and structural changes in the brain. If that’s not your thing, simply going to the gym twice a week and focusing on lifting weights may do the trick as well.

Strength training alone is not a cure for depression or anxiety, but it can help to manage both conditions, make you feel better, and create a healthier body!