Depression & Anxiety Reduced in 20 Minutes

Depression & anxiety reduced in 20 minutes

If you feel stressed, anxious, or sad during this quarantine/COVID-19 period, you are part of the majority.

Fortunately, you have the power to improve and maintain your own mental health.

Several activities have been proven to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood. One of these is… a 20-minute strength training session! (Come on…you knew I was going to say that, right?)

The CDC recently reported that the coronavirus period is adding stress manifested in several ways, including difficulty with sleeping and/or concentration, changes in sleep patterns, fear about your own and/or others’ health, and increased alcohol or tobacco use.

Here is what we know about how strength training can help your mental health:

  1. For people with existing health issues, a strength training program reduces depressive symptoms and improves overall mood (1).
  2. Strength training decreases the severity of depression for those with diagnosed depression (1,2).
  3. As little as eight weeks of strength training works for reducing depression (2).
  4. Training two or three times per week is shown to reduce depression (1,2).
  5. A decrease in anxiety and improvement in overall mood can be seen as quickly as five minutes after the workout is over (3).
  6. A single strength training workout can significantly decrease anxiety (3,4).

A few weeks of strength training, at least twice per week, can reduce depression. A single strength training session can elevate your mood and greatly improve your anxiety level.

More importantly, please remember to take care of yourself. Your physical and mental health are worth investing time in, especially now.

Strength train AND take part in other activities that reduce your stress and add happiness: connect with your family, spend time outdoors, create time for your favorite hobbies, and aim to regularly get enough sleep. This is a stressful time, but remember that you have the power to control your stress level.

  1. Brosse, A.L., Sheets, E.S., Lett, H.S., & Blumenthal, J.A. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine, 32(12), 741-760.
  2. Stanton, R., Reaburn, P., & Happell, B. (2013). Is cardiovascular or resistance exercise better to treat patients with depression? A narrative review. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 34, 531-538.
  3. Bibeau, W.S., Moore, J.B., Mitchell, N.G., Vargas-Tonsing, T., & Bartholomew, J.B. (2010). Effects of acute resistance training of different intensities and rest periods on anxiety and affect. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2184-2191.
  4. Broman-Fulks, J.J., Kelso, K., & Zawilinski, L. (2015). Effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise versus resistance training on cognitive vulnerabilities for anxiety disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Dissolving Depression Through Strength

Dissolving depression through strength

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the common treatments for depression include various types of antidepressants, the herbal treatment St. John’s Wart, psychotherapy, and brain stimulation therapy. After reviewing the research, the NIMH may want to add another option: strength training.

Research shows that strength training, even for as little as 10 weeks, significantly improves depression [1,2]. Strength training’s effect on depression is twice as strong as the benefit achieved through a socializing and health education program, according to one study [1]. Improvements are even seen with people who are diagnosed as clinically depressed. Gains in strength are linked to depression improvements, and improvements in sleep and depression are also connected.

According to the NIMH, about 6.7% of the US population suffers from depression – roughly 21 million people! The disease is likely caused by some combination of thought patterns and biological, genetic, environmental, and physiological factors. MRI scans show that depressed individuals have differences in brain appearance, especially in the regions that are related to sleep, mood, thinking, appetite, and behavior.

Most commonly, depression is treated through antidepressants. While medications can provide benefits, they also carry side effects. For example, antidepressants improve depression in seniors but also increase confusion, risk of falling, and often sedate the medicated individuals [1].

Exercise brings its own set of side effects…except these are side effects that you desire. According to WebMD, regular exercise improves stress, anxiety, and sleep. This is exactly what the researchers in the strength training studies found.

A 10-week study, conducted by researchers from Harvard and Tufts University, demonstrated that strength training with very challenging weights was more effective than a socializing and health education program [1]. Depression scores dropped by about 50-60%, which was about two-times greater than the comparison group. About 40% of the strength training group slept more soundly at the end of the study as well.

A second study conducted with men found that a strength training routine not only improved depression, but also anxiety, anger, and confusion [2]. Both studies showed a strong correlation between strength gained and the degree to which depression improved. Both of these are products of an effective strength training routine.

In regards to at least one mechanism for how strength exercises benefit depression, the researchers in the all-male study said training increases brain blood flow and therefore, increases the nutrients regularly received by the brain.

While I can’t say that we’ve measured clinical depression before and after training at The Perfect Workout, there are many anecdotes of our clients who have found the training to reduce their anxiety, work and personal life stresses, and many clients often walk out of their training sessions in much better spirits than when they came in (of course, that could be due to our wonderful instructors!). With all of this said, is strength training a legitimate treatment for clinical depression? For a similar question WebMD had the following answer:

“Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression.”

I think that’s well-stated. As you have read above, strength training provides a major boost to depression as well as anxiety, anger, confusion, and sleep difficulties. This change can happen in less than three months and, unlike medications, strength training won’t leave you with unwanted side effects.

  1. Singh, N. A., Clements, K. M., Fiatarone, M. A. (1997). Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Daytime Activities A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Exercise on Sleep. Sleep, 20(2), 95-101.
  2. Cassilhas, R. C., Viana, V. A., Grassmann, V., Santos, R. T., Santos, R. F., Tufik, S. E. R. G. I. O., & Mello, M. T. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1401.

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