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The Happiness Workout: How Strength Training Can Also Lift Mental Weight

We all know that when we exercise, it lifts our mood and makes us feel better. If you’re feeling down and thinking about starting exercise then we take a look at why strength training could help lift the gloom.

There are some interesting studies that have shown if you’re physically active, your risk of developing depression reduces by as much as 15%. Recent research from the University of Limerick found that resistance or weight training significantly reduced depressive symptoms for around 2,000 people who participated in their study.

Keith McNiven, founder of London based personal training company Right Path Fitness knows just how valuable weight lifting can be to lifting the psychological weight we may be carrying with us in life.

Here’s his top tips for feeling good while building your body.

Weights are as good as CV for an endorphin boost

Often advice about using endorphins to boost mood centres on the idea of cardiovascular exercises like running or HIIT but that’s not to the exclusion to other forms of exercise. If that kind of work out isn’t for you then try hitting the weights section of your gym and you will get the same benefits. “Working out with weights can be just as beneficial for your mental wellbeing,” says Keith. “So, don’t avoid the resistance machines in the gym, they can be just as effective as the cardio machines at releasing feel good endorphins.”

Weights can help you work through your problems

“A big factor in depression can be an overload of problems and no outlet,” explains Keith. “Resistance training can help by allowing you to work through emotions like stress and worry.” As well as giving you a chance to think about situations as you are working through your reps, you can also use the more explosive resistance training to take out your frustrations.  “Grab a slam ball, Sandbell or medicine ball, clear a space, and slam the ball down on each and every negative thought that passes through your mind,” suggests Keith.

The focus of weight training could help with depression

The timetabling and organisation of lifting and following a strength building programme can also have a positive effect on state of mind. “A key characteristic of depression is a lack of motivation, but having set training days and times planned into your week can give you focus,” says Keith. “Plan a weights session at least a couple of times a week, ideally in the morning so you can reap the benefits of your resistance session for the rest of the day.” You will not only have the physical endorphin boost but also the satisfaction of knowing you stuck to the programme, turned up and are closer to achieving your goals.

How the social aspect of resistance training helps depression

Many gyms can be social places (if you want them to be!) and if you are training regularly at the same time you are likely to bump into the same people. You can also ask advice and learn from those around you, “Isolation can make depressive symptoms worsen, but the great thing about resistance training is that it often works better as a duo,” explains Keith.

“Grab a friend and do alternate kettle bell exercises like bicep curls where you raise the kettlebell up towards your chest, rows where you hold the kettlebell and raise your elbow upwards, or sit ups where you grab the kettlebell from the floor in front of you as you sit up. Take turns to do the exercise, whilst the other counts the reps.” Working out with a buddy means you are more likely to stick to the programme and will give you the opportunity to talk about what’s on your mind if you feel you want to.

Strong body, strong mind

“When you are in a strong place mentally, you are equipped to deal with whatever life throws your way and developing your body through weight training can help you to reach this place,” says Keith.

“Resistance training is brilliant for improving bone density and health, and you can also see the physical evidence through the increased amount of weight you can lift or reps you can complete over time. Strengthen your body, and psychologically it will benefit your mind.”

If part of your depression is related to body image then taking action to both change your shape but also celebrate your body’s abilities. “There’s no doubt that when you look your best physically, it boosts your emotional and mental wellbeing. And weights can actually be a quicker route to improving your shape, burning more calories minute for minute, than cardiovascular exercise,” adds Keith.


At Lumity we believe in all things in moderation, so if you’re feeling fed up, try packing your diet with more plants and cutting down on alcohol, refined carbs and sugar. Try yoga and meditation as well as going for long walks and bike rides in the fresh air.

If you’re battling feelings of depression, it’s always best to talk things through in person with a medical professional and try talk therapy as well as other options that they recommend. 

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