Friday, October 19, 2012

Strength training & mental health

Mental health concerns affect us all. If you don’t have a mental health problem, you at least know someone who does. But what works? What kind of exercise helps? In 2010, the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine included an article entitled, Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults (O’Connor, Herring, & Caravalho, 4 (5), 377-96.) Following are just a few highlights from that article:

According to the article, 15% of the US population reports frequent anxiety symptoms, lasting 15-30 days a month. That’s a lot of anxiety! It’s normal to experience occasional anxiety, but this type of prolonged anxiety can interrupt sleep, cause mental distress, body pain, poor health and limitations on what a person can accomplish, physically. The authors looked at seven different studies with resistance training, and found that strength training can be a meaningful intervention for those with anxiety.

They also studied depression, with 18 studies, with the conclusion that resistance training is linked to large reductions in depression.

25% of the US population experiences persistent fatigue symptoms. Chronic fatigue is a debilitating illness. But O’Connor & colleagues found that 94% of studies found that exercise is significantly beneficial…even more so than drug or cognitive-behavioral interventions.

This same article also addressed positive results of resistance training on cognition, self-esteem, and sleep. Resistance training may also improve central nervous system functioning, which can affect mental health.

What does this have to do with yoga? An active yoga practice isn’t just stretching and breathing (although those are definitely a big part). In yoga, we use the weight of the body as resistance for our strength training. I was a personal trainer before I became a yoga teacher, and I find that my core strength is even greater now than it was then. Your practice should include a good dose of resistance training, which will help your mind be healthy, too!

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