Tackling anxiety in a busy city might seem difficult, but new studies say we don’t need a peaceful forest retreat to find peace. The zen of repeated movements under the weights bar combined with regular sessions could be the key to easing anxiety or even PTSD symptoms.
The studies show successful resistance training for better mental health is not about lifting the heaviest weights or staying on the assault bike for the longest. Success comes from just showing up again and again.
Living with anxiety is more crippling than worrying about an exam. An anxiety disorder can mean worrying all day about things you have no control over. This type of anxiety can take over your life and may even require medication.
But there are ways to reduce even these symptoms, and one of those is resistance training in all its forms. Here’s a look at some of the latest studies on how resistance training can help reduce anxiety and just make life more fun.
FOCUS AWAY FROM PROBLEMS
If there’s one thing joining everyone who lifts together it’s focus. Ms Olympic over there might pile on all the weights and Mr Beginner have just the bar but they’re both paying attention. No-one wants to be that person with weights rolling all over the floor, or a free weight dropped on his foot. Focus is key. So what’s the thing you can’t do while you focus? That’s right, you can’t worry. All those thoughts that spin around in your head get shoved in a locked-box.
Plus you are thinking about your back and your arms or where are your feet? The weights don’t care what’s waiting for you outside, they demand instant attention.
SETTING GOALS FOR NOW
Anxiety can cause people to catastrophize and imagine the worst for every situation. Weights put a limit on that by teaching you how to set small but achievable goals. For anyone living with anxiety this is huge. It’s just physically not possible to lift what your neighbor is lifting but you can lift more than you did last week. A review of 31 studies found resistance training “significantly reduced anxiety symptoms”. And they say the healthier you are, the bigger the effect on your worries. So every goal you achieve is setting you for another success. Who wouldn’t want that?
Most research on links between weights and mood recommend putting in the effort three times a week.
That doesn’t have to be all under the bar. Remember focus is not the same as boredom. Follow the Crossfitters and lift bags of sand around the gym or swing from gymnastics rings. Stay upright with a kettlebell or free weights. Remember to get help at the start with your posture. Even the humble plank can bring benefits; full concentration required so you don’t collapse on the floor.
RESISTANCE TRAINING AND PTSD
Only last year a study found links between high-intensity resistance training and better sleep for PTSD patients. People fell asleep faster after lifting weight regularly over just three weeks. The group, mainly women in their 30s from various backgrounds, found their anxiety levels reduced and sleep patterns improved. The researchers do say more study is needed but it’s a positive outcome.
MEDITATION UNDER THE BAR
When we think of meditation, we might imagine a woman sitting in a forest, listening to the birds and calmly placing her hands on crossed legs for endless time. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to that sort of lifestyle, but there are gyms everywhere. With a small effort you can create the type of atmosphere medics recommend for beneficial medication.
Think about the steps involved with weight-training. First, you’re usually in an enclosed space with just one focus; fitness. Then when you lift, there’s restful repetition of movement in a straight line. The first day might be confusing, but after that you just go up and down in a variety of ways. You could set your headset to a forest soundtrack if it helps, but the repeated movements are key.
FEELING STRONG? MIX RUNNING AND WEIGHTLIFTING FOR BETTER RESULTS
Now this might sound like your trainer has gone a little too gung-ho on her instructions but wait. This interesting study found that women who combine aerobic activity like running with resistance training like free weights lowered their risk of getting anxiety. They found the risk was lower for these women than for others who choose one activity only.
So mix up your training to keep that focus going. Run outdoors if you can, or use the elliptical trainer. Or for a fast warm-up hop on an Assault Bike to get cardio and resistance in one cruel bundle.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE SCARY WEIGHTS GUY
OK, so this one isn’t quite as scientific as the others. But you know the guy, the one who is just huge and lifts everything all at once. Or the woman who looks like she could pick you up with one hand. Doing resistance training puts you in their orbit, and you just might like it. Most people are happy to lend a hand and point newbies in the right direction. And that few minutes interaction can make us feel happier. We don’t have to share our life with our gym-pals but a smile is a smile, and best of all they will cheer you on as you lift heavier and heavier.