Discover how weight lifting and strength training can benefit your physical and mental health by releasing endorphins, boosting confidence, and reducing stress levels…

Looking to boost your mood with exercise? Chances are, you know that any form of cardiovascular movement, be it a simple dance class, bike ride or run, pumps your body with feel-good chemicals.

Indeed, just the simple act of moving is enough to flood your system with endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline. These are all chemicals that make you feel happy and confident. But is this only the case for cardio, or can strength training also improve your mood? We weigh in on how resistance exercise can make you feel happy…

Lifting weights gives you a confidence boost

Weight lifting mental health benefits

If you leave the weights room feeling confident, there’s a reason, and it all starts in your brain. Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in the US, shows workouts that involve lifting weights not only restore connections between your brain neurons (which improves memory and learning) but also boost confidence, mood and sex life.

Further data from Appalachian State University in the US reveals those who performed three weight workouts a week significantly improved their mood and measures of calmness over six months. Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan also found strength training not only builds strong muscles and bones, it also bolsters brain functioning, thanks to the increase in levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

‘When we lift weights, we trigger the release of BDNF into the region of the brain responsible for mood regulation,’ explains Stuart Cashmore, product development manager at David Lloyd Clubs. ‘The release of BDNF then triggers the growth of new brain cells. This can help ease anxiety and depression.’

Weight training makes you feel successful

Woman lifting weights healthy weight loss tips

Weight training can makes you feel ultra successful, too. ‘This is because strength training gives us a powerful sense of achievement,’ says Marisa Peer, speaker, therapist, psychologist and hypnotherapist.

‘Just seeing the improvements as we increase the weight becomes a metaphor (and motivator) for all of the things we can do when we’ve made a decision to start and commit. Strength training also helps regulate and boost mood, while improving self-esteem, self-image and self-confidence. This means that not only is your physical body improved but also your mental and emotional wellbeing.’

Endorphins vs. myokine molecules

New data also shows that we produce myokine molecules when we strength train. Different to endorphins, these molecules are released through muscular contractions and could have an effect on the action of your nervous system. They also affect many other biological functions including anxiety, memory and development. ‘

When you contract your muscles in any type of movement, they’ll secrete chemicals into your bloodstream. These can then travel to your brain, cross the blood-brain barrier, and act as an antidepressant,’ says Kelly McGonigal PhD, a psychologist from the University of Stanford, in her book The Joy Of Movement.

Getting started with weight lifting: top tips

Empty gym

Start with a personal trainer

’If you’re new to lifting weights, have a few sessions with a personal trainer to guide you through the basics,’ says Cashmore. ‘Now is a great time to set some goals, and ask questions in and out of the gym. Education is key, and the more people you can talk to about their journey, the more passionate you will become about changing your body and mind with weight training.’

Ease yourself in slowly

‘If you’ve never strength trained before, start by practising a few basic compound movements [those that work multiple muscle groups], such as a squat or push-up, until your form is right,’ adds Cashmore. ‘Once you’ve gained some confidence with these movements, you can then implement reps and sets into your routine. Try three to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions, and aim for three to four sessions of around 45 minutes per week. This is more than enough for you to reap the physical and mental benefits of lifting.’

What’s the science behind weight-lifting’s feel-good factor?

Happy fit woman fitness goals

1. Weight lifting beats stress

Lifting weights helps to manage symptoms of anxiety and stress, say scientists from the University of Georgia. Not only does it increase physical and mental strength, but it also promotes the release of the feel-good hormones including dopamine and serotonin.

2. Lifting weights can help with depression

A study from Harvard found that strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than counselling. The heavier the weight a person used, the more depressive symptoms eased.

3. Weight training helps with sleep

A study in Preventive Medicine Reports found that strength training can improve quality of sleep by boosting levels of a chemical called adenosine, which can cause drowsiness.

4. Weight lifting boosts your confidence

According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, one hour of strength training weekly is enough to raise your confidence levels and suppress feelings of worry by 20 per cent.

5. Boost your energy with weight lifting

Just a few weekly hours of weight training can give you an energy boost that lasts all day, according to researchers at the University of Georgia.

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