Deep-breathing in yoga or spinning your wheels on a stationary bike aren't the only workouts that can help you de-stress. A new study found that resistance training workouts can relieve symptoms of anxiety.
"Resistance training," also known as "strength training," consists of exercises that strengthen your muscles using external resistance, like free weights, machines or your own bodyweight.
For the study, twice a week for eight weeks, half of the 28 participants (with a mean age of 26, who were not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder) completed resistance workouts that consisted of eight exercises, and the control group did nothing.
The specific workouts included no-equipment bodyweight exercises, such as abdominal crunches, as well as exercises that require equipment, such as barbell squats and dumbbell lunges.
Once the workout period was complete, the participants filled out a survey that measured their anxiety levels. The researchers found that an eight-week strength-training program "significantly reduced" anxiety symptoms in adults.
So, what makes this type of workout good for anxiety? Researchers believe that it's a combination of physiological and psychological changes that take place when strength-training.
For example, we know that exercise releases feel-good endorphins that boost your wellbeing. Other studies have shown that aerobic exercise (or cardiovascular exercise, such as running or biking) can decrease tension, elevate and stabilize mood and even improve sleep. Heretofore, studies haven't looked at strength-training and anxiety specifically, so more research needs to be done to understand the exact mechanism behind the benefits.
It could be that the participants developed "feelings of mastery" as they got better at the resistance exercises over the course of the program, which boosted their self-esteem and mood, Brett Gordon, co-author of the study, told the New York Times in a story published Wednesday.
And because the workouts got progressively more difficult as the weeks went on, participants "continuously achieved goals set by themselves," which boosts self-efficacy. The participants in the resistance-training group were also supervised by a trainer, so they may have benefitted from the social component of the workouts, the study authors wrote.
Luckily for those of us working out at home during the pandemic, you don't need a trainer or any equipment to reap the benefits of strength-training. Bodyweight exercises can improve your muscular strength and endurance just as well.
It's recommended that adults do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups two or more days a week, in addition to aerobic activity.