Weight training helps reduce anxiety and depression in older people

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Weight training is often associated with young athletes and bodybuilders, but it holds remarkable benefits for older adults too.

It’s not just about building muscle; lifting weights can also reduce body fat, improve strength, and contribute significantly to the well-being of seniors, helping them maintain their independence and prevent falls and injuries.

Beyond these physical benefits, weight training can also enhance mental health, particularly for older individuals experiencing anxiety and depression.

These insights come from an extensive review of over 200 scientific articles, analyzed by Paolo Cunha, a postdoctoral fellow at the Albert Einstein Jewish-Brazilian Institute of Education and Research in São Paulo, Brazil. This research was detailed in a publication in the journal Psychiatry Research.

Cunha explains that resistance training, or weight lifting, is a superb non-medical approach to healthy aging. It not only enhances physical health but also mental well-being.

According to the study, the mental health improvements are even more significant in older adults already diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

The decline in muscle strength and mass, a natural part of aging, is linked to increasing mental health issues.

The brain controls several physiological mechanisms that undergo changes as we age, impacting both our physical and mental health. Weight training helps counter these effects by strengthening the body and mind.

One intriguing aspect of weight training is its social benefits. When performed in groups, it fosters social interaction, which is vital for mental health.

The research also offers guidance on how best to structure weight training for mental health benefits. Recommendations include engaging in weight training exercises three times a week, performing three sets of each exercise.

Keeping the sessions concise, with about six exercises, seems to yield better outcomes. This approach not only ensures effectiveness but is also manageable for most seniors.

According to Edilson Cyrino, the last author of the study and a professor at the State University of Londrina, different methods of resistance training can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This is true regardless of the intensity and volume of the exercises. Cyrino, who leads the Active Aging Longitudinal Study begun in 2012, emphasizes that most resistance training programs, whether intense or moderate, benefit mental health and overall quality of life for older adults.

The study also compared the effects of different types of resistance training. Using weight machines and free weights was found to be more advantageous for mental health than using elastic bands or bodyweight exercises.

This is likely because the intensity and volume of workouts with weights and machines can be more precisely controlled, leading to more significant improvements.

Despite the clear benefits, the researchers acknowledge gaps in the current understanding of weight training’s impact on mental health.

Many studies involve only a few participants, which makes it difficult to fully understand the phenomena and mechanisms at play. However, the field is growing, and future research is likely to provide deeper insights.

Currently, Cunha is involved in another project with the Research Group on Clinical Intervention and Cardiovascular Disease at the Albert Einstein Jewish Brazilian Hospital. This project aims to assess the impact of prolonged periods of inactivity on vascular and cognitive functions in seniors.

In summary, weight training emerges not only as a key to physical robustness in older age but also as a vital tool for mental health, enhancing quality of life and fostering social connections.

With continued research and tailored training programs, more seniors can enjoy the multiple benefits of staying active through weight training.

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The research findings can be found in Psychiatry Research.

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