Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults

Brooke’s Battle with Mental Health

In today’s video, Barbell Logic Coach, Brooke Haubenstricker shares her story about mental illness and the mental health benefits of strength training.

“When I was twelve years old, my life started to change drastically. I had always struggled with perfectionism, but by this time I started to become obsessed with it. I would hone in on every little thing that didn’t go exactly right and relentlessly beat myself up over it. I started feeling depressed and I would cry all the time. And as I got older, the standards I set for myself, as well as self-bullying, got a lot worse. By the time I started to college, I hated myself, I withdrew socially, and I starting giving up. I had been struggling with depression every day for eight years straight and it was only getting worse. I didn’t see a way out, so I started making plans to kill myself.

I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar type II, which is a mental disorder characterized by phases of depression and hypomania. I learned as much as I could about it, did hours and hours of self-reflection, and adopted a healthier diet to try to mitigate the symptoms. It helped to some degree, but I still frequently struggled with my moods and I had a difficult time accepting myself, especially my appearance.

Three years ago, I started strength training because the guy I was dating at the time did it. The first two years I lifted I restricted what I ate because I thought I needed to be lighter than 135lbs, so I didn’t make much progress. But even with limited strength gains, I started noticing a difference in myself psychologically.

As I lifted heavier and heavier weights, my confidence grew, along with my assertiveness and conflict resolution skills. I noticed that things that would normally wear me out mentally and emotionally were easier to overcome, like disagreements, criticism, and failures. I slept better, was more energized and attentive during the day, and I no longer had constant low-back pain. And because Starting Strength is strength-focused, I began to appreciate my body for what it could do and stopped obsessing over what it looked like. I’m 15lbs heavier now, and gaining weight was one of the best decisions I made for both my lifting and my emotional wellbeing. And now, my periods of depression and hypomania are less extreme, less frequent, and are shorter in duration.

My experience with strength training isn’t unique. Studies have shown that people with all sorts of mental illnesses (mood disorders, developmental disorders, anxiety, and even dementia) experience similar benefits from long-term strength training and it only takes three workouts a week. Apply the right stress, and the right amount of stress, each workout and then allow recovery between workouts through making daily decisions to eat and rest, so you can subsequently adapt to that stress.

Getting started and staying committed to your training can be difficult. If you need help, you can reach out to a Barbell Logic Coach to help you through your training in the midst of medication and psychological hurdles, setting you up for long-term training to improve your physiological and psychological health.

I’d like to give a big thank you to psychiatrist Dr. David Puder for his reviewing this video and for his efforts in educating the public on strength training for physical and mental wellbeing. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of strength training for mental illness, check out these two podcast episodes and blogs by Dr. Puder:

Exercise as a Prescription for Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Stress and Sensorium

Prescribing Strength Training for Depression

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