For older adults, weight training proves to naturally boost mental health

SÃO PAOLO, Brazil — Weight training is one of the most efficient ways to reduce body fat while increasing strength and muscle mass. A new study not only confirms these benefits in older people, further noting that this effect could help prevent falls and injury, which become increasingly common with age. Now researchers say that lifting weights not only lowers the risk of a frail body, but also a frail mind for those prone to depressive or anxious thoughts.

“Resistance training has been shown to be one of the most effective non-pharmacological strategies for healthy aging. It promotes countless health benefits, including improvements to mental health,” says Paolo Cunha, a postdoctoral fellow who conducted the analysis, in a media release. Cunha’s findings are published in the journal Psychiatry Research, 

“Epidemiological studies have shown that the decrease in muscle strength and mass that occurs naturally as we age may be associated with an increase in mental health problems, given the existence of various physiological mechanisms that bring about functional and structural changes and that are controlled by the brain,” he adds.

He adds that the mental health benefit is even greater when weight training is done in a group because of the added social aspect. Not only did the study show improvements in symptoms of anxiety and depression, it also shows that this training may have an even stronger impact on people with a confirmed diagnosis of anxiety or depression disorder.

The research also concludes that the way weight training is done could influence its effectiveness as well.

“How the training is done appears to influence the results achieved. The information obtained so far suggests that older people should ideally do weight training exercises three times a week, with three sets of each exercise and sessions that are not too long – six exercises would seem to be sufficient. Do less, but do it well: a short set produces better results. This is meaningful information, as we lack guidelines with specific recommendations for resistance training that focuses on mental health parameters,” says Cunha.

Another nuance shown through the analysis is that using training machines and free weights were more impactful than using elastic bands or body weight training alone.

“We don’t have statistics comparing the two kinds of training, but the analysis showed that resistance training with weights and other gear is more effective in terms of improving the mental health of older people, largely because the intensity and volume of the exercises can be more precisely controlled,” explains Cunha.

Although the researchers are confident that their results are promising, there are some areas that warrant further study for validation. Any movement for older people (and people of any age) is undoubtedly beneficial for physical and mental health, but mounting research continues to show the benefits of incorporating weights.

“Generally speaking, most studies have involved a small number of volunteers, which hinders an understanding of how the phenomenon occurs and the main mechanisms that explain it. This research field has expanded in recent years and has ample room for more advances,” says Cunha.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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  1. If the government gave free vitamins (C and D) and free gym membership (especially to over 65s) the cost to the state of healthcare would drop 50%, ie Billions of dollars and pounds.
    If the government insisted that doctors prescribed generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs it would drop another 25%.

  2. Seven months ago, I started getting up a little earlier before work and lifting weights for about 15 minutes five to six days a week. Nothing crazy—15-20 pound dumbbells, more reps than anything else—but I’ve gained noticeable lean muscle mass, lost weight, and gained a lot of energy. I’ve also incorporated a relaxed version of the keto diet (over 20 grams of carbs a day but less than 50 carbs), and my belly fat is shrinking nicely. I am almost into a pair of jeans I haven’t been able to wear for 15 years!

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