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Strength Training for Depression with Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Strength Training for Depression with Yoga

Happy Long Life by Kazuaki Tanahashi*

Depression is an extremely complex disease, and depressed individuals feel overwhelmed with sadness and loneliness for unknown reasons. While depression prevents an individual from enjoying life, its effects go far beyond mood alone as it also impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. Factors that trigger depression include but are not limited to: abuse, certain medications, personal/professional/social conflicts, death or a loss of a loved one, chronic illness, genetics, substance abuse, some traumatic experience, and social isolation. And in one of my earlier posts Depression Accelerates Unhealthy Aging I discussed research studies suggesting that severe depression may trigger rapid and unhealthy aging. Severe depression doesn't just affect the mind, but it also attacks the body on a cellular level and speeds up the aging process. The good news is that there are many steps and lifestyle changes that a depressed individual can take to overcome the symptoms and the challenges they face to bring santosha in their lives. One of the recommendations is to incorporate yoga, meditation and pranayama, which have been shown to reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and be helpful for people with severe depression (see Yoga Effective as An Adjunct to Western Medicine for Treating Depression). 

According to a recent review report Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms, strength training is good for the mind as well as the body. The study analyzed 33 clinical trials—including nearly 2,000 people—and examined the effects of resistance exercise training on symptoms of depression. The researchers found that in addition to physical benefits, resistance exercise training/strength training is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Strength training was associated with improvements in depressive symptoms, such as low mood and a loss of interest in activities and feelings of worthlessness, regardless of a person’s age, sex, health status, specific exercise routine, or improvements. One of the ways by which strength training does this is by increasing blood flow to the brain and triggering the release of mood-enhancing chemicals, such as endorphins. Since the researchers saw improvements associated with a wide range of strength-training programs, they could not suggest a single best exercise regimen for mental health. However, they issued some guidelines, which included doing strength training at least two days per week and performing eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 different strength-building exercises each time. 

While the above review study specifically examined resistance training, plenty of evidence suggests that other forms of physical activity, such as aerobic exercise, cardio, and yoga asanas, may also improve depressive symptoms. In one of my earlier articles written in 2013 Yoga Asanas: Endurance Training or Resistance Training?, I argued and put forth reasons why I considered yoga asanas to be both an Endurance Training and Resistance Training exercise. 

Resistance training or Strength training involves a lot of muscular contraction thereby providing functional benefits and strengthening the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. This type of training uses various forms of exercises to target specific muscle groups. Interestingly, yoga uses the body’s own weight as resistance to build strength and balance. Yoga poses places the body in many poses that not only require strength but also requires contraction of certain specific muscles (referred to as an isometric contraction) to hold the position. In addition, muscular contractions help to lengthen and tone the muscles and help more muscle fibers to be recruited, resulting in improved strength gains. 

The researcher’s suggestion to incorporate 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 different strength-building exercises is also evident in some yoga classes and practices. A continuous flow sequence that calls for moving into several poses sequentially is a physically demanding practice that provides students with opportunities for continued strength gains that are achieved without elaborate and expensive weight-training equipment. While strength training at the gym is focused primarily on improving a body’s physical condition, yoga asanas not only tone the body, but also the breath work, concentration, precise alignment, and the controlling power of how hard you’re pushing yourself puts the individual in a flow state. Researchers and practitioners alike agree that a combination of yoga, meditation, and pranayama is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach not only to reverse depression and but also to improve overall health. 

The above research together with other findings suggests that depression can be turned into happiness to causally influence health and healthy aging. So how about overcoming depression and bringing that santosha in our own lives through yoga!

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