Mental health and mental wellness are two terms which have soared in popularity over recent years. People have become increasingly interested in how to develop a "healthier mind" able to cope with daily challenges in a more efficient way.
The rather questionable confinement to our homes during 2020-2022 has placed a new emphasis on the impact our mental wellbeing has on our everyday life quality.
Today, we see common approaches to new challenges: yoga, meditation, mindfulness training,...anything that attempts to teach us how to "stress less" and quiet our mind.
In this article I would like to explore a new avenue for handling tough times better and coming out on the other side WAY more intact than with common practices.
Challenging events that stretch the limits of our coping abilities do happen: loved ones pass, friendships and relationships break up, jobs are lost, and financially many struggle to come by.
One of the things that happens during such intense times is the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is a two-edged sword: on one hand it is absolutely essential (sometimes even life-saving) for dealing with daily events we encounter. It mobilizes energy in the body, keeps us mentally alert, and gets us moving through life. The downside of cortisol is that when it is chronically elevated in the absense of significant drops, it leads to systemic inflammation in the body, pain, tiredness, loss of muscle mass, and eventually disease. We basically become like a cannibal eating itself up from the inside.
Strength training represents a highly potent stimulus for buffering the negative effects of cortisol.
In fact, heavy lifting releases an abundance of testosterone, growth hormone, as well as IGF-1 - all of which are tissue-promoting and rejuvenating hormones that effectively buffer the dramatic effects of cortisol.
Through lifting weights, our body becomes better at keeping cortisol under control. Going heavy on your barbell lifts builds a reservoir of muscle, bone, and immune system components which help us get ready for when lighting strikes.
Getting under the bar, forking out a heavy set of squats, and lifting heavier than we did in the previous workout prepares us mentally and physically for the unpredictability of life. It challenges our courage, discipline, and mental resilienec like arguably no other training practice.
Squatting a heavy set of five with 170kg on our back FORCES us to block out all distractions to successfully perform the lift. It propels us into "THE ZONE". Once we master the set and come out the other end with greater strength, our body and mind - TOGETHER - adapt to higher levels of functioning - meaning we are developing greater resilience, robustness, and drive to go on about our daily life.
Clients, friends, gym enthusiasts keep telling me that heavy lifting is the only form of training which has had a significant impact on their mental health.
When our body gets stronger, our mind HAS TO get stronger at the same time to match this new pattern.
How else could it be?