This science-backed strength training routine could be the antidote to the sadness many of us feel this time of year.
No one disputes the good-for-you benefits of exercise: It lowers your risk for heart disease and diabetes, reduces belly fat, improves memory and helps slow down the aging process. And now, there’s new research adding to evidence that your fitness routine—whether logging miles, doing yoga or hitting the weight rack—can lift your spirits, too. During a time of year when many people find themselves singing the winter blues, that’s good news. About three million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a low mood that causes changes in appetite, sleep and energy during the cold, dark winter months. Exercise, which releases specific endorphins that can help improve mood, may be a way to turn SAD around. In fact, a recent report in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that strength training plays an important role in raising your mood. After reviewing dozens of studies on depression and resistance exercise training, researchers found that people who regularly lifted weights experienced a reduction in symptoms of depression, including feelings of worthlessness, a loss of interest in activities and low mood. “There are several potential social, cognitive and neurobiological factors that help explain how and why resistance training may reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms,” says study author Brett R. Gordon, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Limerick. For instance, exercising often provides a chance for social interaction with others at the gym and social support if you team up with a trainer or spotter during your lifting session. Strength training in particular may also cause changes in the brain that can be linked to areas related to mood and depression, says Gordon.
WORKING IT OUT
Exactly which strength-training plan you follow will depend on your current fitness level: Jumping into a too-challenging program and straining a muscle on Day 1 is not likely to lift your spirits out of that dark place. With that in mind, certified personal trainer Ashleigh Kast designed the strength circuit below to help you ramp up your game gradually and ditch the doldrums while you’re at it. “When it comes to working out for mood, you’ll want to steer clear of the typical HIIT boot camp-style workouts,” says Kast. “Performing high-intensity workouts on an already-stressed system can be like pouring gasoline on a fire.” Instead opt for a moderate-intensity level that keeps your body in a steady aerobic state as you perform strength moves. How it works: You’ll superset each exercise for four- to six-minute intervals, resting three minutes between sets. “Keep it rhythmic like a steady running or cycling pace,” says Kast, who recommends doing this circuit twice a week. Choose a weight that’s heavy enough to challenge you but light enough that you could do a few more reps than prescribed. Her final piece of advice: “Use your breathing to help you through each move. Connect your inhales to pushes and exhales to pulls.”
SHIN BOX GET-UP
Sit on a comfortable mat with your right leg bent in front of you and your left leg bent behind you so that each leg forms a 90-degree angle. Cup the ends of a dumbbell between your hands, elbows bent and pointing down. Drive your left knee into the mat, squeezing glutes to rise onto both knees. Next, place the toes of your back foot on the ground, pushing up into a lunge. From there, step your back foot forward to your front foot, straighten your legs and stand up tall, raising the weight chest-high. Reverse motion, coming back to your knees, and keeping tension as you sink slowly back down into hips and onto the mat. Do three reps per side.
LOW LUNGE AND ROTATE
Place a dumbbell on the floor. Get into a straight-arm plank with hands on either side of the dumbbell, legs extended straight back and feet hip-width apart. (Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.) Step the right leg forward into a low lunge. Grab the dumbbell with your left hand and reach the left arm above your body, rotating your torso to the left. Return to start and repeat movement on the opposite side. Do three reps on each side. For more of a challenge: add a pushup after rotating to each side.
BENCH SUPPORTED ROW
Stand with your right side next to a bench. Place your right knee and right hand on the bench so that your back is parallel to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand at full extension. Bend your left elbow and explosively pull the dumbbell straight up to torso level. Slowly lower the dumbbell back down and repeat. Do 10-12 reps per side.
WEIGHTED BOX SQUAT
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Holding a weight barbell on your back or a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your back to a knee-high bench or box. Bend your knees and sink your hips back, lowering down until your butt touches the box or bench. Push into heels and squeeze glutes to return to standing. Do 10-12 reps.
HALF-KNEEL BANDED PALL OF PRESS
Stand with your right side facing the cable machine. Kneel down on your right knee to the right of the machine, with your left foot on the floor and your left knee bent at a 90-degree angle; left ankle should be directly under your left knee. Hold the handle of cables with both hands in front of you and close to body, keeping tension on the cable. With abs tight, extend your arms forward. Bend elbows and bring handle back toward chest. Do 15 reps on each side.
QUADRUPED PLANK TO STRAIGHT ARM PLANK
Start on your hands and knees with your hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck toes and lift knees. Step feet back until your legs are straight and your body forms a line from your head to your heels; feet should be about hip-width apart. Walk feet forward, bend knees and return to start position. Six reps. Now that you’ve got the moves to lift your mood this winter, how about the shoes? Find out which pair works best for your workout.