The Role of Strength and its’ Physiology in Men
Mental health is emerging as one of the greatest health challenges of the 21st century. The rates of suicide and depression in developed Western countries have seen an increasing trend. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the prevalence in men because of its’ links to testosterone and immediate impact resistance training could have.
According to beyondblue (an Australian mental health non-profit organisation), one in eight men will experience depression and one in five will experience anxiety at some stage in their lives. Furthermore, seven out of nine suicides are men every single day in Australia.
Needless to say, mental health in men is, and will continue to be an important societal issue. In recent years, there has been a growing body of research that connects physical training with mental health. The reasons for this are multifactorial, but one undeniable benefit is the impact of physical training on our physiology.
Allow me to explain. One hormone that has been associated with higher rates of depression is testosterone (particularly in men). The literature suggests that lower testosterone levels may be correlated with higher rates of depression. For example, in a cross-sectional study of 830 elderly men (60-92), those who reported depressive symptoms showed significantly lower levels of testosterone than those who did not. Article here can be read here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992230/
In another meta-analyses consisting of 27 studies (1890 men in total), findings showed that testosterone treatment was associated with clinically significant reductions in depressive symptoms among men. The studies used to conduct this analysis were limited however, as most were used to treat men who had trouble producing testosterone. From a treatment perspective, more studies are needed to assess whether testosterone treatment would be advised for the treatment of depression. Article can be read here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6583468/
Whether the use of testosterone will be recommended for those with depressive symptoms is a question best left to medical professionals. However, what we can infer from these studies is this: there seems to be an association between testosterone and depressive symptoms in men.
What does this mean for us coaches in the context of exercise?
In men, adequate resistance exercise in particular has been shown to increase testosterone in their bodies, although its’ effects are not permanent. That is, when men undertake a sufficiently stimulating resistance exercise program, our baseline testosterone levels will elevate – for a short period of time. If it’s transient, what’s the point right? The answer does not have to be dichotomous in nature. If we are able to partake in regular resistance training, we may be able to sustain elevated levels of testosterone relative to those who do not. Whether this has any correlation with long-term mental health is yet to be discovered, however anecdotal evidence would suggest that most men who undertake physical training report they feel better. Make no mistake, I’m not saying we should treat resistance exercise as a way to treat mental health problems, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. Most government health organisations also recommend some form of exercise for its’ mental health benefits.
As a concluding note, and this is only an opinion of mine, the feeling of lifting a heavy weight gives me a sense of strength and confidence. The idea that I’ve been set (whether externally or internally) a physical challenge that I need to overcome is gratifying – because this is what my body was designed to do. Most men are born with a base of physical strength that need to be utilised. It speaks to something deep and psychological within us.