Working your muscles through exercise, especially resistance training, can be a powerful antidepressant. Myokines produced by muscle tissue communicate directly with the brain, enhancing cognitive function and mental well-being. In addition, exercise fuels brain function and mental health by improving blood flow to the brain, increasing the production of new neurons, and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

Resistance training, in particular, has been shown to be effective at improving cognitive function, memory, and mood, as well as building confidence and self-esteem. Even small amounts of physical activity can have a positive impact on mental health, so it's important to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

This article is chosen from the resource section of GoodForYou. It's written by our Wellbeing Partner Synergy Health Ltd and we've re-produced their article in full below: 



It is easy to take our muscles and the role they play in our body for granted. Indeed, if we apply a degree of reductionism to how our bodies work, we tend to think of our brains as a computer and our muscles as nothing more than mere motors acting that computers instructions. The brain gives a command, and the muscles, in the absence of injury or disease preventing it otherwise, largely do as they are told.

It is true that the brain plays a very significant role in controlling our ability to move. It is easy to think of our brain as the thinking feeling organ in our body, but truth be told, a very large part of our brain power, if not the majority, is dedicated to control our balance and movement control. We are upright primates with a precariously balanced centre of gravity, and this takes an enormous amount of brain power to achieve.

It is estimated that around 50% of the brain's motor cortex is dedicated to controlling movement in the hands, while the remaining 50% is responsible for controlling the rest of the body. In addition, the cerebellum, a small but important part of the brain, is responsible for fine-tuning movements, such as balance and coordination (it also plays a role in cognitive functions such as attention and language).

To see how amazing our bipedal movement is, you only need to see just how difficult it is for other primates to move like we do (gorillas and chimpanzees look very awkward and unbalanced when they try), and how difficult it has been for engineers involved in advanced robotics to get robots to replicate human movement. 

a couple work out together



It is becoming increasingly understood that exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have for improving our mental fitness. It is well-established that regular physical activity can help to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. But what exactly is it about exercise that has such a positive effect on our mood and cognitive function?

One possible answer lies in the connection between our muscles and our brain. Muscle tissue communicates directly with the brain and other organs through chemicals called myokines. These signaling molecules are produced by muscle cells in response to physical activity, and they play an important role in regulating many of the body's systems, including the immune system, metabolism, and brain function.

Recent research has suggested that myokines may also play a role in the link between exercise and mental health. In studies where mice were exposed to a stressful environment, their muscle tissue produced a myokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which traveled to the brain and helped to protect against the negative effects of stress on cognitive function.

Other myokines, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and irisin, have also been linked to improved cognitive function and mental health. BDNF is known to play a role in the growth and development of new neurons in the brain, and it has been implicated in the beneficial effects of exercise on cognitive function and mood. Irisin, on the other hand, has been shown to have antidepressant effects in animal studies.

Through these chemical interactions between muscles and the brain, exercise improves cognitive function and mental health. When we engage in physical activity, we not only improve our physical fitness and strength, but we also enhance our brain function and mental well-being. This is why exercise is often prescribed as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety.



The brain is designed for movement. This is why inactivity breeds depression and cognitive decline while exercise fuels well-being. The human brain evolved in an environment where movement was a necessity for survival. Our ancestors had to be physically active in order to hunt, gather food, and protect themselves from predators. As a result, our brains are wired to respond positively to movement and physical activity.

When we are inactive for extended periods of time, our brain function can suffer. This is partly because our muscles are not producing myokines and other signaling molecules that are important for brain health. Additionally, inactivity can lead to a decrease in blood flow to the brain, which can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of depression and other mental health issues.

On the other hand, when we engage in physical activity, our brain function is enhanced in several ways. For example, exercise has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which can improve cognitive function and memory. It also promotes the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is important for learning and memory.



Resistance training, or weight lifting, is a type of exercise that is often associated with building muscle mass and strength. However, it is also an effective way to improve mental health and cognitive function. In fact, resistance training is as much for the brain as it is for the body.

Research has shown that resistance training can improve cognitive function, memory, and mood in older adults. In research on older adults with mild cognitive impairment, resistance training improved executive function and working memory. Resistance training also reduced symptoms of depression in studies on adults with major depressive disorder.

One reason why resistance training may be particularly effective for improving mental health is that it activates different pathways in the body than aerobic exercise. While both types of exercise have been shown to have positive effects on mental health, resistance training may be better at reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, both of which have been linked to depression and other mental health issues.


The good news is that even small amounts of physical activity can have a positive impact on mental health. The World Health Organization recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week.

For people who are new to exercise or have physical limitations, even small amounts of activity can be beneficial. Walking, gardening, and yoga are all great ways to increase physical activity and improve mental health.

It's also important to note that exercise should not be used as a substitute for professional treatment for mental health issues. While exercise can be a powerful tool for improving mental health, it is not a cure for depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. If you are struggling with your mental health, it's important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.


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About the author

Synergy Health is the brains behind the GoodForYou platform and is one of New Zealand's top Health and Wellbeing platform providers with over 20 years experience in helping people live healthier happier lives.

Their team consists of health, human resource, digital, and administrative specialists who all understand the critical link between employee well-being, safety, and organizational culture environment for best performance.


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