Bodybuilding and Mental Health: Benefits and Negatives

Bodybuilding and Mental Health

Nowadays there seems to be more men and women making time to exercise, whether it is hitting the treadmill or lifting weights.

While there are many physical benefits [1] to be gained from regular exercise, it can also offer various mental health benefits too.

Please continue reading to discover why you should exercise regularly, and the symptoms you need to look out for if you have found that exercise is taking over your life in a negative fashion.

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise can offer numerous mental health benefits, including:

Improved Mood

Research [2] has found that physical activity can improve your mood.

This research found that those who were physically active were more content than those who were inactive for long periods of time.

Reduced Stress

When you suffer from stress you may experience physical symptoms such as sleeping problems, sweating and a loss of appetite.

These symptoms are caused by a flight or flight response that causes increased production of stress hormones.

Exercise can help to relieve stress, with research [3] showing that those who are highly active shown to have lower stress levels than those who are inactive.

Better Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and our self-worth.

Regular physical activity has been shown to increase self-esteem in children, adolescents and adults, across both sexes [4].

Better Cognitive Function

As you age it is an unfortunate fact that many of us will experience cognitive decline and progressive diseases like dementia.

There is plenty of research to suggest that regular exercise can help reduce cognitive decline and protect against dementia [5][6][7].

Less Depression and Anxiety

Exercise and physical activity is a common treatment for depression that has few side effects [8]. It also does not have the stigma attached that taking antidepressants has.

It is also commonly used for those with mild anxiety and sometimes for those with clinical anxiety [9].

Muscle Dysmorphia (Bigorexia)

While there are undoubted benefits to be gained from lifting weights and exercise, in general, there are some who take weight lifting to the extreme, developing behaviour that is more harmful than good.

In a recent BBC documentary [10] it was revealed that one in 10 men that trained in UK gyms may have muscle dysmorphia, or bigorexia, which is a disorder that leaves the person feeling small, despite being big and muscular.

Talking to the BBC, Rob Wilson, the chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation had this to say:

“There are thousands upon thousands with it, who are going to be excessively concerned about their appearance, having very poor self-esteem, and also feeling very anxious and very worried.”

“Sometimes individuals can become very depressed and hopeless and that can even lead to suicide.”

Causes of Bigorexia

It is not exactly clear what the causes of bigorexia are, however it may be associated with:

  1. Genetics – You may be more likely to develop a condition like this if you have a relative with it, or if you have OCD or depression
  2. A chemical imbalance in your brain
  3. Traumatic past experiences – For example, if you were bullied or abused when you were a child

Signs of Bigorexia

If you find yourself exhibiting any of these signs then you may be suffering from bigorexia:

  • Overexerting yourself at the gym
  • Compulsively working out
  • Using anabolic steroids
  • Looking at your body in the mirror excessively
  • Abusing supplements
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Depression or mania
  • Panicking if you miss a session at the gym
  • Training even when injured
  • Prioritising working out over time with family and friends

You may want to speak to your doctor if you believe that you may have muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia.

They will ask you a number of questions regarding any symptoms and how they affect your life.

Your doctor may refer you for further treatment or assessment.

Remember there is nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. If you are suffering from a condition such as bigorexia then your symptoms likely will not go away on their own without treatment.

Treatments for Bigorexia

Potential treatments [11] for bigorexia and other body dysmorphic conditions include:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – CBT [12] can help you to manage your symptoms better by helping you learn what triggers them. It also helps to teach you coping mechanisms.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – These are a type of antidepressant that may help reduce your symptoms [13]. There are common side effects associated with their use, so you should keep a close eye on this.

Support Groups – There may be some local groups that you can join for support, advice and practical tips on coping with bigorexia.

Mindfulness – There are mindfulness exercises you can try if you are feeling low or anxious. Relaxation and breathing exercises can also help relieve stress and anxiety.

Typically these treatments will help with your symptoms, however in some cases and if your symptoms haven’t alleviated after 12 weeks you may be prescribed a different SSRI.

There are also specialist mental health clinics that offer alternative treatments.

In Conclusion

The health benefits you can experience from regular exercise are well documented and while there are some that take it to extremes in my opinion the potential benefits far outweigh any negatives.

You don’t need to workout daily to experience the benefits of exercise. But 4-5 intense workouts weekly will give you so many benefits.

I would encourage regular rests days for recovery, and to prevent over-training.

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Hi, my name is Jonathan, a fitness blogger and bodybuilding enthusiast and I am the founder of Skinny2Fit. I want to provide you with easy access to good advice that is both simple and to the point. Helping you gain muscle mass and strength!

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