Bodybuilding and Depression: Is There a Correlation Between Them?

Doing something you love should be fun and bring joy to your life, right? If you were to look at sports, for example, there should be a level of enjoyment each time you pick up a ball, racquet, or bat. Generally, when you no longer find joy in something, or it stops providing you a sense of pleasure, you stop, no? Yet, when you look at bodybuilding, it appears that things aren’t always what they seem.

What exactly am I talking about and getting at with this? It’s bodybuilding and depression. Could the “sport” be causing bodybuilders to find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into a dark place where many of them may never come out alive? I think it’s worth opening up the discussion and talking about it.

What Does It Take to Be A Bodybuilder?

Bodybuilding is no different than any other sport when it comes to the dedication to train and become the best. The separation comes into effect with “what it takes” to be a successful bodybuilder. While baseball and basketball players live it up and can get away with living a lifestyle of partying, drinking, eating whatever they want, and having fun, that’s not exactly the case for bodybuilders.

Due to the strict lifestyle needed to become a successful bodybuilder, it’s easy to see why many of them may have some dark days and even suffer from depression. And this article isn’t meant to be a knock at bodybuilding or any bodybuilder, but rather a wake-up call that this may be an issue worth looking at more closely.

You may be reading this saying, “Matt, you’re not a professional bodybuilder or even an amateur bodybuilder… What the hell do you know?” Well, from my time in the supplement industry, I’ve been around sponsored athletes for a good part of my career and have found myself hanging out with them for days on end, having meals with them, training with them, and having some really deep conversations with them. Personally, I could never be a professional bodybuilder based on what they need to put themselves through – I respect their dedication to become the best.

Many bodybuilders become hermits. Almost prisoners in their own homes. When they say their life revolves around eating, sleeping, and training, they’re 100% being honest.

So, let’s think about this for a minute. Could you do that year after year and segregate yourself from everyone and everything in order to become the best? Look at the guys like Brandon Curry, who goes over to Kuwait for months at a time to prepare for the Mr. Olympia competition. He’s away from his family and kids for months. He misses family events, holidays, and memories. Don’t you think that weighs on him even though he’s trying to make history by winning a Sandow? He is forced to put the blinders on, and his entire focus and energy are put into his training and recovery.

Bodybuilders pack their own meals when they go somewhere, which consists of primarily plain foods, whereas everyone else around them is enjoying delicious, yet unhealthy, foods (burgers, pizza, dessert, etc.).

Because bodybuilders need to prioritize their rest, you may find them going to bed early or taking naps throughout the day. This doesn’t leave much of any time to go out with friends or family. Some bodybuilders skip holidays because they are in the middle of a prep and don’t want the distractions of having food they can’t eat in front of them and be tempted to blow their diet on something not on their plan.

Therefore, many bodybuilders sit at home as if in isolation. People are going out of their minds with COVID as is and hate the fact that they need to stay in their homes – yet this is the lifestyle of many bodybuilders out there other than when they venture out to go to the grocery store or head to the gym.

Factor Everything In – Does Bodybuilding Create Depression?

Over the last few years, many bodybuilders have come out and mentioned they have some demons they need to sort out and that they are suffering from some mental health issues. Some bodybuilders never made it out of this dark place and took their own lives, which is incredibly tragic that they didn’t get the help they so desperately needed.

The lifestyle of those in the sport of bodybuilding (in my opinion) can absolutely cause bodybuilders to fall into a depression. Unfortunately, while some of the bodybuilders have come out and expressed the issues they are having, and how they are feeling (again, in my opinion), I believe there are many more that are fighting their own demons in their head and don’t want to say anything in fear of what people will think of them. This can lead people into a very dark place and start causing them to have some alarming thoughts.

How Can We Fix This Potential Issue?

There is no real “fix” for this issue when it comes to bodybuilding and depression. The thing I want people to understand is that they aren’t alone. There are many bodybuilders out there who are having these feelings. Everyone needs to be more open about it and get the help they need when they start seeing any signs of depression.

We can’t afford to lose any more lives to depression – and that’s not just in our sport but our community as well. While many people see bodybuilders as just that, they are just as much a part of our community as you and me. All lives matter, and we need to take this seriously. If YOU see something, speak up. Reach out. Ask someone how they are feeling. Ask them how they are doing with everything going on. Merely being an ear that listens could mean the world to someone.

As a bodybuilding fan, community, competitor, we all owe it to the sport to support our bodybuilding competitors and help them stay in a good frame of mind. Far too many find themselves in a dark place due to what they feel is necessary to become a great bodybuilder. The sacrifice for many is worth it, while others it completely consumes them. I absolutely see a correlation between bodybuilding and depression. And I just hope the message gets out there and more people wrap their arms around the issue and can address it to help save lives.

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What Is the Link Between Exercise and Depression?

Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on mental health, fitness, nutrition, and parenting.

Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

BIPOC woman with yoga mat

Andresr / Getty Images

Exercise is one of the best and most affordable ways to improve your overall well-being. Plus, the positive link between physical activity and mood is impressive.

From a decrease in depressive and anxiety symptoms to better sleep and less stress, participating in a regular exercise program has some major perks.

And while we’ve known for years that treatment approaches such as psychotherapy and medication are effective in treating depression, research over the last decade shows that lifestyle interventions like exercise can also reduce depressive symptoms and improve your overall mood.

How Exercise May Help Depression

Enhancing your overall mental health is one of the many benefits of exercise. More specifically, physical activity can enhance mood, boost energy levels, and help you sleep better. Here are some other ways fitness improves psychological well-being:

  • Exercise improves your health and boosts confidence: Participating in a regular exercise program can improve your physical health and lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure, manage blood sugar, and lose or maintain a healthy body weight. These improvements can lead to a boost in confidence as you feel better about your overall health.
  • Exercise distracts the mind: Engaging in regular exercise may also quiet the mind, which allows you to get away from the negative cycle of worries and depressive thoughts.
  • Exercise promotes social interaction: Taking a group class, joining a running club, or playing a recreational sport gives you the opportunity for social interaction and reduces feelings of isolation, both critical factors in decreasing depressive symptoms.
  • Exercise releases your body’s feel-good chemicals: When you exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin that help give your mood a natural boost.
  • Exercise gives you a healthy coping mechanism: It’s not uncommon to develop unhealthy ways of coping with emotional pain and depressive symptoms. Using food or alcohol or withdrawing and isolating yourself from others are just a few examples. Replacing one of these with something positive like exercise can help you develop new coping strategies.

The Link Between Exercise and Depression

Although not a cure for depression, exercise certainly plays a role in managing symptoms, along with psychotherapy and medication. A 2018 meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that resistance exercise (lifting weights) significantly reduced the symptoms of depression in adults.  

More specifically, the study’s authors found that people with mild to moderate depression saw a significant reduction in symptoms when they performed resistance training two or more days a week, compared with people who did not lift weights. Participants also experienced a mood boost after working out.

Another 2016 meta-analysis in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, when performed regularly, supports the claim that exercise can be an evidenced-based part of treatment for depression.  

Finally, a 2018 study in Frontiers in Psychiatry showed that exercise resulted in a greater reduction in depression symptoms, greater improvements in sleep quality and cognitive function.  

Of the participants, 75% showed either a therapeutic response or complete remission of symptoms compared to 25% who did not exercise.

Researchers concluded that exercise as an add-on to conventional antidepressant therapies improved the efficacy of other treatment options such as antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Low Levels of Exercise Contribute to Depression

The correlation between regular exercise and a decrease in depression symptoms has been studied and supported for years. But recently, a link between low fitness levels and higher depression has caused researchers to take a second look at the role exercise plays in mental health.

A 2020 study published in BMC Medicine found that people with low aerobic and muscular fitness levels are nearly twice as likely to experience depression.   The findings indicate a dose-response relationship with low and medium cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength associated with higher odds of depression and anxiety.

Based on the results, researchers believe that “fitness could be an objectively measurable indicator and a modifiable risk factor for common mental disorders in the population.”

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular or aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking, bike riding, or swimming. Plus, two days of strengthening exercises targeting the major muscle groups.  

Broken down, 150 minutes each week, equates to five days of 30-minute cardio sessions. Add in two days of resistance training, and you have a solid fitness routine.

Tips For Getting Started

Find Your “Why”

If you’re struggling to get started, the first thing you need to do is define your “why,” which starts with one question: “Why am I doing this?” One of the reasons people quit an exercise program is due to a lack of interest. If you have no purpose or lack incentive, then sticking with your plan when things get tough is unlikely to happen.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies to motivate yourself to get healthy, featuring fitness trainer Jillian Michaels.

Set Realistic Goals

When it comes to fitness, bite-size goals often work best. Set a few mini-goals that you can achieve within a short amount of time. For example, exercising three days each week for two weeks. Once you meet this goal, add two more days. Remember, any positive change will make a difference.

Try the 3×10 Rule

If fitting in a 30-minute block of time for exercise does not seem feasible, why not break it up into smaller chunks? You can still benefit from fitness if you do shorter bouts throughout the day.

For example, take a 10-minute walk in the morning, another 10-minute walk at lunch, and finish the day off with a 10-minute walk before dinner.

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Swap out one of the walks for yoga, resistance training, or core work, and you have a full-body workout.

Recruit a Friend

If accountability and social interaction will help you stay motivated, then consider recruiting a friend. Commit to three days a week to meet for a workout. Set the time, date, and location, and give each other reminder calls and texts. Even setting up a “virtual workout date” can be helpful.

Download an App

There are hundreds of fitness apps with workouts ranging from Pilates and yoga to cardio and resistance training. Several offer free trials so you can try before you buy. Download two or three to find the right one for you.

Make Exercise Work For You

Physical activity involves so much more than going to the gym or hopping on a treadmill. Finding what you like to do helps with adherence and better mental health outcomes.

To maximize success, try different times of the day. Download an app or take a class at the gym. Try exercising alone or with friends. Plug into music or go for a run and tune into nature. Although it may take some trial and error, keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.

A Word From Verywell

Regular exercise does wonders for both your physical and mental health. Although research shows that it can help reduce depressive symptoms, especially in mild to moderate depression, it is by no means a replacement for other treatments like therapy or medication. Make sure to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

Schuch FB, Vancampfort D, Richards J, Rosenbaum S, Ward PB, Stubbs B. Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2016;77:42-51

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on mental health, fitness, nutrition, and parenting.

What’s the Connection Between Alcohol and Depression?

Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women’s issues, and more.

Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Illustration of woman sitting inside an empty bottle of wine, depressed

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

If you’re battling depression, alcohol isn’t going to make you feel better. It may temporarily suppress feelings of isolation, anxiety, or sadness, but that won’t last. And more than likely, your depression will worsen.

The connection between alcohol and depression and the two conditions may feed off one another. In many cases, treating alcoholism will relieve depression. However, alleviating depression does not resolve the alcohol use disorder.

In some cases, you may receive a dual diagnosis of a major depressive disorder (MDD) and an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This co-occurring disorder isn’t uncommon, but it can be difficult to treat. This article outlines the connection between alcohol and depression, how the two disorders align, identifies treatment options, and ways to cope.

Effects of Alcohol Use

Alcohol can produce feelings of euphoria and excitement, making you feel instantly happier and more confident, but those feelings are fleeting. Alcohol is a depressant. Much like barbiturates (sedatives), alcohol is a drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain’s functionality. Yet, many Americans drink alcohol, even if they’re depressed.

“In our society alcohol is readily available and socially acceptable,” says Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, author of Whole Brain Living, explains. “Depression and alcohol misuse are often tied because we take a depressant to counter a chemical depression which only makes it worse.”

The more alcohol you drink, the more severe the symptoms. Depending on your intoxication level, you may experience decreased inhibition, loss of judgement, confusion, and mood swings, among others.

“Alcohol is frequently used to numb uncomfortable emotions and can become a habitual pattern that disrupts the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Vanessa Kennedy, PhD, Director of Psychology at Driftwood Recovery.

No matter your drink of choice, alcohol can easily be abused and often is, especially when it’s used to self-medicate. Pouring yourself a glass of wine or cracking a beer at the end of a long day may temporarily relieve feelings of depression, because alcohol acts as a sedative, but it will exacerbate those feelings and actually intensify them.

Drinking persistently and excessively can increase your risk of developing a major depressive disorder. It can also aggregate symptoms of pre-existing depression and endanger your health and mental health.

Individuals diagnosed with clinical depression should be extremely cautious when it comes to using substances such as alcohol. According to Dr. Kennedy, for those taking antidepressants, combining them with alcohol can reduce their efficacy.

Contributing Factors

The co-occurrence of a major depressive disorder and an alcohol use disorder is surprisingly common.   Yet, there are certain factors that can put you at a higher risk of experiencing these comorbid disorders. Those factors include:

  • Genetics, including a family history of depression or substance misuse
  • History of trauma or abuse, or PTSD, which may result from child abuse, sexual assault, combat, etc.
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Environmental factors, including exposures to violence, trauma, assault, abuse, etc.

If you believe you’re susceptible of experiencing alcohol addiction or depression, you may want to speak with a mental health professional, such as a social worker, counselor, or therapist, about these concerns and how best to prevent or cope with these disorders.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Depression

Many studies have found that alcohol dependence is closely linked to depression.   When it comes to diagnosing an alcohol use disorder and a major depressive disorder, it’s important to address them simultaneously, as they can significantly impact your recovery.

Get to know the two disorders and how they correlate.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol may be a socially acceptable drug, but it’s still a drug. Alcohol abuse and dependence are both considered an alcohol use disorder, with studies finding that alcohol dependence is more closely tied to the persistence of depressive disorders.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), these are some signs and symptoms that could reveal an alcohol use disorder:

  • Your drinking is interfering with home, school, or work.
  • You’ve stopped engaging in activities that are important to you.
  • You’ve found yourself in dangerous situations while drinking, such as driving, swimming, or having unsafe sex while under the influence.
  • You’ve drank to experience a certain effect.
  • You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, such as nausea, sweating, racing heart, or trouble sleeping.
  • You’ve tried to cut back, but can’t.
  • You’ve drank more or longer than you intended on more than one occasion.
  • You’ve continued drinking even though you’ve felt depressed, anxious, or blacked out.
  • You’ve wanted to drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 9 out of 10 adult binge drinkers don’t have a severe alcohol use disorder, but that doesn’t mean alcohol isn’t a problem for them. Drinking to cope with depression, no matter if you have an alcohol use disorder, is concerning.

Alcohol use disorders may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the combination of symptoms you’re experiencing, but drinking problems can exist regardless of a clinical diagnosis.

Whether you’re experiencing depression or not, it’s important to evaluate your drinking habits and consider why you drink, when you drink, and how you feel when you drink.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder, which can impact your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In the United States alone, an estimated 17.3 million adults have had at least one major depressive episode.

Some common signs and symptoms of depression, according to the DSM-5 Manual, include:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing a significant change in weight or decrease in appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping, experiencing fatigue, or sleeping too much
  • Experiencing thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts
  • Having difficulty concentrating

Major depressive disorder involves persistent and prolonged symptoms, but depression, in general, takes on many different forms. Depressive symptoms can result from life stressors, mental health conditions, medical conditions, and other factors.

Depression can also be directly caused by alcohol in the case of a substance-induced disorder.

Though depression is experienced by many, it can often go undiagnosed and untreated. You don’t have to battle the depression alone and relying on alcohol to make you feel better will only cause further pain. Reach out to a mental health professional to talk about treatment and strategies for dealing with depression.

Other Connections

Some experts also suggest that both depression and alcohol use disorders share underlying pathophysiology in that they are both neuroinflammatory conditions. Because of this shared connection, treatment for both should include a diet aimed at improving gut function and reducing endotoxin load that contributes to neuroinflammation. Following a Mediterranean diet rich in omega-3’s, for example, might be one recommendation.

Treatment Options

It’s very important to address both alcohol abuse and depression simultaneously when looking into treatment options, as these conditions are closely intertwined and can exacerbate each other, Dr. Kennedy explains.

“Cells are living beings and if you want to fix the issue of depression at the level of the cells, they cannot be inebriated,” says Dr. Taylor. “Alcohol makes us feel drunk and confused because alcohol makes the cells drunk and nonfunctional.”

“Treatment options can range from seeing an individual therapist or psychiatrist once a week in an outpatient setting to attending an intensive outpatient group three times a week or residential treatment, in which an individual stays in a treatment setting, receives intensive therapy, and is physically separated from alcohol in order to recover,” says Dr. Kennedy.

A dual diagnosis can be complicated to treat, no matter the circumstances. The most common treatment options are included below, but know that recovery requires a personalized treatment plan that best suits your mental health needs.

Therapy

“Therapeutic interventions designed to address both issues often include a focus on addressing emotional pain or trauma, as well as developing and practicing healthy coping behaviors,” says Dr. Kennedy.

Treatment depends on the individual, but there are many different therapeutic interventions which are used to address both alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder. Among them, Dr. Kennedy recommends:

  • Trauma-specific therapy (DBT)
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be used to treat co-occurring AUD and MDD, by improving your emotional regulation, changing your cognitive behaviors, and helping you develop personal coping strategies.  

Depending on the severity of the disorders, you may need more intense treatment, such as outpatient care, integrated assertive community (ACT) treatment or a residential stay, which may be required to begin or continue your recovery journey.

Medication

The use of medication to treat an alcohol use disorder and a major depressive disorder depends entirely on the individual and their circumstances.

According to Dr. Kennedy, possible medications include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Mood stabilizers

It is important to note that medications for alcohol use disorder are a first-line treatment. They can be helpful for many, so talk to your doctor about this option. If you’re dealing with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and hallucinations, among others, then your doctor may suggest medications such as chlordiazepoxide or other benzodiazepines. Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and disulfiram are also FDA-approved medications that can help curb alcohol cravings.

“An experienced psychiatrist [or another mental health professional] familiar with mood disorders and the effects of alcohol abuse can be instrumental in recommending appropriate medications and monitoring medication efficacy,” says Dr. Kennedy.

A Word From Verywell

It can be tempting to drink if you’re feeling unhappy, but there’s a better solution out there. When treating depression and substance abuse, consult with a mental health professional and/or an addiction specialist who can provide resources and recommendations for possible treatment options.

For more information and resources, visit the NIAAA’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator or the National Institutes of Health’s “Rethinking Drinking” website.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

Sapkota P, Mattoo SK, Mahintamani T, Ghosh A. Depressive symptoms in early alcohol or opioid abstinence: course & correlates. J Addict Dis. 2021 May 13:1-27. doi:10.1080/10550887.2021.1925617

Boden JM, Fergusson DM. Alcohol and depression. Addiction. 2011;106(5):906-914. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03351.x

Source https://www.ironmagazine.com/2021/bodybuilding-and-depression-is-there-a-correlation-between-them/

Source https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-link-between-exercise-and-depression-5089055

Source https://www.verywellmind.com/whats-the-connection-between-alcohol-and-depression-5179848

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