Wits & Weights | Nutrition, Lifting, Muscle, Metabolism, & Fat Loss

Ep 120: The Mental Health Benefits of Strength, Resistance Training, and Walking

November 07, 2023 Philip Pape Episode 120
Wits & Weights | Nutrition, Lifting, Muscle, Metabolism, & Fat Loss
Ep 120: The Mental Health Benefits of Strength, Resistance Training, and Walking
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Did you know lifting weights and taking regular walks lower stress and build confidence? 

Today, we are exploring the science-backed mental health benefits of our two favorite ways to move: strength training and walking. If you’ve ever felt anxious, depressed, or just mentally foggy, you’ll want to listen all the way through because even I uncovered some surprisingly powerful links here.

There’s incredible research that shows just how much activities like lifting weights and taking regular walks can transform your mood and mental well-being. From lowering stress to building confidence, we’ll examine how strength training and walking can naturally improve mental health. It's not just about getting stronger physically; it's about strengthening your mental fortitude, too.


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Today you’ll learn all about:

[2:38] Five-star reviews of the show
[3:50] The link between exercise and mental health
[5:04] Weightlifting vs. mindfulness
[8:25] Grit and resilience
[11:05] The benefits of lifting weights on mental health
[18:53] The benefits of walking on mental health
[25:37] Takeaways
[29:00] Outro

Episode resources:

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Philip Pape:

Speaking of mental resilience when you push through those tough sets, right when you really want to quit that's the Mental Toughness I'm talking about that forges resilience. Welcome to the Wits & Weights podcast. I'm your host Philip Pape. In this twice a week podcast is dedicated to helping you achieve physical self mastery by getting stronger. Optimizing your nutrition and upgrading your body composition will uncover science backed strategies for movement, metabolism, muscle and mindset with a skeptical eye on the fitness industry, so you can look and feel your absolute best. Let's dive right in Wits & Weights community Welcome to another solo episode of the Wits& Weights podcast. In our last episode reclaiming the joy of running after 60 with Barry coach, we talked about the power of running, Barry shared how reclaiming his love for running in his 60s helped him defy age. And he shared many principles for anyone looking to seize control of their health at any stage of life. Today for Episode 120, the mental health benefits of strength, resistance training and walking, we are exploring the science backed mental health benefits of our two favorite ways to move strength training and walking. If you've ever felt anxious, depressed, or just have some mental fog, you'll want to listen all the way through because even I uncovered some surprisingly powerful links here. There's incredible research that shows just how much activities like lifting weights, and taking regular walks can transform your mood, and mental well being from lowering stress to building confidence, we're going to examine all the ways that strength training and walking can naturally improve your mental health. And one of the reasons I wanted to do this was inspired by Carl Berryman, the host of inspired by impact podcast and Carl, you're always giving me a shout on your show. So I thought I would do the same. Carl is setting up a whole series of podcasts on his show this month in November for men's mental health. And I wanted to link the overall idea of physical health and mental health. We talked about it a lot. But I wanted to dig into some of the science today and show you how incredibly connected the two are even beyond what what you might think. So that's what we're getting into today. I'm very excited for that. Also follow Carl's podcasts inspired by impact. I will be on at least one of the episodes this month in a group format in a multiple guest format. It's gonna be a lot of fun talking about mental health and physical health there as well. So before we get into today's topic, I always like to share one or two five star reviews from this week. And the first is from pistol packin. Mama, great show. I love the episode about getting out of your comfort zone and making small changes that become life changing habits. Excellent information. Thank you, pistol packin Mala. The second is from moleben malevolence, main, some alliteration there, great information. There's a lot of really well thought out and detailed advice each episode very realistic and doable approach to lifting and wellness. I love that he answers listeners questions and give strategies that can be implemented right away. Great job. Okay, thank you again for that as well. I always appreciate reviews, because it lets me know what's resonating. What's not is there anything we can change anything we can improve. So please keep them coming. As always, thank you everyone for listening and supporting the show in any way. You can. Even just sharing the show with others by sending them a link. Just send them a link to the show, it can go a long way to helping us reach more listeners. Alright, let's get into today's episode, the mental health benefits of strength, resistance training and walking. First, of course, if we're going to talk about science back, we want to look at some of the key studies on exercise and mental health. Now a lot of these studies look at different forms of exercise. I wanted to pick the ones that specifically talk about lifting weights and movement or walking particularly. The first study is from 2018, from the University of Vermont, and it found that just 20 minutes of exercise stimulates anti anxiety effects in the brain comparable to medication. Participants had lower anxiety sensitivity scores after short bouts of cardio or weightlifting. And this shows how quickly physical activity can improve mood. So I think that's so powerful every time we find that something natural, can equate or even be superior to medication. That's something we want to pay attention to. It's kind of like walking after a meal and how how it compares to Metformin, the leading type two diabetes medication for controlling blood sugar, it's the same idea. We always want to look for those because these are easy things to implement in our life and they're things that we can do for the rest of our life without having to be on medication. Okay, researchers at Penn State in 2020 He studied adults diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They compare the effects of weightlifting, walking, and mindfulness meditation. Okay, now here we go. Here's here's one of the surprising results. While mindfulness helped in the short term, only weightlifting, reduced depressive symptoms over three months. And again, this highlights strength trainings ability to improve mental health over time. And I suspect I didn't, I didn't really get into a lot of the details on the study. But I suspect it has to do with the lingering positive effects of strength training, physiologically, mentally, the muscle mass you're developing, just the way that your body is now using nutrients, and changing your hormones and all these things in the direction of what you're telling is important, which has been strong and functional. And lo and behold, that also improves your mental state. Awesome. So beyond conditions like anxiety, and depression, there are numerous studies that connect exercise to higher self esteem, higher confidence. And this makes a lot of sense, right? When we accomplish something physical. Like when we master a new lift, when we when we get that heavy back squat, when we hit a PR, we feel more self assured, we've just done something that we've never done before in our entire lives, where we've moved the needle in a positive direction. And we can do it again. And again. And again. That's that's what I love about physical health. It's so visceral, we have control over it, we know that we can control the outcome. And many of you listening may think, oh, no, I can't write like I've tried for years and a habit, chances are just there's a different approach that you might want to take, right that there's a different that what you assumed would cause a certain effect isn't, isn't actually backed by science. So for example, doing lots of cardio to burn fat, we know that that is actually not an effective way to burn fat, but if you assume it is, and then you do it, and then it doesn't happen, that can be deflating. So reach out to me if any of this resonates, but you feel like no, that's not me, right? Because we want we want to nip that in the bud as quickly as possible. Because I think the idea of confidence and self esteem and self assurance from this is one of the most important things that we can get. This also applies to walking. So there's a 2020 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science and sports. And it found that higher step counts were associated with less anxiety and greater confidence. So let's let's dig in one more level deep. Again, this is more focusing on the overall research and then I'll get into these even deeper than this. Let's talk about strength training, right lifting weights, lifting weights and provides incredible benefits for Mental Health First, just the act of training itself releases endorphins. Really this goes for any form of exercise, you've probably heard this you've probably experienced it with running for example. And these endorphins provide instant and instant mood boost, right it's like a natural drug. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain, they lift your spirits they also dull pain, right? So that's a natural high that we want to go for. Building muscle and strength through progressive overload right progressive lifting gives you a profound sense of accomplishment. I alluded to this already the idea that you can add five pounds and add five pounds again and lift more weight than you ever lived in your entire life. Right seeing your abilities improve naturally builds confidence. And then compound lifts, the big lifts, squats, deadlifts, bench press, they require a level of full body engagement, power, mental focus stability, that is like nothing else. And this forges grit. It forges resilience. And that goes way beyond the gym. And this is why I really love big compound lifts in the four to six rep range. For newer lifters, yes, you can get stronger and bigger on higher rep range. But there's a level of mental fortitude and resilience that you will miss out on. If you don't go for those lower reps. Now, that's not to say long term, you're always gonna be going one to three reps, absolutely not. There's a fine balance between all of this, right, and I don't intend to get into all programming, lifting programming on today's podcast, but it's an important link with mental health. And then we have walking right now walking is a lot simpler than lifting weights, but it still has proven mental payoffs. For example, walking outside, you get exposed to sunlight. Sunlight regulates your serotonin levels. If you're in where I am in the northern hemisphere, during winter, or let's say the southern hemisphere during summer, it can help fight seasonal affective disorder, right where you might get depressive symptoms because of the lack of sunlight. And so getting outside for whatever you can will help sunlight also boosts vitamin D right and vitamin D itself is associated with improved mental health if especially if you're deficient. Stanford researchers found that 90 minute outdoor walks decreased Negative thoughts and anxious feelings compared to shorter urban walks. Now, this is no criticism against anyone who lives in the city. And even if you live in city, many cities have awesome trails nearby or parks or ways to get exposed to nature, even within the city, nature walks, quite literally help clear your head according to the science. Now, I can vouch for that one of the reasons I love living here in the rural part of Northern Connecticut, so we have all these trees and mountains and animals. Yes, we even had bears that come in eat, or jack o lanterns, we have, you know, we have the birds and other critters, and it's just beautiful, right. So if you can find that that can that can be helpful for your mental health. Another study showed that older adults who walked for at least an hour a week had better cognitive function. So regular walking keeps your mind sharp into old age, you kind of get the picture, it's all starting to come together, right. So after reviewing that research, I want to get into some of the top benefits of strength training, and then the top benefits of walking, just in case we didn't already touch on them so far. So we're going to start with strength training, and talk about self confidence. I can't hammer this point home enough lifting, especially challenging weights, weights that push you weights that challenge the weights that take you you know, close to failure, high mechanical tension, high effective reps, heavy loads, whatever definition or training variable you want to use, they require self efficacy and belief in your abilities. And one of the best ways to challenge these beliefs is when you feel like you're not going to be able to get the next rep. And you do it anyway. And I do it anyway. I mean, you try, you may fail the rep. But you can't know that. It's like Schrodinger, his cat, you heard of that quantum theory, like, is the cat dead or alive? Well, you can't know it until you open the box. Similarly, you can't know if you're able to get that next rep until you try. And I'll tell you what, more often than not, when I don't feel like I can get it, I actually still can get it. And so I can't really trust my feeling in that moment. Now I want to I want to distinguish those feelings from like, pain and injury. And those, you know, these are different things, I'm talking about a mental feeling that you can't do it or you feel tired that you can't do it. But then you can't anyway, you're not going to know unless you try it. And then you'll learn more about yourself and your limits. exercising control over your body. This way, builds real confidence, real confidence. And this transfers outside the gym. It really does. People have asked me how do I increase my confidence I say lift weights and join Toastmasters. And that second one is about public speaking. That's, that's more on the business side and presenting and whatnot. But lifting weights, one of the best things you can do for your confidence. When you see those strength, strength gains that come physically once you do that, and they're going to show up physically pretty quickly in the mirror in your physique. They are whether even if you have a lot of weight to lose, they're going to start showing up. It provides a sense of achievement as well, you are self assured that you've accomplished something that takes serious discipline. And I'm happy using that word discipline in the form of mental resilience and developing a practice and having grit and pushing through. Not not going to the extreme all the time, but pushing yourself just to that limit so that you progressively overload physically and mentally. So speaking of mental resilience, when you push through those tough sets, right when you really want to quit, that's the Mental Toughness I'm talking about that forges resilience. And once you do it, you also start to become more consistent with your with your lifting, because you realize that you can do it, you realize that it produces results, you realize that it produces better results and you could have ever had from you know, an endurance based high rep or you know, boot camp style program. And it gives you the ability to stick to a strength program even on days when you don't feel like it because you know how worth it it really is.

Carl Berryman:

Hey there Philip, my brother, thank you so much for the shreds over challenge, I had no idea how much it was going to change my relationship with food, my relationship with food tracking, which had anybody that me any amount of money, I would have told them there's no way I'm ever tracking. And I have to track now I have to because I realize just how critical it is. But most importantly, what the challenge did for my mental health, being able to really focus on what's most important, which isn't the number on the scale, but how I feel about the food that I'm eating and the exercise that I'm doing so fill up the challenge could not have gone any better. And I'm incredibly grateful that was a part of it.

Philip Pape:

And then the last part of strength training is the stress and anxiety the real benefits to to lowering your stress and anxiety. high exertion exercises heavy strength training Write, they actually physically burn through your cortisol, that's your stress hormone, they burn through it. It's kind of like reducing your cortisol through that lifting session, which gives you this soothing anti anxiety effect after training. I don't know if a lot of people you knew that I was reminded of it, I was thinking, Oh, that that's really interesting. It may explain some of the differences with people who work out during the morning versus at night, I don't think it makes a big difference, whatever you're adapted to. But it it helps regulate your cortisol, building strength, may also rewire the anxiety circuits in your brain literally neurologically changes you. Now we know that there's something called neurological adaptation, the physical mind body connection, when you start to learn new lifts, like for example, deadlifts, you've never done it before, you're gonna be clumsy, you're not gonna be very strong. And in those first, let's say, three weeks, four weeks of deadlifting, multiple times a week, your brain starts to rewire itself. To understand that this is a movement pattern that you want to use more often you become more efficient, you're able to move more weight, you might actually not even have more muscle mass, yet, you're simply forming that mind body connection, that that means deadlifting. And picking something heavy is important to you. And this makes your body more capable and functional for it. Well guess what? That ability to rewire your brain has also been shown to rewire the parts of your brain that affect anxiety, literally, and you tend to feel more capable and empowered when you're physically stronger. I was talking to somebody the other day about the definition of anxiety, one of the definitions that I learned from positive psychology is from the concept of flow flow, when you get into a flow state is the idea that you are working on something challenging enough to push you and get you absorbed into it. But not so challenging, that it makes you feel anxious, because you can't quite accomplish it. Right. And sometimes it's a fine line. But I think I think many of us know where that is. And building strength, helps you feel more capable empowered. And I think honestly, I suspect why that is, is it expands your comfort zone, it pushes that limit further out. And when that limits further out, it's harder to get to that anxiety zone. It's amazing. It's incredible. Okay, and then consistent training creates confidence and resilience that helps manage anxiety long term. And guess what happens there? Well, when you're keeping anxiety low over the long term, you become less fazed by the stresses of life, you become that your things bounce off of you, you become more cool headed. Now, I talked to people about this, that I feel like I've always been naturally cool headed, like, high pressure situations, don't bother me that much. And sometimes it annoys people. They're like, why aren't you more upset by this word, you're more emotional. And I don't know if it's just my personality, or some sort of resilience I built up earlier my years or maybe because I have great parents a great household growing up. And I recognize and I'm grateful for that not everyone has that. Where I could fail, fail, fail, and it's okay, my parents were there to pick me back up that could create a sense of that could have kept my anxiety down in my ability to handle stress high. But I think that ability to handle stress, not eliminate stress, because that's not possible. Life is full of stressors, acute stressors, chronic stressors. And we don't always have control over the things that are thrust upon us. But when they are, do you have that larger comfort zone? Do you have that confidence that okay, cool, no big deal. These are solvable problems. These aren't deal breakers. All of this that I'm telling you, is an amazing result of just lifting weights. So So what are you waiting for? Go start lifting weights seriously, start doing that. All right. Now I want to transition over to walking. And the reason I wanted to cover training and walking, those are the two big modes of activity I think everyone can and should do. Right? If you do other things, like if you do running or sports are great, those things also have mental benefits. I'm not getting into those today. And feel free to look up the research on those. But I just want to talk about walking because anybody can walk at any age, you can walk any amount. And I think it's walking is incredible for multiple reasons. But we're going to talk about a few key areas. The first one is depression. Walking, like training, like running like other things does release endorphins. Now, of course, it's going to depend on how how intensely you walk, how briskly how long you walk, it's going to scale to that. But any amount of endorphins are going to boost your mood. And I know this from personal experience on multiple occasions, where especially recently, a couple of weeks ago when I was in a fat loss phase, my energy was low. I had a little bit of apathy in the morning, right? Dare I call it depression? I don't feel I've ever had the symptoms of what someone might call depression, but who knows? I just didn't feel like it. You know, getting into anything, I just kind of wanted to laze around. But I knew I had a lot of work to do that I wanted to do some good things to produce, maybe I had a podcast to make I had meetings, I'd calls all these things. What did I do, I said, let me just go for a walk, I almost had to force myself to walk. But I knew that the walking would help. And immediately it did. As soon as I got outside and got exposed to the sunlight, the fresh air, right the the trees and the movement and moving my hips and getting the blood flowing. Right, I have a hip that probably has a torn labrum for the last few years. And it can bother me sometimes when I walk, it loosens it up, it loosens it up, squatting does as well, by the way, but so that improve my mood for the rest of the day. The other thing is when you combine walks with social interaction, it can magnify that effect. Now we don't all want to walk with other people all the time. Some of us want the solitary experience of walking. But walking with somebody or holding their hand or talking to your spouse, your kids, your friends on a walk can magnify the effect of the field goodness, the endorphins. sunlight exposure I mentioned before, because it raises vitamin D, increased vitamin D levels are linked to lower rates of depression, there is something to be said about that. It probably explains the seasonal affective disorder as well. So keep that in mind. And there was a study that found that unmedicated people with depression, saw mood boosts, after 30 minute outdoor walks four times a week. Now, if we're gonna get somewhere around seven or 8000 steps a day, which is reasonable for a lot of people, and a good place to aim for, at a minimum 30 minute, 30 minute walk every day, we'll get you probably two or 3000 of those steps. And so I would definitely encourage you to take at least one if not two walks every single day. And if you have a history of depression, see if this helps. The next thing with walking is the the way that it clears your mind and boosts your creativity. There's a rhythmic nature of walking. That's like nothing else. Now you can say that running is rhythmic as well. The thing with running is it's so intense, it tends to occupy some of your attention on the running itself. Walking we could do almost automatically well thinking and the rhythmic nature nature of it encourages new ideas and insights, insights start to bubble up effortlessly. Have you ever done that just go for a walk and all of a sudden you start to think about new ideas. Right? I do like to listen to a podcast when I walk. But sometimes I just stop the podcast, I just listened to the breeze, the trees, maybe nothing, maybe Nothing's making a sound. And all of a sudden I'm starting to commune with my thoughts. Many of the great thinkers of the past were known to take long walks to spark creativity and it's something that we've maybe lost in our modern society. The other thing is being immersed in nature away from the electronics allows your mind to truly recharge to engage with nature, you will feel renewed mental clarity. This is a very important aspect of mental health. A study Stanford study found that walking increased creative output by 60% on average. And it's suspected that part of it is simply the blood flow to the brain. Like just just kind of waking up the brain giving it what it needs, right doing something that's a natural human movement. So do not underestimate the power of walking for clear in your mind for boosting creativity. And then the other aspect of walking is related to gratitude. And the again, the I wanted this episode to cover on things that you might not think about and things that even might have surprised me a little bit of the links between these things. So gratitude and walking. Okay, what is he talking about? Well, let's say you go for a walk again in nature. And you notice the beautiful scenery, and the wonders of nature. It might be an animal crossing the street, I saw a bobcat the other day, I see deer white tailed deer. Occasionally we'll see a bear hopefully not too close. I'll see all sorts of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, or you name it. And it gives you this sense of gratitude. Like I'm almost tearing up here, it gives you a sense of gratitude and wonder about the world. It's a beautiful world out there. How often are you going out and embracing it? Right? And being grateful that you're alive, being grateful, okay, live on this planet. The other thing we can be grateful for is our ability to move. I mean, that is powerful our ability to move, which, in one sense, might make you less likely to criticize yourself. criticize your appearance, criticize your body image because you are a functional, capable human being and time spent walking outdoors may give you some perspective, that life's problems, life's small problems aren't so bad. You gain gratitude from simple joys just from your walk, I mean, give it a shot. That's all I can say. Next time you walk, think about what you're grateful for that is just around you. Okay, so that's that's kind of what I wanted to cover today. I think it's just scratching the surface. I think if you go and you look up research on mental health, and movement, lifting weights, all of this you'll find study after study after study of it just it never ends. It's wonderful. I think we really just scratched the surface of the benefits provided by training provided by walking, but the takeaway is clear. Prioritizing these forms of activity, are going to elevate nearly every aspect of your mental and emotional well being. So in addition to all the other benefits of them that we talked about, right, the physique, and the body fat, body composition, bone density, hormones, etc. You might even argue that the mental and emotional aspect of it is paramount, reduced anxiety, increasing your confidence, reducing depression, increasing your gratitude, they deliver those results for you are getting outside, reducing stress, improving your mood, improving clarity and creativity. So I encourage you to add that to your list of reasons why you choose to lift weights, you choose to walk, you choose to make movement, a cornerstone of your mental health regimen, we're not talking about a huge investment here of your time, to three days a week, to get started of strength training, going for one or two walks a day, these are going to be massive in giving you the mood boosting the stress reduction, reducing effects of those modes of activity. And then your mind and body will thank you. And if you found this incredible information on the link between mental and physical health valuable, share it with a friend. That's all I'm asking. If you know someone struggling with anxiety, depression, or they're just stuck in a rut, send this along to them, it may help it may be exactly what they need to hear in that moment from another friend. And if you personally are not sure where to begin, please reach out to me, you could use the link in my show notes reach me on IG at Wits & Weights, or you can go to wits & weights.com/email, get on my list, you're gonna get a ton of great information like this during the week, and then you can reply to that email any of those emails you get, and you'll have a direct conversation with me, I always reply. I'm a human being that loves to have conversations with folks and just get to know people. So again, if you're not sure where to begin, go to wits & weights.com/email to get on my email list, and then we can have that conversation. In our next episode 121 excellence consistency and getting ripped through nutrition and training with Eric Helms. We are going to get caught up on Dr. Helms his recent exploits in the bodybuilding world. By the way, this is the second time Dr. Holmes is coming on the show. And he is fresh off his WNBA F procard is going to be competing in WNBA of worlds pretty soon, we're going to dive into some of the nuances of nutrition and training from levels of tracking and flexible dieting, to the value of very high protein versus lower and higher carbs to mini cuts. We'll get into training volume autoregulation, whatever else, he has time for that I'm going to pick his brain on, you're going to learn a ton, so make sure to subscribe to the podcast right now in your app. Pause this episode, click follow or subscribe whatever the button says, so that you get notified of all the episodes. You'll also get the bonus episodes that get released throughout the week like quick wits. These are short three to five minute episodes with actionable strategies that may be just what you need to get moving forward that day. So please subscribe to the podcast. As always, stay strong. And I'll talk to you next time here on the Wits & Weights podcast. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Wits & Weights. If you found value in today's episode, and know someone else who's looking to level up their Wits & Weights, please take a moment to share this episode with them. And make sure to hit the Follow button in your podcast platform right now to catch the next episode. Until then, stay strong

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