A new paper published in Frontiers in Neuroscience reports new research that highlights how signals from our large leg muscles alter our brain and nervous system:
Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body’s large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles… the study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine – giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Tyna Moore ND, DC, author Pain Free and Strong said this when she shared the study on social media: “Told ya – squats and deadlifts fix everything!”
Study author, Dr. Raffaella Adami, shares this about body chemistry being altered:
Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises – such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel – not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted.
Here are some points from the discussion section in the actual study that relate directly to anxiety, depression and cognition:
The level of glutamate was up-regulated… the concentration of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and epinephrine was reduced
What this means is that people who are not able to do load-bearing exercise had glutamate up-regulated (likely leading to more anxiety and excitotoxicity), reduced serotonin and GABA (contributing to more anxiety, worry, fear, depression and carb cravings), and lower dopamine and epinephrine (so more depression, less energy and less motivation). (You can read all the symptoms associated with out of balance neurotransmitters here and how I use targeted individual amino acids to address low levels – which you want to do in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle changes such as resistance training.)
The study goes on to share that:
Prospective studies indicate that physical inactivity is one of the most frequent avoidable risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, elevated physical activity levels are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s disease patient who undertook exercise training showed decreased neuropsychiatric symptoms, improvement in cognitive function, and a slower decline in the activities of daily life.
This was an animal study conducted with mice but we have many human studies that highlight the benefits of exercise for both anxiety and depression. In this recent meta-analysis “of 33 clinical trials including 1877 participants, resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.”
When I shared the Frontiers in Neuroscience paper on Facebook, I received this feedback that correlates with the research:
Chris: My son’s concussion symptoms improved by leaps when he began consistent light cardio and added some leg weight training
Katie: I wonder if this is why my mom “lost her mind” (suddenly dementia) when she broke her ankle. I thought it was the antibiotics but maybe it was the extended reclining recovery
Jessica: I had a brain injury due to being hit by a car while crossing the street a year ago. I had to dig deep to heal – meditation, fish oil….. But I thought I had hit a plateau in my healing. About 2 months ago I was able to start doing yoga again, and move my body… wow, what a difference it has made in my brain healing! I am feeling able to focus again and have more brain energy! The body is connected from head to toes
As you’ve gathered from Dr. Tyna Moore’s quote about squats and deadlifts, she is a big fan of resistance training, and she is my go-to person for questions on this topic. I’ve been following her online for a few years, love her posts and we finally got to meet in person last summer.
Dr. Tyna has written a great ebook called Pain Free and Strong (you can download a copy here). She shares how sarcopenia or muscle wasting results from “deconditioning and lack of strength training exercises,” and this wisdom about movement and resistance training, also referred to as strength training:
Movement is the key to life. Without movement, your cells cannot do their thing. Your blood and lymph do not pump well. Your metabolism slows, your hormones suffer and your sleep becomes compromised. More than anything, you hurt. Motion is lotion and movement is medicine.
We have been taught as a society to do cardiovascular exercises, such as running, biking or walking as the core of our exercise routines. When I discuss exercise with my patients, I talk about “appropriate and strategic exercise” and what I’m referring to is strength training.
the most potent exercises for orthopedic health, improving metabolism, balancing hormones, decreasing inflammation, modulating immune function, reducing pain, lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and increasing resilience revolve around adding and maintaining healthy lean skeletal muscle mass to the body, and keeping it there as we age.
The entire chapter on movement is well-worth reading to get a better understanding of the importance of adding and maintaining healthy lean skeletal muscle mass.
Dr. Tyna also has the answer on how we can do this, sharing that squats and deadlifts “are king and the cornerstone to any strength and conditioning program”:
Compound lifts like squats and deadlifts can give us more bang for our buck metabolically, while also providing profound hormetic and hormonal benefits. Studies have also shown that free weights may be more potent than machines, and that machines put you into an unnatural position at times, which can lead to further injury. If machines are all you have access to, so be it. Just know that free weights are optimal and you need [a professional] to show you how to use them safely.
If you’re new to squats and deadlifts like I am, you may be like me and prefer to know what you’re letting yourself in for so here are 2 excellent blog posts with great images on how to and how not to do deadlifts and squats. For women, the exercise section in this book looks excellent: The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess (my Amazon link). The exercise information is more than half the book and has in-depth explanations on the mechanisms, going into much more in detail than I can cover in a blog. I would pass on the nutritional sections as the advice about canola, Splenda and low-fat is clearly outdated information. But as Dr. Tyna says in her ebook, you can’t learn this from a book or video – find a personal trainer to guide you if you’re new to free weights.
In case you’re wondering about aerobic exercise it’s still good. In fact, one study reports how both aerobic exercise and resistance training offer slightly different benefits if you suffer from anxiety:
aerobic exercise improved general psychological distress and anxiety, while resistance training improved disorder-specific symptoms, anxiety sensitivity, distress tolerance, and intolerance of uncertainty.
So go for your walk, ride your bike, swim in the ocean, go hiking, play tennis – and all the better if you can do this out in nature for the added benefits of sunshine, fresh air, greenery and the scenery – but don’t forget the huge benefits of resistance training and find a personal trainer to get you up to speed on doing squats and deadlifts and using free weights.
And remember what Dr. Tyna says: “squats and deadlifts fix everything!”
Let us know if this is new to you and you’re now interested in doing squats and deadlifts and using free weights?
I’ve done plenty of resistance training with free weights over the years, especially when I was rock-climbing every weekend, but have not done deadlifts or squats with free weights and have decided it’s time to start. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Feel free to share your progress too.
If you’re already doing squats and deadlifts and using free weights we’d love to hear how you enjoy it, how long you’ve been doing it and the benefits you’ve seen? And please do share tips or words of encouragement for us newbies.