Strength Training & How to Boost Brain Health w Kathy Smith Fitness Expert

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In today’s episode, we are joined by New York Times bestselling author and forefront figure in the fitness and health industry, Kathy Smith. Kathy has sold more than 20 million exercise DVDs, and she has been featured on countless media outlets, including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View and Good Morning America. She will share with us her insights on the undeniable benefits of strength training to keep a healthy body and healthy brain.

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Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond, and welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way, hosted by my friends Daniel and Tana Amen. In this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is one between your ears. That's right. If you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, energy and focus, well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome everybody. We are so excited. We have a very special guest with us, Kathy Smith, who is actually someone I got to meet a couple of years ago. And I was like a little kid, so excited, because virtually my whole adult life I've looked up to her as a teacher, as someone who is changing the world, not to mention she's drop dead gorgeous. So Kathy, I believe is sort of the world leader in getting people to use their bodies to enhance their overall physical health.
I think she's appeared on more covers than almost anyone I know. I think it's over 200 covers, and it's because not only is she beautiful, she's got a message that resonates with the population.
Tana Amen: Yeah, and the passion clearly comes through. So this is really important and special to me, and I want to honor Kathy. So it's really fun for me to be able to actually talk to you and meet you this way today, because I know you hear this a lot, but I want to be able to tell you this, because you actually impacted my life without really knowing it, during a time that was really difficult. And I'm sure you've done this with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, during times in their lives that were really hard.
So I used to work out. I started working out at 16, but took a really hard fall when I found out I had thyroid cancer that had metastasized, and became extremely, not only sick but depressed. So when I was trying to make a comeback from that, it was really hard to get back to the gym, very difficult to have even the energy or the desire or the will to do that. And I was physically really weak. So it was you that I actually watched on my VCR with my videos, and was able to start with just very light weights and start doing that. And I was so motivated and inspired, and I didn't need to impress anybody else.
But that was so important to me. And you will never know that, but that impact it had was a huge impact. So you need to know how many people you have touched, if you don't. Maybe you do, but it almost makes me want to cry, because it's really important to be able to have that kind of impact where you touch people like that.
Dr Daniel Amen: So welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Thank you so much for being with us.
Kathy Smith: Well hank you, and thank you for sharing that story. Oh my God, it's so touching. And yeah, I know, I know that place where people, men, but really women, when you go, and whether it's you've just had a baby or you've gotten some sort of illness or you're not feeling good about yourself, and it's those small little baby steps of getting started, and sometimes getting started in the privacy of your home with the video, with somebody that you can relate to, that helps you step-by-step, minutes a day, that grow into a few more minutes, which grow into maybe a full hour at one point.
Tana Amen: Right. I started with five minutes, and then worked it up. And that's so important. People ask us all the time, "Where do I start? I don't know where to start."
And so that's why it's so important to have you here today, because just start. And people like you that create these programs where they can start with you and have you as their guide and their mentor is ... just thank you.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let's start with where you started. Tell us your story. How did this evolve for you?
Kathy Smith: Well with this, I'm assuming you mean the fitness side of this. And it's interesting, because about four months ago, I was at the Rio Olympics. My daughter was in the Olympics this year. She made it, she's number one in the nation in the 800 meter. She made it to the finals of the Olympics, and New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Access Hollywood, lot of press around this. And the reason being, because obvious reasons, but one of the reasons is when I started this, as you call it, there wasn't a this, and people don't understand that.
When I started there wasn't ... this was pre Title IX, which is before there was equal opportunity for sports for girls. So in my high school, there was no tennis, there was no golf, there was no basketball, there was not one woman's sport. So I went to a high school, and I show my girls my yearbook from 1969, my senior year where I graduated high school, and there's not one girl's sport. The only thing you could be was a cheerleader. Uh huh.
So you have to bring that into the equation, because that's important for when you hear the story. So I was raised in the military. We traveled all around the world, from San Paulo, Brazil, Mobile, Alabama, Texas, California, Hawaii. I ended up, at the age of 17, so three days before my high school graduation, my dad, at the age of 42, had a heart attack and died. And I was daddy's little girl. I look like my dad, Carl. They called me a little Carly. It was just a really devastating time in my life.
Two years later ... I stayed home and went to college the first year at Southern Illinois, stayed home with my mom. A year and a half later, almost two years later, my mom was killed in a plane crash. So those two things. So by the time I was 19, I had lost both my parents. I was orphaned, and it was this time period I was just talking about, which was the '60s, early '70s, time of rock and roll, women's rights, civil rights, Vietnam War, Woodstock, the world, smoking dope, doing whatever. And here I am, 19, no parents, not really any money to speak of. I was a military family, so I got my college paid for, but that was it.
So there I am, not in a very high place in my life at that point. And what I found was that I didn't know what I was going to do with my life, and I got very depressed. And with that depression, I was going to classes, but I wasn't being able to study the right way. Luckily, and as things happen, I was dating a guy at the time, and he was a football player, and I would go to the track with him, not because I worked out, because I didn't want to be alone. I'd be on that track and I would join him for a lap, and then rest and join him for another lap.
Pretty soon, I linked those laps together, and after about a month, I would come back and I'd be thinking, "My gosh, I feel so much better. The cloud is lifting, I'm not feeling as depressed anymore. I feel more focused. I feel like my brain can function properly. What's going on?"
And I started running and got hooked on it, might even say I got addicted to it. I went, and I was eventually, in 1975, ran my first marathon, which was 26 miles, and when I came back ...not just from the marathon, marathon I came back tired ... but in general, with the running, I would come back and I would be so inspired, like I can do this, I can conquer the world, I can figure this out. And that was my introduction to what is this thing called exercise, called cardio.
Ken Cooper at the time was doing his tests on aerobic training. He had just coined this term. He had just coined the term aerobics. But back when I started, if you had heart problems, you were told don't work out. As a woman, doctors would ... this is Doctor Amen, love you, but doctors would say to me, "Kathy, your uterus is going to drop. You're not going to be able to get pregnant."
This was a time ... you have to understand this, because it wasn't like, "Oh, I'm going to become a personal trainer." No, there weren't personal trainers. There were PE instructors for manly men, but it was really ... I, as a little hot shot 24-year-old, would look up to a doctor and say, "Nah, you don't know what you're talking about."
And they'd say, "Yeah, wait, there's no studies that show that exercise is good for you."
And fast forward, eventually the doctors were coming and saying ... 10 years, like what is this thing called exercise. So anyway, there's more to the story, and I'm going to let you jump in for a question, but I want to go into how the commercial or professional side of it started. But that was my introduction.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's really an interesting time. I guess it was different for me. I went to medical school in 1978 at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And we had the Kenneth Cooper Center, and we were required to exercise. How crazy is that? Besides having to wear a tie, which was not my favorite thing. We had to get aerobic points every week or they would toss us out of of school.
So it was just at the beginning, as you were forward thinking, they were forward thinking at ORU that exercise is critical to an overall healthy life.
Tana Amen: So I want to add one thing to that too before we get into how you got started commercially. I was a little past that, I was in the '80s, but I remember becoming addicted, as you said, to exercise. And no one really understood this whole exercise addiction craze at that time. People were starting to do that, but I do remember doctors telling me, "This isn't good for you. Why are you so addicted to exercise?"
And I couldn't explain it. It just made me feel better, like you explained. So there is this phenomenon that we were all experiencing, and no one really understood the reason, but I remember being told, "You're addicted, and that's a problem."
So I just wanted to throw that in.
Dr Daniel Amen: Although, since both of you have talked about depression, exercise, head-to-head with Zoloft, is equally effective. And one of the things we learn ...
Tana Amen: Yeah, I feel [crosstalk 00:10:01] if I didn't exercise.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... My little science geek in my head, is we think of exercise as endorphin production, but it's really not. It's serotonin optimization that the amino acid tryptophan, that converts to Serotonin and helps us feel better. It does not compete well to get across the blood-brain barrier. But when you exercise, the other amino acids going into your muscles, thereby decreasing the competition for tryptophan, and it just makes people feel happy. So if they're vulnerable to depression, exercise is a treatment with few side effects.
And one of the interesting things I've seen is the athletes that I see, or the people who use exercise to treat their depression, when they get hurt ...
Tana Amen: I get depressed.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... They get depressed. And that's at a time when they can supplement ...
Tana Amen: And I get angry.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... With things like serotonin enhancers, like saffron or 5-HTP or so on. Anyways, sorry for the detour.
But as I talk about that, what triggers off in your brain, Kathy?
Kathy Smith: I love to hear the explanation. No, I do. Because going back now, let's revert back to the '70s, and people were starting to talk about endorphins, and just starting to see something was going on, not exactly knowing what was going on, but the research was showing that something was going on in the brain.
So fast forward, now I'm moving to Los Angeles. I moved to Los Angeles in probably 1976, and I continue my running around LA. But I went to a class in LA, and I happened, there was a woman who lived next door to me. I happened to get a guest house on the beach. This was very fortuitous. It was next to Gilda Marx. Gilda had a leotard company called Body Design by Gilda. I was a first ... high leotards and very flashy colors, disco colors. I became her hang tag model. So for people that don't know, there's a hang tag on a thing, and I would model.
So she had a little place that started in her garage, but then had a little studio, and I would go to the studio, and there was no aerobic component, but there was music and we would do things like arm circles and things like this. And Jane Fonda was in the class, Barbara Streisand was in the class. And we would get together, and there was all these kind of like ... and cross and cross and cross and cross and ... but no aerobic components. It was mainly calisthenics, old style.
So I took my love of aerobics, my marathon training, my running, I took my love of this dance and music, combined it into a class and started teaching and got a following. Now this is late '70s, and it exploded. It's this idea of being at the right time at the right place. I combined things, and because I was ... I had a college degree, but I was always going back. I lived near UCLA and I was always taking kinesiology classes or anatomy classes or whatever. I love the human body and figuring how it works.
So with that, I started developing programs. And with programming, it was high impact aerobics, then we found out that was hurting your knees. And then low impact aerobics ... but the thing that was always in the back of my mind, because I came out of this University of Hawaii, where my boyfriend went to school, and this strength training, I always promoted strength training from early on, because I saw the injuries and everything that happened when you don't strength train. So I would always integrate that into my workouts.
And then the third component, from the very first time I started exercising, I ... and this is a little bit of a segue ... I was very much interested in world religion. And when I got to college ... I was raised Catholic, but I was interested in moral religions, and I got into eastern philosophy and into meditation. Once again, seeing how when you slow the body down, when you stretch it, when you get into breathing, how it affects the brain, and how at that time in my life, when ... Dr. Amen, I've heard you talk before, so I know all the research and everything you do about our different brains and how I'm definitely a thought a minute kind of gal, like I have thoughts like this.
And what I found is that that's fun for me. I like that. Until the thoughts get a little too, like you can't get anything accomplished [inaudible 00:14:37]. And what I found is that the meditation and the Yoga would just calm everything down, and all of a sudden I had this triple whammy, you've got the cardio that makes you feel better, you got the yoga and the breath that calms you down, all with the brain. And then you have the strength training, which early on, strength training, especially for women, is so empowering.
Now I'd like to hear from Dr. Amen, like what's actually happening in the brain. But you go and you strength train, and you come out and you go ... once again, your shoulders go back a little bit, and you go, "I can do this. I could start a business. Heck, I can do whatever, run a marathon," and you really start to get this confidence.
So you have those three, you have the strength that gives you confidence, the yoga and the breathing that soothes and calms everything down, and the cardio that kind of washes everything out. And with that, I started doing these videos. And actually, I mentioned before we went on air that my first product was an album that you [inaudible 00:15:40] there was enough penetration of VCRs in the marketplace. We actually, you would take an album, I did four albums, you put it on your turntable ... most people don't even know what a turntable is ... but then you would put a poster on the wall, and I would have stick figures of me, you'd follow along, literally the first exercise, you would follow along on the wall, listening to my voice saying, "Okay now, let's reach to the ceiling, touch the floor, and round up one vertebrae at a time. Okay, let's," that sort of thing.
And you would listen to the voice.
Tana Amen: That's awesome.
Kathy Smith: Then we went to video. I shot my first five in Minneapolis at Prince's studio. God bless Prince that we lost this year. And the music movement drove the exercise movements. So when disco and Donna Summer was in the prime, we were moving in a certain way. And then hip hop came in and we moved a different way. And then 100 videos.
I was also the first fitness person to come out with a DVD. And I love technology. So I would go into CD-roms, and now have apps where you can download your workout daily. So I've always been interested in how can you motivate.
So last thing, and then I'll turn it back to you. But the other thing that was really interesting, the thing that interested me most in life ... I used to get up in front of groups, I'd say, "Okay, everything I'm going to tell you right now, you know already. You know you're supposed to work out more. You know you're not supposed to eat as much sugar. So why are you not doing it? What's your excuse?"
And that was the name of my talk, what's your excuse. Because that's what was fun for me, especially with women, because we would sit down and the guys would have this very much like, "Well just go to the gym and you do 10 bicep curls on you do 10 pushups and then you're done."
And women, it's like, "Wait a second, my baby's sick ..."
Tana Amen: Isn't that true?
Kathy Smith: "[inaudible 00:17:27] her to class, and we have a play at school. There's a life here, and how do I fit this in life? And I'm not feeling so good today. I'm feeling like my belly ... my husband not having sex with me anymore."
I love all the others parts of like, "Okay, yeah, I can see you're not feeling so good in your body. So let's talk about that," because me telling you you need to work out more or telling your listeners right now, "Hey, you should go work out more."
Tana Amen: I think most people know that.
Dr Daniel Amen: So I want to do a whole podcast on excuses. That is so important. We have to stop this one, but we are going to continue with Kathy Smith. The practical takeaways from today, you said all movement matters, but strength training ...
Tana Amen: Cannot agree with you more.
Dr Daniel Amen: The stronger you are, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer's disease. Kathy knew that a long time ago. Meditation, breathing, focusing, slowing down your mind actually activates your brain.
Tana Amen: That triad is brilliant.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's crazy. It completely surprised us. So many practical things. Stay with us. Kathy is gonna be with us on our next podcast.
Donny Osmond: Thanks for listening to today's show, The Brain Warrior's Way. Why don't you head over to, that's, where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. And when you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen clinics.
I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.