Aaron B. Rochlen, Ph.D.
People love lifting weights, for many reasons. Some like the sense of power it gives us. Others do it for stress relief. Still others love the visible benefits that can come with transforming fat into attractive muscle.
While I share these uses, in my work as a Psychologist, I like to bring in weights into walk therapy sessions. In doing so, I believe that walking with weights comes with both health and psychological benefits.
The health benefits are clear. Walking with weights can increase your heart rate and calorie burn, all goals of a good walk. The key here is to not add too much weight that it impacts your stride, posture, or puts unnecessary stress on one’s body. To avoid some of these problems, I recommend ankle weights or light dumbbells.
But as a psychologist, it’s perhaps the psychological or metaphorical benefits of walking with weights that are more interesting . When walking with clients, I’ll sometimes talk about what’s “weighing them down” while moving down a path together carrying a few extra pounds (literally). I might also ask clients to focus on the sensations around the weights, or feelings of heaviness or life burdens they may carry.
And then comes the relief part. At some time in our walk, I like to have clients “shed” their weight, focusing on letting go of some of their “heaviest” burdens. After doing so, I try and have my clients focus on their feelings and thoughts—to get a better sense of what it’s like to be focused on their own “lightness.”
These questions often yield to places of insight and emotion – which ultimately are key process goals in any good session. Some of this discussion might focus on how my clients can let go of their feelings of being weighed down by life or even their own thoughts. Alternatively, sometimes the discussion turns to what responsibility each client holds in both creating their own burdens or creating their own solutions.
Of course, walking with weights is not for everyone and should only be initiated with physician and or physical therapist approval. Walking with weights that are too heavy can exacerbate a host of other health problems or create unnecessary strain on one’s joints and muscles.
With these cautions in mind, integrating walk therapy with weights can be a useful and creative addition to your exercise and mental health routine. Hopefully this article may provide some new ideas and insights to use along your own path whether walking solo or with your favorite mental health provider!