• Jody Kussin

In Times Like These #31 4-14-2020

#31 Family Matters

In These Times, by Dr. Jody Kussin April 14,2020

Seems these days that everywhere you turn, someone is trying to convince you that exercise is good for you. It’s weird, really. Exercise and healthy eating. Who would have thought? But apparently, it’s all the rave. Exercise and eating healthy. I saw a recent post that pronounced that ‘science proves wheat grass is good for you’. Really? Really?! Who tested that one out? And why? Did that merit a huge study? It’s a lot to swallow.

Eating healthy notwithstanding, The New York Times (among others), is suggesting that exercise can improve brain power. Not just impacting affect and feelings and decreasing depressive and anxious symptomatology, but actually improving cognitive abilities. Really!??! From walking briskly you can keep memory alive and vibrant? Really!??!

For instance, an article by Gretchen Reynolds stated that,

“For some time, researchers have known that exercise changes the structure of the brain and affects thinking. Ten years ago scientists at the Salk Institute in California published the groundbreaking finding that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells. But fundamental questions remain, like whether exercise must be strenuous to be beneficial. Should it be aerobic? What about weight-lifting? And are the cognitive improvements permanent or fleeting? …

Scientists have conducted many experiments with animals and people to suggest that aerobic exercise really makes the difference. For instance, University of Illinois researches had elderly people assigned to a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The stretchers increased their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. The brisk walkers did.

Why should exercise need to be aerobic to affect the brain? “It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” creating new neurons and brain connections, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. For that to happen, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow,” like the one that occurs when you run or cycle or swim. Weight-lifting, on the other hand, stimulates the production of “growth factors in the muscles that stay in the muscles and aren’t transported to the brain,” van Praag says.

“It would be fair to say that any form of regular exercise,” he says, if it is aerobic, “should be able to maintain or even increase our brain functions.”

It seems to me that it’s hard enough to exercise without all these incentives. I know that seems counter intuitive, but, hear me out…..It’s hard to walk briskly. Have you tried it? You get sweaty, and then later the sweat dries on you, and you get chilly. And sometimes it’s hard to chat while walking briskly, which really detracts from the only good part of exercise that I can fathom – the pre-pandemic habit of socializing with others. But, now, we’re adding these notions that, if taken from the opposite perspective, really create guilt. It says, ‘it’s good for you to exercise – and – it’s bad for you if you don’t exercise.’ And guilt, as we know, creates stress. And stress is bad for you. And one of the best ways, purportedly, to combat stress, is to exercise. Which takes us back to the beginning. So it’s a crazy loop, like the three to four times around the park I do, in the wee hours of the morning. Makes me loopy, for sure. However, in times like these, we have to keep busy, keep safe, and keep sane.

On the other hand, I guess the good thing in all this is that my memory isn’t so great, so I won’t recall if it’s improved or not. And I have no intention of drinking wheat grass. Or any other form of grass, for that matter. I’m too old. So I can’t remember to do all these things. Like aerobics.

So, I’ll just adhere to my daily schedule, and walk briskly. Unfortunately, I no longer can do my ‘walkie talkies’ as it’s too hard to walk, briskly, and shout to a pal who is walking at least six feet from me. I also learned the hard way I should not walk, briskly, while chatting on the phone. Bad combo. Bad time to fall or sprain an ankle and end up in an ER, which has NOT happened in this decade, so, note to self…just walk.

And, surprisingly, what I’ve discovered in the short term is that it’s not too horrible to exercise every day. As long as I don’t think about it too much. Why waste brain cells on the topic? As Nike (and I) have been saying for a while now…just do it!

Everything is better when you are outdoors, and the breeze is soft, and the sky is blue. Everything. Conversations. Thought processes. Relationships. Seasonal changes. Shelter in place orders. Everything.

I hate to say it – but - EVEN exercise.

Stay safe. Stay sane.

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