Monday, August 20, 2007

Exercise and the Brain

Ann Althouse has an interesting post today, and the comments thread has what is to me, a very timely and fascinating discussion.

I have been writing about and documenting on this blog my forays into the world of exercise. First, I had my epiphany about three or four years ago. That was the day that I actually decided to get up off my fat butt and start to *not* go on a diet, but change the way that I live my life. I called it a lifestyle change back then, and I think that is a pretty darned good way to look at it. Changing the way I ate and what I ate was my first step. Just last week on vacation I ordered for lunch a portabella sandwich (instead of a burger) and broccoli (instead of fries). My wife looked at me, smiled and said "lifestyle change". I knew what she meant.

Then came exercise. I picked up biking. I got hooked on it pretty quick (still am) and enjoyed it (still do) very much. I started working out for about 30-45 minutes, two or three times a week. I worked out all through winter, so I would be in decent biking shape for the summer. I accomplished my goal of finishing a century ride - then I did more centuries.

The current phase I am in I suppose I could call my peak phase. I think at this point I should mention that Carl is calling me a zealot now (I like that). I run, bike, and practice Muay Thai. I exercise vigorously at least four times per week for up to an hour at a time. Last night I ran 3.5 miles on my treadmill - in 28 minutes. Then I did a Muay Thai workout that included cardio work, fifty push ups (in sets of ten), along with five sets of ab exercises in between rounds of working the kick bag. I was soaked with sweat when I was done.

I am not trying to brag or boast about the level of physical fitness I have. I think everyone is different, but that exercise certainly would help the level of health of virtually any human being. What I am noticing, and what brings me back to the Althouse post, is that I am thinking clearer, have a better attitude, and for the most part feel just a little bit "high" as I go through my day. I didn't feel this way when I was strictly dieting, or when I was in the first phase of my workouts. I started to feel changes right after I "kicked it up a notch", and that coincided with my start of Muay Thai on the first of May.

I am not saying that it is all about Muay Thai either, because it isn't. I am saying that my increased workouts have helped me in ways I would have never known, nor guessed. I think that any serious workout schedule would have accomplished the same thing.

Oddly, I really don't have any scientific explanation for my sense of well being that has come over me in the last few months. I asked the doctor about it when I had a physical a few months ago and he said that there had been studies that are starting to link exercise with "feeling better" and other positive things. He mentioned that people who he sees that are obese report feelings of well being after picking up simple exercise programs such as a short walk after dinner, or some stair climbing or whatever.

In the comments of the Althouse post there are those who doubt the whole thing. I would have been one of those doubters a few years ago as even though I was in pretty good shape, (nowhere near what I am now) I wasn't experiencing the highs that I am now. I don't know what other people feel, nor can say if exercise will help them mentally as much as it does me. I do find it interesting that some people are mentioning things of this sort.


Tom said...

Nice posting. I came over from the Althouse link to you that she put up. I agree with you. Besides the positive physical effects, exercise helps mentally. It certainly helped me through my chemotherapy - I have a fair bit about exercise on my weblog, as it relates to chemo.

Dan from Madison said...

Hey Tom, that is some very interesting reading - what a saga!

jti said...

I know exactly what you mean. I have an "athletic" build, and have been working out, biking, shooting hoops and playing racquetball since my mid-20s. Good physical conditioning - at least for me - makes me carry myself different. I feel like I'm ready for anything !

I don't get in my work outs as much as I'd like anymore, but I built a good "base" many years ago and now just have to maintain it. I'll be 44 in April and I totally see how guys like Testaverde, Blanda and Flutie play into their 40s. I can still hold my own with HS kids on the court, and I'm about the only adult vigorously tossing the pigskin with the younger kids and adults at cookouts.

Jonathan said...

I don't know if exercise improves my brain but it certainly improves my quality of life.