Thursday, December 27, 2012

DAY 33

I'm hellbent on making a daily run hard wired into my life. Since reading the first chapter of  Spark by John Ratey, MD I've been getting out for a run after my first cup of coffee each day (today is day 33), which with the holiday, I'm finding hard. Something about a diet of cake and ham leftovers is making me less physically motivated. But I'm doing it! And here's the best thing I've found: it solves problems.

If you're not a painter you may find it hard to believe that a painting problem can cause the same sort of angst as any work-related issue: labor disputes, mean boss, declining sales, equipment malfunctions, you name it, it totally does not trump a failing piece of artwork (think Van Gogh's ear). When I have a painting on my easel that isn't going well I can barely tear myself away and when I wake up in the morning and remember my failure-in-process I get depressed. Really! I don't want to get up and face the fact that I wasted such a big canvas, so much paint, so much time and have no clue how to fix it.

This morning I got up feeling totally defeated. Then I forced myself out for my run

As I approached the park pangs of non-interest in exercise began to stir. I begrudgingly used that Nike slogan: "Just do it." Now that I'm totally into how my brain works I watch my thoughts almost as though they're someone else's. I see patterns and pitfalls and I coach myself: "Think how good you're going to feel when you finish..." and I don't listen to my own excuses.

I did feel good when I finished and as I was walking home the idea of how to fix the painting appeared to me like a vision -- REALLY! and I started to look forward to a day of working and I thought of one more ham recipe too. So all I have to say is YAY for RUNNING!!!!! and thank you John Ratey. Guess I'll be keeping my ear after all.



Thursday, December 6, 2012


and also Every Brain
Perhaps you want to improve yourselflearn a new language, play an instrument, get a new job, cut back your drinking, give up sugar, improve your memory, improve your relationships, be more creative, feel more at peace, make an important decision.  Exercise can help!  Exercise stimulates new brain growthin everyone, no matter the age! When the brain grows, the new parts go to work on whatever you focus your attention. Your focus actually stimulates specific parts of your brain and the stimulation results in new synapse connections. Not only can you then learn more, you also retain more information. 

The best time to work on goals is immediately after you exercise. Or, if your issue is something like uncontrollable urges to eat, a 10-minute burst of exercise (a fast walk, a stationary bike ride, dancing vigorously, going up and down the stairs, jumping rope
anything that will get your heart rate up) can relieve the urge AND help to build new connections in your brain so that eventually the urge to eat will lose its strength and alternative activities will come to mind.

If you want to read about the studies that prove these benefits to exercise, read Spark by John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.   (You can read the introduction and first chapter on Amazon by clicking the link.) 

My son Ben turned me on to the book, so I have him to thank for getting me running every morning first thing after my coffee. I start out walking for 15 minutes, then run a little over a mile, then walk home
about 40 minutes altogether. Since I've started, this is what I've noticed:  I'm a lot more productive during the day; I concentrate on my work for longer periods of time without getting distracted; and I feel calmer and happier. Thanks Ben!

When it starts to get dark, and the urge for a drink invades my consciousness, I go for a rapid walk with the dog. The length and time varies, but at least 10 minutes. I'm not saying that I don't pop open a beer or pour a little wine when I get home, because sometimes I do. But it's not to relieve anxiety, and that's a big difference. With anxiety already relieved, I drink more slowly and I drink less. For people with really out-of-control substance abuse problems, exercise can also definitely help, and there's a lot about how in the book.

Whatever your issue, if you or your life isn't perfect, give some heart pumping exercise a try and notice the results.

Here's Ratey lecturing at Bradley University. Since the book came out, more studies linking sedentary lifestyles to brain decay have come out and are discussed here.

Note: The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends 40 minutes of exercise which gets you out of breath five times a week.