The single best antidote to a lousy mood is movement. In other words, the one thing that so many of us don’t want to do when we’re depressed, lonely or anxious is the one thing that can do the most good. When you’re feeling old and cranky, or just irritable, the best prescription isn’t a pill. Your body is telling you to get going. It’s what we’re designed to do. In fact, chances are the worse you feel, the more badly you need to take a hike. Literally.
When you and I experience deep stress, pressure from work, relationship woes or just reactions to the daily grind, most of us just want to come home and collapse on the couch. Yet that’s the worst thing we can do. In order to provide relief from what ails us, a good crisp walk around the block- it doesn’t take much- can do us a world of good.
Our brains get younger after aerobic exercise, which for some may seen counterintuitive. However, in an article for Outside Online https://www.outsideonline.com/2186146/your-brain-exercise, writer Kate Wheeling outlines some of the genuinely wonderful side effects of getting off our couches in order to stop being grouches.
We see better, think better, and our moods are raised, for starters. All that just when we get up and go- whether to the gym, on our bikes, hike a local hill, push ourselves a bit. Older folks who exercise have more “white matter’ in their brains, which is very good for coordination. Runners have been shown to have greater concentration and focus- not just while, but for long times after they exercise.
Wheeler writes: A 2016 Study from the University of Arizona, for example, found that cross-country runners had increased connectivity between parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, decision-making, multitasking, and processing sensory information — the very same regions that tend to be hit hardest as we age — compared to healthy but sedentary controls. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00610/full.
You don’t have to be a competitive distance runner to benefit from exercise, although the more we push a bit the more we benefit. Those benefits most especially offer improvements in the very areas that suffer (and sag) the most from aging. It’s not just the tighter tush, better muscles, our brains operate far more efficiently right where we most need it: cognitive skills, memory, and our ability to cope with the stress that is part and parcel of everyday life. The more we move, the younger our brains appear, and the better we function.
Gotta Get My Rush
I can’t speak for anyone else but in my house, both the BF and I get very itchy and irritable if we can’t get a workout of some kind in every single day. That could be as simple as a brisk walk around the block or for me, a visit to a local park where I can run lots of steps. It’s not just the well-justified feeling of pride that I got my carcass outside to work out. It’s the thought clarity, the feeling of healthy blood rushing through my veins, the flush of warmth to my face. When I get outside just before the sun comes up in that magical cool of early morning, I beat the traffic rush (and the air is much cleaner), I feel the sweet cool drops of sprinkler water on my legs as I run, and I hear the birds sing. The morning feels like it’s mine alone, especially if I sneak out before 5 a.m.
One of the truly negative side effects of our propensity to pop pills is that we can substitute pharmaceuticals for what the body naturally gives us when we work out: endorphins. This is where I have a real issue with modern medicine. So few of us exercise any more-in a 2013 study it was found that some 80% of us don’t get anywhere near the recommended amount (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-80-percent-of-american-adults-dont-get-recommended-exercise/). When we feel crummy, stressed out and overwhelmed, and I do too at times, most of us turn to substances for the answer rather than the one thing that will likely give us precisely what we need: exercise. When an hour’s walk or pleasant hike could turn the entire day around to our favor, far too many of us order pizza, settle into a comfy couch, and raise the remote.
In some countries, exercise is prescribed as a first line of defense against depression and many of the other ills of modern society. Here in America, that’s sacrilege. In a world where doctors have almost no knowledge of nutrition’s role in our health (please, how many obese, smoking doctors have you met? I’ve met plenty), our culture is criminally under-informed about how the cheapest form of medicine- natural movement- is also the best way to stave off the ails of old age as well as put us in the best possible mindset.
Yet vast numbers of us prefer pills, because they’re ever so much easier, and besides, exercise is work. Who wants to work at the end of a long day? Well, millions of us die from inactivity https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inactivity-tied-to-53-million-deaths-worldwide-similar-to-smoking/, which at least to my mind argues rather strenuously for choosing to chug a little outside vs. chugging a six pack. Besides, ten minutes into a good walk, and it’s miraculous how you not only feel superbly better, but that sixpack fades away as your body breathes, stretches and luxuriates in what it is supremely well designed to do: move.
But that’s just me. At 65, I am waging a few wars here. First, against gravity, which is as inevitable and immutable a force as you can possibly imagine. The second is against decrepitude, in the brain and in my body. I absolutely refuse, as they say, to “Go gently into that good night.” Thank you, no, I prefer to have all my faculties for as long as possible. There is Parkinson’s in my family tree, and one thing I know, exercise helps prevent it (https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/exercise-helps-prevent-fight-parkinsons-disease. According to the article, Exercising in your 30s and 40s — decades before Parkinson’s typically occurs — may reduce the risk of getting Parkinson’s disease by about 30%, notes the Health Letter. Some experts believe the exercise must be vigorous to make a difference.
There is diabetes in my family tree, and exercise helps prevent it. Just like regular exercise lifts my mood, helps me bleed off stress, keeps me happy inside and out, and allows me permission to stuff my face on occasion. I LOVE to eat. The older I get, the fewer calories I need- a ratio I find monumentally unfair but look, I didn’t make up the rules here- but when I hit the road, hit the steps, hit the gym or any combination thereof, I can justify a PBJ once in a while. Or gorm a Godiva’s truffle. That doesn’t hurt me one bit. In fact, I’ve earned it. Not the whole box mind you. But a chunk of chocolate is a nifty little goody after I’ve pounded out two hours on the steps.
While I recognize the potential for genetic predisposition for certain ailments, I also know that some 70% of my quality of life as I age is in my hands. Genes influence the rest. They are potentials. Not a death sentence.
However, not exercising at all is indeed a death sentence. We’ll die younger and have a far less healthy life in the meantime without it. On the other hand, exercise extends and improves our sex lives (thank you, without the little blue pills) and in every way feeds our sense of self worth as it feeds every cell in our bodies.
Now that’s a very good deal. Now I’m gonna go run. Anyone wanna come with me? (And I did- three miles. I feel younger already….I’m going to go suck my thumb)