January 15, 2010

And My Brain Could Really Use It

Too many trees. That’s how it’s been for the past 2.5 years at my job. Ever since I took on the role of graduate coordinator/assistant chair, I haven’t kept up on the exercise physiology research. Too many administration trees blocking the view of the exercise research forest. (By the way, the first time I remember hearing that analogy was in the song Different Drum by the Stone Ponys with Linda Ronstadt on led vocals.)

Exercise Builds Your Brain: Key Roles of Growth Factor Cascades and Inflammation by Cotman, Brechtold and Christie published in Neurosciences 30(9) is a good example of something I missed. Published in 2007, the article reviews the research on the effects of exercise on the brain and it’s pretty darn impressive. For one, the more exercise, the greater the benefit particularly with moderate exercise. I can do moderate. Benefits include “enhanced learning and memory, improved executive function, counteracts age-related and disease related mental health decline, and protects against age-related atrophy in the brain areas crucial for higher cognitive processes.” A sharper memory, better planning skills, and less risk of Alzheimer’s? I’ll take it.

How does exercise work it’s magic on the brain. Exerciser leads to an increase in a group of growth factor hormones that stimulate the formation of new brain cells. By itself, exercise results in the release of growth factors plus it leads to the production of more blood vessels in the brain. This provides the way to supply the new brain cells with the additional oxygen and nutrients needed for proper development. Exercise also improves the “immune condition of brain” by reducing inflammation a major hinderance to the release of growth factors.

But, wait. There’s more. It’s no surprise that exercise fits high blood pressure and prevents high insulin levels, both enemies to brain cells. And, for reason not yet understood, exercise is effective in preventing and/or treating depression. Wow. What a deal!

Here’s a flow chart from the article that summaries it all.

I started running to get into shape for skiing. Then I moved to Illinois and needed a Saturday morning hobby to take the place of those missing ski days. So why not run some more? It's would be good for my health, particularly if it helped me remove some of my excess body fat. I was motivated - somewhat. Losing weight takes a lot of time and a lot of running. Then my brother Bill came down with a nasty case of Giuan-Barre and I thought it might be motivating to him if I promised to run a marathon with him once he beat GB. Well, the jerk made a full recovery and I was committed to run a marathon “with” him. It turned out I ran with Tom (thank goodness for a brother who appreciates the challenge of not just running long distances but running them in a longer period of time i.e. slowly.) Despite being smoked by Bill and others in that first marathon, I was hooked. I ran my next marathon 3 months later and just finished number 25 in December. But, it didn't take long to realize that rather than running for health reasons I was running more for the emotional boost, the stress busting, the satisfaction, etc. I was running more for psychological reasons than physiological ones. So now I can add better brain health to the list. And, since I’m not as smart as my dad or son, I’ll take whatever brain power I can get. It would probably help if I would do Sudoku puzzles as I ran but I’m not smart enough to do them at all. After reading this article, I'm holding out hope that I will be smart enough after my next marathon.

January 9, 2010

A December of Not Running

Why am I not outside running on a sunny Saturday morning? The map below should be a clue.

Let's see. My last run of any kind was the Tecumseh marathon on Dec. 5th. I took one week off thinking I'd get a few miles in during the following weeks. But the following week was finals week at good 'ol EIU and that the last week for tithing settlement in the good ol' Mattoon ward. The motivation was just not there. We left for Utah on the 18th and drove straight through via I-80 arriving in Riverton on Saturday afternoon after a short stop a Norda's Mountain Outfitters in Park City. Hi, Chip!

Suspecting the snow coverage at the resorts might be minimal, I packed running clothes but never got them out of the suitcase. Tom and Shelly did invite me a couple of times (they actually put in one 7 miler) but the single digit weather neutralized any desire to join them. I rationalized that if I don't eat as much over Christmas, I can get by with not running. Right. I just weighed myself and gained 5 pounds since Tecumseh. Now there's motivation to get running again, once the weather warms up or I get over this wicked cold.

Okay, so at this point I'm less fit and more fat. But, in it was worth it. In that month I got to hang out with my family. First with Paige and Lorin and their old-sounding children, Polly and Bruce. Whenever I say I can't wait to see Polly and Bruce it sounds like I'm talking about see grandparents. But they are so cute and fun. Polly and get wild and Bruce like to yell but I love them. Bruce seems to like men more than women so he had no problem coming to me and letting me hold him.

Thanks as always to Paige and Lorin for letting us invade their house. We had fun eating at Model A Cafe in Mapleton, shopping, celebrating Paige's birthday, eating, making ginger bread house, decorating Christmas cookings while singing Christmas song and dancing (not me, just the girls). We celebrated Christmas early with a Christmas program and white elephant gift exchange on the 23rd. I came away with a ball like ice-cream maker. I think you put all the stuff inside and through it away to churn it into ice-cream. The next morning Polly and Bruce found that Santa had come in the night and the rest of us opened gifts from each other. I got a great looking running calendar from Paige (thanks to Ben) as well as a long sleeve running shirt. (I think Paige was trying to tell me something.) Lesa showered me with a variety of cologne to wear apparently after I run. I must really stink up the house.

We had the traditional Christmas morning breakfast of Aebleskivers and orange slice garnished with pomegranates. Delicious. That afternoon we drove up to Logan where we had another traditional Christmas meal, prime rib at the Freeman's. I think that alone put on 4 of my 5 pounds!

Second stop was at the Twin Pine Ranch. Thanks as always to mom and dad for the rooms and board. Speaking of food, Christmas day was full of more food including Aebleskivers round two and hanging out with family. For the Emmett family program, we started with the Christmas story with Polly playing the angle. This was followed by select musical numbers including Molly and Amanda sang a beautiful duet, Ben and Courtney offered two guitar/piano renditions of Christmas songs, and Polly and Carly sang and acted out, "Once There Was A Snowman".

This brings me to the Saturday after Christmas. Typically a time to ski but not on a 27 inch based. So I should have gone running but didn't. Too cold. My only activity of the break was bowling on Monday. I lost to both Tom and Bill who can both ski circles around me. Indeed, they are a couple of true biathletes! We went to see the movie, Sherlock Holmes that afternoon and I loved it. That night we watched the disappointing Bears beat the Vikings on TV. I really don't appreciate Brett Farve as a football player.

Back to Sunday. I called back home to Dave Pottle (neighbor and second councilor), who's son Cody was keeping an eye on our basement since during wet weather it seems to collect extra water. We have a system to keep it under control but it's not a good system. Dave, Cody, and Kirk Swensen keep the water under control and really saved us a huge headache. I can't thank them enough! Next week we are having a better system installed. Also, thanks to Al Newman (my first counselor) for handling a funeral and other issues in my absence. I can't thank him enough either.

Tuesday we went back to Riverton so we could eat lunch at Emmett and Ethel's on Wednesday before going to Bob and Annie's for dinner. New Year's Eve morning Paige's friend Heather took some family pictures for us. It was bitterly cold but they turned out great!

Ben cooked up some pizza's that night which were excellent! A little Rock Band and before I knew it it was 2010. (I was in bed of course when it actually came.) New Year's day we left Riverton at 6:00 a.m. and drove to Topeka. Lesa and I weren't feeling well so the drive was duller than usual. Thank goodness the weather was perfect so we could fly along I-70 as fast as we dared. Once we got home on Jan 2, my immune system guard finally gave in leaving me exposed to a wicked head and chest cold that would hang on for a week. It's a good thing I had one more week before classes started so I could get over the cold and get ready for the semester.