Higher Living Reflections

150 Minutes

The reminder I got from my doc to get 150 minutes of weekly exercise was a wakeup call. By my standards, I had been slacking. Oh, I’d get in workouts, here and there, but not on a regular, dedicated regimen. I could feel the results in my body, and it was beginning to affect my frame of mind. I was increasingly feeling tighter in both, which, in my belief, are indistinct from each other. The reminder from my doc, who specializes in sports medicine, prompted me to think about how I primarily used to get my cardio-vascular workouts: running.

I had abandoned running a considerable time ago because, I had thought, it was putting too much stress on my system. But that really wasn’t the case. The truth was I was rationalizing, justifying giving up something that was becoming increasingly strenuous. I had begun to look at running as a chore rather than a delight, and as a result, I was becoming sedentary, less active, in short, lazy. “Wow!” I thought as I mulled over my doc’s point. I turned my computer off, slipped into my running attire, laced up my shoes, and headed out the door.

A few weeks later, a New York Times article extolling the benefits of exercise and how it can strengthen the brain reinforced something that had been taking root in my mind: Due to my rediscovered running routine, I was not only feeling stronger physically but also sharper mentally and more upbeat emotionally.

That validated for me the evidence that shows regular moderate—150 minutes per week—exercise has salutary benefits not only for the body, but also for working memory and other executive functions. The reason is believed to be movement increases the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are necessary for being attentive to tasks and information gathering. And regular exercise is proven to help increase mood-enhancing serotonin and dopamine, which is the reason that despite aching muscles, we tend to smile after a hard workout. At least I do.

Another benefit of regular exercise is increased blood flow delivers vital molecules to the brain. They in turn act in concert with a hormone called B.D.N.F.—brain-derived neurotrophic factor—which is essential for creating synapses between neurons. One expert called B.D.N.F fertilizer for the brain. That is especially important for seniors to understand given how the brain, including the hippocampus that controls memory and mood, shrinks with age. Evidence shows those suffering from dementia have decreased size in their hippocampus. Exercise can mitigate or counteract that decline.

Following on the heels of reading that article, I read another about the dearth of reading among American adults. I couldn’t help but see a correlation between the two pieces.

According to a You.gov poll, 54 percent of Americans read one book in 2023, which means almost half read none. That was especially true among those without college degrees with nearly sixty percent saying they didn’t read one. The good news is, however, that among those who have read at least one, the gap between college and non-college graduates in the number of books they read was considerably narrower.

Book—novel—reading, though, might not be an accurate measure of literacy. Friends and other readers have shared with me they like reading essays like this because they find them thought provoking, yet not lengthy nor time consuming to ingest. And therein lies the holy grail to a sharp, agile mind into elderly years: a nutritious diet supplemented by daily exercise both of the body and of the brain by reading works that challenge and strengthen those synapses and neurons. Acting in combination, they create fertile ground where worthwhile thoughts can take root and thrive. After all, why till and fertilize the soil if you’re not going to grow some luscious vegetables or gorgeous flowers in it?

There are, of course, those who are incapable of regular, outdoor exercise. Despite their diminished physical capabilities, many of them still undauntedly push on and do what they can within the confines of their limitations. On the flip side are those who self-sabotage by refusing to get up and get out. Then they wonder why they ache and suffer so many ills. The same is true about those who pollute their minds by ingesting mind-altering nonsense, primarily through cable, the internet, and social media. No wonder they often become neurotic, uptight, short-tempered, and socially myopic. Garbage in, garbage out.

Imagine how much better we’d be as a culture and society if everyone, or at least more than 54 percent, dedicated themselves to a minimum of 150-minute regimens of both mental and physical exercise, the kinds that don’t make your blood pressure rise but, instead, cause you to smile when you’re done.

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  • Laurel McHargue
    April 23, 2024 at 5:15 pm

    Jerry, not only are your essays are easy to “digest,” they always leave me feeling I’ve learned something helpful. There’s no use in railing against the inevitabilities of aging. Rather, let’s do as you are doing. Why not take a walk (if you’re able) while chatting on the phone rather than sitting? Why not do butt squeezes while driving or watching the Boob Tube? There are many little things we can do to keep our muscles engaged throughout the day. And Jerry, you know my favorite–DANCE whenever and wherever you can!!!