My surgery is on Friday. After that it’s 2 weeks before I can lift weights or even walk with any intensity. I’ll have a full week of doing almost nothing. I am going to push myself between now and Friday. I need to ramp up and get ready for doing nothing. Well almost nothing. I’ve found there are several activities I can do. I can work on my arms. Slow walking is OK but not really recommended for a week.
I have a confession to make. In these last 2 weeks I’ve realized one thing. I’ve become addicted to exercising. I’ve heard people say it. I never believed it. But it’s true. I have a true physical urge/need to exercise now. My body craves it. And once again I hit the books/web and looked it up. Our bodies are very addictive by nature. We crave things that make us feel good. Chocolate. Companionship. Copulation. (Yes, I’m trying to use all C words … 🙂 ) Contact. Coffee. Candy. Comfort foods … I think that makes the point.
Exercise exerts its effects on the brain several ways. It includes neurogenesis, mood enhancement, and endorphin release. From what I’ve learned, one of the more exciting changes that exercise causes is neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain. This suggests a possible preventative or at least a therapeutic benefit for those with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that progress via the loss of neurons. There is existing evidence of a link between lifestyle activities and Alzheimer’s. This evidence also suggests that there is a limit to benefit of exercise as well. It’s been shown that aerobic exercise reinforces neural connections by increasing the number of dendrite connections between neurons. This creates a denser neural network, which is better able to process and store information. However over-exercising does not help to increase that network. In fact there are studies that have proved the stereotype of the dumb jock true. Mice and athletes who over-exercise actually have a exhibited reduced ability to learn. So there is a balance. You cannot exercise to become an Einstein.
However, doctors think it may be possible to exercise your way happiness. It has been shown that physically active people recover from mild forms of depression more quickly, and physical activity has a strong link with good mental health as people age. It’s been documented that depression is related to low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Exercise increases concentrations of these neurotransmitters by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. Remember all those TV adds about how depression hurts? Maybe starting out on those drugs with exercise and then weening off to just relying on exercise … aww who am I kidding? “I’m not a doctor, I just play one on TV.”
The part of addiction to exercise I’m talking about is related to the release of endorphins, the chemicals released by the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors in neurons, blocking the release of neurotransmitters which interferes with the transmission of pain to the brain. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins within approximately 30 minutes from the start of activity. These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria. What’s unclear the cause of this euphoria. Doctors are not certain if endorphins are directly responsible for it, or if they just block pain and allow the pleasure associated with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine to be more apparent. This is where the addiction kicks in. It’s not a true physical addiction. Endorphins act in a supporting role by blocking pain and reducing the cost associated with acquiring the benefits of exercise. Over time, the release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to reach the same level of euphoria. It’s known that endorphins attach to the same neuron receptors as opiates such as morphine and heroin, yet, exercise is not nearly as addictive as those drugs. Exercise itself is not even as addictive as milder substances such as nicotine. It seems strange that an activity as beneficial as exercise, with a built-in mechanism for addiction, is so easy to give up. According to some polls, only about 15% of Americans say they exercise regularly. I believe that there is a link to the fact that in order to get the release of endorphins to get the previous “high”, you have to do more. how much more can we do? Think back to the dumb jock link … maybe there is a link there? 🙂
Perhaps this hernia is a good thing. Maybe it was a way to break the cycle and start over. I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and I’m beginning to think there is a reason behind the injury. Maybe it happened so I can take the chance to look back and reflect on what I can do when I put my mind to it. Maybe it’s meant to help me switch gears and set a new goal to reach for. I’ve achieved my original target for weight loss, which was to lose 50 pounds. I did that. Then I set a goal of 220 – 225 pounds. I’ve done that. I keep setting new goals for my physical condition. My new goal is 210 – 215 or 12% body fat.
But I think this injury is meant to change that focus or drive. I know I can reach the new physical condition goal. That’s not the point of it. I’ll have plenty of time to focus and reflect on what my new goal should be. When I figure it out I’ll let you know.