• lynneeveratt

The Beauty of Your Beast

Updated: Aug 16

“The only way to keep your good health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”- Mark Twain Science is always playing catch-up with the humorists. Baby, we weren’t born to run, unless it’s for food, sex, or to escape from a gunman. Our natural impulses that served us well throughout most of human history are to eat and drink what is most calorie-dense, and move as little as possible. But this behavior is making us sad, anxious, and stupid. Plus it’s killing us. I just finished walking while reading Move The Body, Heal the Mind, by Dr. Jennifer Heisz, director of the NeuroFit Lab at McMaster University, that examines the effects of physical activity on brain function. It’s a fabulous book that takes the science of physical activity and makes it real, inviting readers to join Heisz’s on her fitness journey from sedentary scholar to triathlete. As Heisz describes in her book, the neuroscience of exercise tells us that physical activity can help you: Soothe your anxiety Ease your pain Alleviate depression Keep sober Improve your sleep Prevent dementia Find your focus Optimize your creativity Why isn’t the exercise-as-miracle-drug message getting through? For years I’ve been seeking out science-based reasons to convince people to follow the sleep, step, sweat, reflect and connect wellness formula. Piling on the science to convince the professor of the brain to do something the beastly brain doesn't want to do doesn’t work. Case in point. Dr. Heisz helped a teacher add physical activity to a 4th-grade class. Parents complained. “I don’t want my child to fall behind academically!” protested the president of the PTA. The teacher had taken Heisz’s message and ran with it. She incorporated “energizers” into her lessons, having students act like lions during a lesson about lions and do jumping jacks to bring math problems to life. Students loved it, and as the program expanded to the entire school, teachers noticed that their students became less disruptive, less distracted, and better learners. Dr. Heisz attended a parent-teacher meeting to reassure parents that physical activity would improve their children’s grades and not make them fall behind. She challenged the parents to try out the program themselves, asking that they take a 5-minute exercise break at least once during their workday to see if they noticed a difference in how they think and feel. After one week, the president of the PTA called Dr. Heisz and reported that her exercise breaks made her feel more calm, focused, and productive. She asked if the in-class activity was enough. “Should my child be doing more activity after school?” she asked. Dr. Heisz didn’t convince the parents by appealing to the rational part of their brains that reviews research studies such as how a focus on cardiovascular fitness helped vault students in Naperville Illinois to a number one world ranking in science and sixth in math. Dr. Heisz convinced parents that exercise would make their children more likely to be successful in life. She tapped into the emotional belief that says my child’s academic success is a reflection of my success as a parent and a person. Rational take-your-medicine arguments to exercise will leave you on the couch thoroughly convinced, but completely unmoved. Only emotion will move you. A friend recently told me that she admired my discipline. She said I do the research, make a fact-based decision and follow through with consistency. No I don’t. I have no more discipline than she does. I started working out because I saw Linda Hamilton in The Terminator movie and decided that I wanted to be a strong woman with muscular, not spaghetti, arms (or at least spaghetti arms with muscles). I continue to work out because I believe that a fit woman is a powerful woman, exercise will neutralize my anxiety, and the fountain of youth is in a puddle of sweat. I want to feel good in my body and look good in my clothes. When I'm deciding to exercise, I don’t call on my inner professor to ponder how my workout will grow new brain cells in my hippocampus or manufacture endocannibinoids. I bait my inner beast, and think about how bad I’ll look and feel if I don’t. My reasons for sweating are emotional, and if you want to sweat, you too need to tap into the deep feelings that move you. How can you feed your inner beast? What are your emotional reasons to be more active? What existing beliefs (and the powerful emotions that arise from those beliefs) can you hitch exercise to? A desire that their children be successful (and fear that their children might fail) made parents want to discard, then embrace, physical activity in the classroom. When it comes to making physical activity or any healthy practice a part of your life remember this: feeling is more important than knowing. “I don’t work out so people will take a picture of me. I do it because I hope I’m going to get laid.”- Divorce lawyer to the stars, Laura Wasser Now that’s a beastly reason to move your body. Get Fully Charged on Moving Your Body Move The Body Heal The Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Sleep, Jennifer J. Heisz, PhD, Mariner Books, 2022. Move yourself happy! How to exercise to boost your mood—whatever your fitness level,by Elle Hunt, The Guardian, June 29, 2022. Mental Fitness and Creating the Life You Want With Dr. Sasha Heinz The Science of Success Podcast, August 2019. Welcome to the Revolution: A Case Study of Exercise and the Brain,” Excerpt from Spark by John Ratey, CTV News, May 2008. Life Lessons from Laura Wasser, Divorce Lawyer to the Stars,” by Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, July 11, 2022.

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