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Retirement Talk for Boomers, Seniors and Retirees

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Episode 097 Exercise for the Brain

Doing crossword puzzles and studying a foreign language are supposed to be good for the brain. Lots of retired folks do these things. My wife does. I do computer stuff and study music thinking they might help. Plus, I like those things. Now I find that if I really want to do something good for my brain I would lace up my running shoes. No kidding. Exercise. Exercises like big body movements are what really perk up the old brain.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

These podcasts are not based on research. When I started this project I wanted to talk about what I knew and not what I could find out on-line or in a library. Now a book jumps into my mind that I feel I must discuss. The book concerns itself with exercise and the effect it has on our bodies and our minds. I heard an interview with the author on the radio. It was so intriguing that I got the book and have been mesmerized by it ever since.

My recent life experience illustrates the thesis of the book perfectly. These past two weeks we took a road trip down the Oregon Coast to rendezvous with our daughter and family. It was time for a "family fix", especially a grandmother fix. The trip was great in every respect. But when we returned home and stepped on the scales the following morning all of the sins of the trip visually appeared. An extra five pounds had been added to my weight. At my age, weight gain of this quantity in this short of time has to be taken seriously.

We all read about the obesity that girds our waistlines and our country. We are a nation of heavyweights. I recall our last trip to Europe and our shock in the American airport to which we returned. We had spent a month in Spain and were not used to seeing so many large people.

We have always included exercise as part of our daily routine in life, especially in retirement. Our days always break at 11 a.m. for some sort of moving around - biking, walking, rowing, or strength training. Road trips are killers for exercise. Sitting in the car, it is easy to snack on food when one would not normally be eating. Then there is the restaurant food which is served in huge portions. One must constantly be on guard to not consume it all. But, you are on holiday. You deserve to splurge a little bit. So...gobble, gobble, gobble.

Then there is the daily exercise. We don't have our bicycles with us on road trips. We can walk and we did. We walked some of Oregon's beautiful beaches. However, time is ticking and road miles are not adding up when one stops for an hour walk. We travel very slowly - it took us two full days to drive five hundred miles. It isn't that we drive slowly. It is just that we stop often: for coffee, a walk, photos, or food. We want to enjoy the trip. And when we are with our extended family for a limited period of time the slot for exercise in our daily lives many times gets omitted.

At the same time I have been reading this book by John Ratey entitled "Spark".

It's an amazing story of the connection between exercise, the mind, and the body. The book is filled with examples of people and the results of what adding exercise to their lives has done. There are some big medical or technical words used in the book but not enough to deter one from just skipping over then and still getting the gist of the story. The book is based on all of the research done over the last ten years in this field.

Ratey talks of the connection between exercise and total health. What happens to us as a fetus because of our mothers' exercise or lack of it? How does exercise affect our physical and mental growth and development as a baby and small child? A large portion of the book deals with the impact of exercise on depression and hyperactivity. He makes an incredible case that exercise of the body really makes the brain grow. Yes, grow - that is, create new cells.

For us retired people, boomers, and seniors the book is especially relevant. As we age, our bodies and minds naturally start to change in a direction most of us would not consider positive. However, for  people who exercise regularly, the body and the mind can be rejuvenated and reinvigorated by regular exercise. It's a very persuasive argument. Not only does one get a new lease on life, but the immediate effects on a daily basis can become a real boon to enjoying the retirement years.

Most intriguing is this connection between physical exercise and the brain. The common assumption is that exercise benefits the muscles and cardiovascular system. This is true, but the effect exercise has on the emotional and mental aspects of life is rarely discussed.   One of the lines from the book, as I recall, goes something like this, "If you want to stay sharp mentally, you had better lace up your running shoes."

This is retirement talk.