Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 391(097) Exercise for the Brain

Doing crossword puzzles and studying a foreign language are suppose to be good for the brain. Lots of retired folks do these things. My wife does. I do computer stuff and study music thinking it might help. Plus, I like those things. Now I find that if I really want to do something good for my brain I will lace up my running shoes. No kidding. Exercise. Exercise 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 online or in a library. Now a recently published 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.

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 scale 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 been 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. Sometimes 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: coffee, 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. There are any other ideas and interests that seem more compelling.

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 have done. There are some big medical or technical words used in the book, but not enough to deter one from just skipping over them and still getting the gist of the story. The book is based on all of the research done over the last ten years in the field.

He talks of the connection between exercise and total health. What happens to us as a fetus because of our mother’s 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 - create new cells.

For we retired people, boomers, and seniors, the book is especially relevant. As we age our body and mind 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 that 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.
It is quite common to associate crosswords or learning a foreign language connected with mental health. But one of the lines from the book that I recall goes something like, "If you want to stay sharp mentally, you had better lace up your running shoes."

This is retirement talk.




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