Exercise and the Brain – and Dancing to Enrique Iglesias

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Greg went to arrange his annual colonoscopy.  Because he was having a chronic cough, his gastroenterologist (GI specialist) was wise enough to schedule him the “double dip” colonoscopy and endoscopy.  Greg was not pleased.  He was less pleased when Dr. GI found gastritis (inflammation) in his colon, an ulcer (inflammation) in his stomach, and esophogitis (location of inflammation intrinsic to word, esophogitis.)

I got the scoop on Greg’s inflammation story when he came in to see me, (yours truly, psychiatrist, brain doctor.)  And why?  Because of his colon and stomach?  Well perhaps.

True.  Greg was not happy.  He had not been happy for a very long time in fact.  Greg was suffering.  And no, he could not exercise.  He just could not.  Fill in the blanks of why he could not.  We have all given those reasons.

Discussing Greg’s story with him, we agreed that ignoring the inflammation story of his GI would be ignoring something that just might relate to the, “Why?” of why he was in to see me.  The same inflammatory process affecting his gut was affecting his brain, the same brain where his emotions and behaviors came from.

Inflammation.  We think about pus-filled blisters, puffy painful knees, spitting back spasms.  But do we think about frothing road rage?  Do we think about forgetting car keys in the supermarket where we bought five things we did not want and nothing of what we planned?  Do we think about divorce?  About losing our job, or not wanting to get out of bed?  When we hear about inflammation, do we think about brain disease?  I think not, Count Powerball.

The other day, we were in the Kaia, “Juicy JAM” class.  (Seriously. That is what it is called.) Coach Becca does these Juicy JAM classes about once every three to five months with us, just for fun.  It combines dance with athletics in a way that is designed to burn calories, yet effectively reduces grown women, responsible women of our community, parents, book-keepers, encyclopedia saleswomen, psychiatrists, (I am just guessing at least one of us moves like a psychiatrist) and such…, into giggling, hopping, human bumper cars.  And it is hard!  It is not easy to squat, pop, and then pull your fisted arm down super latino-drama-style over your just so angled body to Enrique Iglesias… I think it was, “Tonight I’m Loving You.”

By the time we had survived our first number, all I knew was that Becca looked really good.  Me, eh, not so much.  It is too bad we can not collect disability for this, not being able to dance.

When we dance, we do not usually notice how everyone else is dancing around us, as much as we think about how we are, ourselves.  Like any other behavior or emotion, we are trapped by our own design.  Look who is telling us that after all!  Our own brain.

Then Becca’s tattoo pokes out and we all think, she is such a bad ass!  (It’s right there just above the line of her pants.)

Where do these emotions, and behaviors come from?  Do they come from the good merit we have earned by hard work?  Maybe a really sweaty muscle bending Juicy JAM work-out?  No they do not.  You are right.  The emotions and behaviors come from our brain.  They come from that bit of us that is, after all, connected to the rest of our body.  Our body, where our muscles pump, where our pancreas balances our insulin levels, where our bowels, which flaunt the highest number of serotonin receptors of our whole selves, move and flow.  Our bodies, where nerves stop or start sending pain signals to our brain, where our heart and lungs pump all the blood that touches every part of us like a master control room – this is what matters to our brain health.  It is a relationship, like Garth will always go with Brooks.  Body goes with brain.  An inflamed body, an inflamed mind.

Now we know you are all thinking about bowels and what exercise does to bowels, and you are uncomfortable.  As you should be.  At least standing at a respectful distance.

I’ll never forget some months ago, and probably most of my Kaia-peers won’t either, when Coach Alyssa was taking us through Kaia-flow, a series of twisting yoga poses slash killer exercises.

Good job women!  This is also great for your stomach and bowels.

I thought, there-after only about stomach and bowels!  It was like a beacon.  No matter what I did, I was thinking about my gut.  And then like the answering horn of a trucker to a kid’s arm signal, “please honk,” there I went.  A slow twist, quiet music in the background, the soothing voice of Alyssa urging us on, and, honk.

There was no way to hide it.  No way to pass it off on my dog or kids or farmland creatures.  I was in the middle of the room and suddenly, like Taylor Swift on a center stage, everyone heard and looked.  Just one more bit of savory evidence that exercise decreases inflammation.

With this understanding, we can perhaps consider exercise like a pill.  Like a prescription.  Do exercise because we do what is friendly to ourselves.  Do exercise because we like being friendly to others.  We know that we cannot give what we do not have – to ourselves or to others.  We exercise because if we do not, we will be the barking mom we do not like, dad, sister, child or whomever.

We will not be nice to our partners when we have ill brains.  We will not feel pleasure as deeply.  If we are kindly toward ourselves, such as exercising, we will protect the soft underbellies of them others we love.  We will treat ourselves better.  We will.

One hour later, after dancing or twisting our inflammation, shame, and inhibitions into the ground, after passing a little gas, we are reduced to inspiration, humbly thinking, “Yes. I am that good.”  And that is the Magic there. We are bad arss.  Body meets brain meets community meets Magic.

And for you scholarly folk who don’t believe me when I say, exercise decreases inflammation decreases brain illness, here are a few articles:

Question:  How have you noticed your body speaking on behalf of your brain?  Or vice versa?  Please tell us some of your story.

18 thoughts on “Exercise and the Brain – and Dancing to Enrique Iglesias

  1. BRILLIANT ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When I started taking belly dance lessons I would get so down on myself. However the upside even when I was being hard on myself was that I forgot all the “problems” I had when I walked into the room. There was nothing left when I was done. My brain wasn’t ruminating for an hour on all the crap and it just disappeared. Along with all the other health benefits that went with it! Awesome article! Thanks.

  2. Inflammation has got my body down this this week and my mind has be wandering into not so good places. Got to get back on the trail soon. Your article was timely for me.
    I think we have all been honkers at one time or another.

  3. I am 80 years old and do moderate exercise. I had my first heart attack ate age 40 and prayed during the attack, ‘Lord, change my attitude about eating and exercise.’ The next day I borrowed a good a church member had used and I lost 65 pound and thanks to God alone kept it off all of these years. i started jogging and did cardiac workouts until my bursitis forced me to use speed walking. A deteriorating back condition cut my walking time, but I walk about one mile a day plus shopping, etc. I also went to Rehab for 12 visits over 3 months ago and now use their Maintenance program to stay in shape. My wife says that I am much stronger now, walk better and am more positive around the house.

    So!!! I support your post 100%. I doubt if I would be alive and enjoying life at age 80 if I had not started my life of weight management and exercise. Excellent post today.


  4. Complaining about this test or that, this result or that finding and subsequent treatment – I got over that and am thankful I have full medical to cover 100% of cost and thankful to live in a country that has the health facilities and professionals to operate them.

    It is ironic that depression keeps us from exercise yet exercise is a significant maintenance protocol in depression management.

  5. Hi Dr. Sana J-Q, I have been an athlete my entire life. The effect exercise has on my anxiety is incredible. Mostly, I wanted to say Hi to you. It has been some time since your last post and I hope all is great and you are on vacation somewhere (New Zealand is a wonderful place to vaca) I look forward to your next post and read many of your previous articles.
    Thank you, Kelly

    • Hi Kelly! This was timely. I do get some junky comments that I filter out and as much as I know they are what they are, it still gets to me and sometimes takes the steam out.
      I am always thinking about posting – and knowing you are out there, connected, encouraging, is the cap. Posts coming soon. Keep on, Lady Kelly.

      • YAY!! New post coming soon. I am also awaiting your NYT top 10 novel to be published. You have an amazing way with words Sana! Keep on!

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