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:
- Physical exercise habits correlate with gray matter volume of the hippocampus in healthy adult humans.
- Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
- Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation
- The effect of short-term aerobic exercise on depression and body image in Iranian women.
- Circulating insulin-like growth factor mediates the protective effects of physical exercise against brain insult.
- Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging.
- Neurobiological effects of physical exercise in schizophrenia: a systematic review.
- The impact of physical exercise on convergent and divergent thinking.
Question: How have you noticed your body speaking on behalf of your brain? Or vice versa? Please tell us some of your story.