Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exercise = Medicine

Alright I just read that book - Spark - and it really got me fired up.

Ratey's thesis is that while good for the body, exercise if VERY BENEFICIAL for your mind/brain.

He starts out with the story of Naperville, Illinois' government high school.

There they experimented with cutting back on academic subjects and increasing the time allotted to physical education. In fact they made the kids do gym class every single day. Furthermore they changed the focus of it to *personal fitness*, e.g. running and rock climbing, rather than stand-around ball games.

The results, if to be believed, were nothing short of spectacular.

Not only did the kids become healthier; but despite fewer hours devoted to seat-work, their test scores also sky-rocketed.

Ratey asserts over and over again that exercise induces positive chemical effects on the brain. In fact he was so thoroughly repetitive that I found myself skimming his book liberally. I most certainly got the point.

They also tried this same Naperville program at a lower socio-economic high school in Pennsylvania. The academic and health progress in Titusville, PA was similarly impressive but there was another important outcome:

Since the program started in 2000 the standardized test scores of Titusville's students have risen from below the state average to 17 percent above it in reading and 18 percent above it in math. Equally important are the psychological effects McCord has noticed: not a single fist fight among the 550 junior high kids since 2000.

All I have to say about *no fights* is WOW.

Who knew that exercise was so all-around healthy? Who knew that desk-bound boys had insufficient outlets for their pubescent angst?

Of course we all assumed it, but we most likely ALL have underestimated exactly how beneficial heart-pounding sweaty workouts are.

Essentially everyone, according to Ratey and his *research*, should be working out for 6 DAYS A WEEK, for 45 MINUTES, minimally at over 60% of their maximum heart rate (220 minus their age). And by everyone he means the depressed, 'old coots' and 'old bags', young whippersnappers, pregnant women, geeks who have no shot at ever impregnating a woman, otherwise healthy people, and everyone suffering from just about any kind of physical or mental ailment.

This is all commonsense, right?

Well not to the institution of Big Medicine. For decades these fat guys have prescribed *rest* to the afflicted when it was the VERY OPPOSITE of what was needed. Ratey provides scores of examples of head cases who've taken to running, swimming, skipping rope, etc. and vanquished the demons inside their brains. Recall those Moronic doctors emphatically told me to avoid yoga (and weight lifting) on account of my injured back!

Just a line here to reiterate what I think was an important insight. While most doctors, for generations(!), have put pregnant women on *bed rest* turns out that both maternal and fetal health have proven to profit tremendously from deliberate, moderate exercise. And this buttresses a long-held contention of mine - that women should do what that poor Chinese woman in The Good Earth did. She was working the fields, went into the hut, spat out a baby, and returned right away to the field without missing a beat!

Again the doctors haven't a clue:

In 2004 the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a review of treatments for generalized anxiety disorder that failed to even mention exercise. It was primarily a rundown of our most common antianxiety drugs, with a nod to therapy and relaxation. Of the thirteen pharmaceuticals charted in the review, all bear a formidable list of possible side effects. None have been endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as explicitly safe during pregnancy - not an incidental point given that women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as men.

The article was positioned as advice for doctors, but how is it that a summary of treatments for general anxiety disorder in the bible of medical research simply left out exercise? It's a case of what I would call clinical blindness. The mounting research on the neurological and psychological benefits of exercise seems to be hidden in plain sight.

Hah! Though I would refer to it more accurately as *institutional blindness*.

Personally I've never really been in tip-top shape as an adult. Sure I played a lot of sports when I was younger and probably was fit in my early teens but back then I was also a Moron. So I've never experienced good physical AND mental health at the same time.

Reading Spark, along with the gospel of Tim Ferriss, has motivated me to a least give it a shot and push my fragile body a little more.

And it goes without saying that homeschoolers should be careful to heed this book. I myself am now plotting how to get my kids even more regular exercise as a strategic educational tactic.

Finally, here's another excerpt from the book that, while a bit non sequitur, I think merits consideration:

Around the same time, I was immersed in studying severe aggression - researching, treating, and writing about what made patients of all sorts so violent. I stumbled across a study by Frank Elliot, then chairman of the neurology department at the University of Pennsylvania. Within a large population of prisoners, he discovered that more than 80 percent of them had had serious learning problems as children.

Go figure!


Laura said...

Agree, Spark is a great book. Ironic that schools keep kids in their chairs. And interesting that Finland, tops in education, provides short outdoor recess after EVERY class throughout elementary school.

CaptiousNut said...

Thanks. I did not know that about Finland. Cold as $hit there too!

Anne Galivan said...

Two points:

1) Since you will never experience childbirth you have no right to speak to women "spitting out children and getting back to work." While certainly pregnant women can exercise, I guarantee you that if most women followed the above regimen maternal mortality rates would skyrocket, once again.

2) While I agree with much of what was said regarding exercise (and the benefits to anyone who will do so regularly) in my case I have been battling a chronic health condition called adrenal fatigue for over ten years. Cardio work-outs actually make it worse. However, that doesn't mean I don't work out. I essentially do strength training which is very effective for combatting many of the problems of aging, and helps me keep my girlish figure.

CaptiousNut said...


I don't like how women/families intentionally wait 3-5 years between kids nowadays. Siblings ought to be closer together, ideally. Plus, who wants to spend a decade or more doing diapers?

In my circles people mistakenly think that kids 2 years apart are *Irish twins*.