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on exercising your body and your mind: a twofer!


As a result of that “Detour” writing prompt I borrowed from StorySLAM, I’ve been pondering various events and crises that I’ve collected along my merry way of life. Keeping to my true nerdy psych major status, I have even been doing some research on the cognitive processes at play during said events. You know, so I can analyze and piece together the many colored psychopathologies that make up beautiful, kaleidoscopic me. Oh, hyperbole!

But really, y’all, I came up with some rad findings having to do with exercise. What I already knew was that life experience gradually improves cognitive function such that the adult is better able to respond to crises. Hence why we don’t elect child prodigies as President. What I wanted to find out was whether and why my involvement in crew might have assisted me mentally in some way. Like, does participating in all exercise help, or is there something special about the sport of rowing? It should be said that what is assumed in my hypothesis is that I am awesome; I’m not trying to figure out whether I’m great, just whether crew contributed to my greatness. Ha. But I’m ignoring that major conflict of interest so I can tell you about what I found.

Scientists have found that rigorous exercise improves neuroplasticity; in a nutshell, my hypothesis was onto something. Exercising can positively affect complicated cognitive responses and even improve avoidance of unpleasant stimuli. The study I just linked to was on mice, who were made to swim in a tiny water maze, then were presented with unpleasant stimuli. Scientists recorded how long it took them to move away from the stimuli (I picture a guy in a lab coat putting his finger in a mouse’s face and saying in an annoying tone, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”). Later, half the mice were allowed to play with their toys and the other half were forced onto minitreadmills and handed tiny barbells to lift (kidding about the barbells, but the minitreadmills are real! Adorbs). Afterward, the mice who ran and lifted weights were better at the water maze (no surprise), and they were also better at avoiding unpleasant stimuli (surprise!).

Like with the study I mentioned, most research on exercising improving cognition seems so far to have been done on lab rats. After all, they are so much easier to get past the IRB. And speaking of the IRB, there’s no way I could get a paper on this topic past them, considering the giant red flag of my confirmation bias. I went looking for a connection between exercise and cognition, and lo and behold, thirty seconds later I found one. But for those of you looking for motivation to go to the gym, look no further. It makes you smarter!

For me, it adds motivation to keep our kids involved in some kind of exercise at all times. Our philosophy, which we are both incredibly gung-ho about, is that they can pick what they do, but they must do some kind of exercise. And what about you? Has exercise positively influenced your life? Do you have an exercise policy with your kids? With yourself?

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Vivi, circa 2008. I call it “Still life at Nats game.”


p.s. This picture really has nothing to do with the post, but I just rediscovered it a few days ago, and it cracks me up. I love the far-off stare, the seriousness, the drool, and the fact that it all randomly takes place in front of a baseball game. It’s stock photography gone mad. I had nowhere it could go that made any sense, so I figured it may as well go with a post that had no picture. So there we are. Laugh away!

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