Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Finnish researchers recently found that exercise doesn't carry predictably results. Some people benefit, some don't, some decay a little more.
That finding parallels experience with diet, too, and with personal response to medication.“…the actual mechanisms involved are complex,” says the article. Indeed: maybe we aren’t as knowledgeable as we claim. In a story that may be apocryphal, a medical school dean told his graduating class, “I’m sorry, but about a third of what you’ve learned here is incorrect. We just don’t know which third.”

When we view any human being, we need to know that this flesh we see is only the tip of something invisible and far larger. Each of us is a universe of perception, emotion and meaning, which inevitably informs our every activity. 

The mornings I run, I of course observe others running. Some look blissed out, some look as though The Reaper’s chasing them. My fantasy—though not yet borne out by science—is that we squirt out hormones specific to our emotions: some runners bathe themselves in cortisol, others in endorphins. That is, consider that it’s not about exercise, but the meaning that exercise holds for us.

One can postulate similarly about diet (and any other function, as a matter of fact). Imagine gobbling a half-pound of bacon. Tastes good, right? But it might also generate a guilt pang, meaning certain as-yet-undiscovered brain cells emit guiltotonin, a hormone with nasty cardiovascular consequences.

As long as we wish to see ourselves primarily as physical beings, we’ll attend just to that aspect. We won’t learn much about who we really are until we significantly appreciate our subjective elegance.

1 comment:

  1. So happy you're back. I read and passed along that article in the Times about exercise, too, as it is so impression is not that "only in America," but, at least, _more common_ in America (ie The US) than other countries, is that people openly chat about their diet and exercise struggles--because it is virtuous to do so, and many of us tend to be overweight, and so as long as we assure friends, colleagues, and anyone who will listen we are "doing something" about it, we feel better. Whereas in France, such discussion would be gauche. (I tend to feel it is gauche).

    But I do secretly pride myself on exercising, and "getting back into my routine," as I currently am...on treadmill and weights..the problem is, it takes increasing amounts of exercise to mount the same challenge to my increasing stamina....and I perpetually fall on and off, lose interest, become unfit enough that to start again brings real benefits I can feel...etc.
    And that initial euphoria of feeling a "real" improvement in my cardiovascular health contributes to my mental alacrity and an appreciation of "subjective elegance." But so do far less strenuous activities, like walking with a friend, dancing, or tango dancing, which can be so slow as to never cause one to break a sweat. But they remind me I have a body, and sometimes its expression in motion is more precise than words.

    Thanks for the laugh about not knowing "which third" of what we have learned is incorrect! That is often how I feel when I hear all of these new studies about diet and exercise that cause great masses of people to go on the Weight Watcher's Diet, the Adkins diet, etc.(and all the presumptions of causality with diet, calories, weight, and exercise ring false to me)..but I think you are spot on that guilt and the hormones associated with it must be causing a vicious cycle...and maybe people are partially addicted to the guilt hormones?

    Because you have to also put in variables like environmental exposure to things in the water, living near a chemical plant, being near the desert during missile weapon testing, profession, working day or night shift...etc, etc..I just don't believe a double-blind study can realistically be set up...all categories are approximations...which is why it is laughable so many people can squeeze themselves into 2 narrow political parties....and more than explains why the vast majority are "apathetic"--I would say they are more humanitarian, and eschew neat categories...

    It is comforting to read a "quiet" blog after immersing myself so much in the reader comments in Theresa Brown's blog on the Times site...the frostiness and nit-picking becomes exhausting, and it is so important not to be caught up in roles, but to simply sink into the mortality and brevity of our own skin...which is why the title, "Healthcare as though People Matter" says it all. We all matter, and often the less pretense about it, the happier we are....