Miss Cranky Pants Needs Her Exercise

I was definitely a “Miss Cranky Pants” this week.

In addition to being cranky, I suffered from monkey mind, my body hurt, and I was far more tired than usual. In short, I simply wasn’t firing on all jets.

While there’s no doubt it was due in part to having been on the road for two weeks, I also realized that not exercising regularly was a major factor. Whereas I was still walking as much as I could, I had missed the thrice weekly gym workouts that have become an essential part of my life.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the latest research shows that if our brains are to function at their peak, our bodies needs to move.

While most of us know that exercise makes us feel better, we assume it’s because we’re burning off stress, reducing muscle tension, or releasing endorphins.  However, in his book called “Spark”, Dr. John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School shares research to demonstrate that the point of exercise is to build and condition our brain. Building muscles and conditioning the heart are simply side effects.

As he reminds us, we are wired for movement. Yet, despite being born as hunters and gatherers, many of us have engineered exercise right out of our lives. Ratey believes the sedentary nature of modern life is a disruption of our nature and poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival. Sixty five percent of adults are overweight or obese and 10 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes. Even more disturbing is that inactivity is killing our brains – physically shriveling them.

Ratey is adamant that we can’t continue to treat mind and body as if they were two separate entities as neuroscientists are painting an increasingly riveting picture of the biological relationship between the body, the brain, and the mind. As such, it is critical to how we think and feel. Exercise prepares our brain to learn, improves mood and attention, lowers stress and anxiety, helps stave off addiction, controls the sometimes turbulent effects of hormonal changes, and guards against, and even reverses, some of the effects of aging on the brain.  And, the research is there to prove all of the above.

Research shows exercise improves learning on three levels – it improves alertness, attention, and motivation, it prepares and encourages the cellular basis for logging in new information, and it spurs the development of new nerve cells in the hippocampus which is our way station for many aspects of learning and memory. One study showed that cognitive flexibility for adults improved after just one 35 minute treadmill session at 60-70 percent maximum heart rate.

Another study shows that exercise is better than sertraline (Zoloft) in treating depression. Yet another shows that in a suburban school district in Chicago, exercise has transformed 19,000 students into being the fittest in the country with only three percent being overweight rather than the average of 30 percent. Even more surprising is that the program has also turned the students into some of the smartest.

Studies also show that employees who exercise regularly feel better about their work, are less stressed, feel less fatigued in the afternoon, have fewer sick days (up to 80% less), and have lower health care claims. More general research supports the notion that exercise combats and assists recovery from stress-related diseases such as arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other autoimmune disorders. Physically active people have 50 percent less chance of developing colon cancer, and active men over sixty five have a 70 percent lower chance of developing the advanced, typically fatal form of prostate cancer, and women who are active decrease their risk of breast cancer. Although researchers can’t say exactly how exercise counteracts the effects of Alzheimer’s, population studies support the evidence that exercise holds off dementia. In one study, those who had exercised at least twice a week were 50 percent less likely to have dementia.

The evidence is clear. Exercise puts the spark in our life. It strengthens our mind, body, and spirit and in doing so boosts our overall quality of life. It means there are more reasons than ever for each of us to reach for our running shoes instead of the remote.

Posted on 10-29-15


Very informative article. I completely agree with you.“Physically active people have 50 percent less chance of developing colon cancer” this sentence is 100% true!

•Posted by Cancer hospital in India  on  08/10/12  at  05:08 AM


This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time. Thanks for contributing.

•Posted by lorna balfour  on  03/10/14  at  11:34 AM

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