DR. DAVE HEPBURN  |  MAY 15, 2013

Leo comes to the rescue

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I have an imaginary photo of Barak Obama in my home gym/garage. The prez pounds a treadmill every day, prior to his popping into the boy’s room for a couple of smokes (yes he smokes). If a guy, whose job description includes: Run The Free World, Clean Up Dog Poop, Declare War (usually after cleaning up dog poop), can take time out of his schedule to exercise, then so can a guy who runs the free world of Hepburn (not a planet sane folks would ever want to visit without serious shots, including whiskey). So I climb on to my elliptical, crank up the itunes and pound away knowing Barak is doing the same, a virtual mirror image, with slight colour variation. But something happens about the 13.468 minute mark. I quit singing Pop Goes The World and my brain waves change. Ideas start pouring in. “...the cure for cancer has to be.. the best way to rob TD bank....Sealey’s diagnosis is (granted that might take an ultra marathon). So I keep a pad of paper and a pen on the dash of the elliptical. When an idea strikes, I go to grab my pen. On cue the pen falls off the dash onto the floor. I reach down to retrieve it while trying not to miss a beat but, 110 percent of the time, my headphone wires loop around the pedals which causes the iPod to fall which in turn yanks the earbuds out of my ears like a rocket, taking with it parts of my ear canal and possibly a bit of grey matter from my frontal lobe. But this is still where my best ideas come from every time.

Last year when I cycled from Comox to Victoria with Boomer’s Legacy, I was asked to give a talk, upon arrival. I had nothing prepared but, while cycling, I wrote the thing in my head. On arrival, I jotted down the ideas I could remember onto a rain soaked napkin and then gave a talk for the ages (ages 2-5 some said).

Can exercise make us smarter? If so, is more necessarily better? Research has looked at how well people perform mentally, both while exercising and immediately after an exercise session. Other research has examined the association between fitness level and age-related cognitive decline. Both show positive correlations. 

During a session of moderately intense aerobic exercise, mental performance improves in several measurable ways including:

-reaction time (except in grabbing falling iPods) 
-executive control processes, such as; planning, scheduling, working memory—the brain's ability to temporarily store and manage information, and inhibition—the ability to block out unnecessary distractions such as painfully losing a portion of your ear canal.

Improved cognitive function actually begins to show at about 20 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise and will be maintained for about another 40 minutes. The positive cognitive effects of exercising for 20 to 60 minutes are primarily related to increase in blood flow to the brain and stimulation of nerve cells to release more neurotransmitters (chemicals that send signals between brain cells). But beyond 60 minutes of exercise, fatigue is likely to become a factor as evidenced, I noticed, by me lying prostrate on the ground. This is when Leo, my Havanese pup, comes to the rescue, thinking he’s performing CPR by licking salt off my chest and face. Mental performance is trumped by exhaustion after 60 minutes. Once fatigue sets in, you start to lose the mental edge you have gained. If exercise continues, then mental performance actually will decline to a level lower than where you started.

OK, my work out is done, ideas wrangled, article written, Barak back on the wall, dog happy. Time for a smoke.

Listen live or call in to Dr Dave on his fun yet informative radio show, Wisequacks, heard each Sunday at (2 pm PST, but please put in what that would be local equivalent for you) at www.cknw.com.