Archive for the ‘Seeds of Hypochondria’ Category

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a confirmed couch potato. Not that I am proud of that fact–I just seem to have a stubbornly sluggish physiology. I like the idea of exercise; it’s the ooze of sweat and the burn of lactic acid that turn me off. Add to that the fact that I am not good at sport—or movement, for that matter—and the reason for my inactivity should be apparent. With my obvious lack of basic coordination, I make orcs look graceful.

At my high school graduation, one of my happiest realisations was that I would NEVER again have to endure PE and its associated shames. What a joyous day that was! I was too tuckered out to burn my joggers, though, and leaping for joy was way too strenuous.

Now, many years (many, many years) later,  in my couch potato-ly wisdom, I focus on doing the things I’m good at. Like reading.

In my extensive reading I have discovered—to my consternation—that exercise actually has some desirable side-effects. Apparently, one of the benefits of exercise is a mood lift. I am highly sceptical about that one, because it is way beyond my powers of imagination to see how sweat and pain can improve your mood. However, diehard runners and cyclists I know assure me it is true! Go figure.

Scientists point to brain chemicals to explain this phenomenon. Exercise causes the pituitary gland to trigger the release of powerful chemicals called endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer. Their release results in a rush of pleasure, commonly known as a “runner’s high.” I also discovered in my reading that this endorphin release happens only AFTER thirty (that’s 3-0) minutes of strenuous exercise, which probably explains why I’ve never experienced it.

Regular exercise, according to one source, is so good for mood enhancement that some researchers are claiming it is as useful as anti-depressant medication in the treatment of depression in laboratory conditions. Many doctors prescribe both—medication and exercise together. Neuro-researchers are studying the little understood side effect of exercise called neurogenesis and its positive effects on the depressed brain. Amazingly, aerobic exercise actually triggers the growth of new nerve cells called neurons and enhances their connectivity. (So, begging your pardon for my gross oversimplification: Exercise makes important parts of your brain grow denser and function better!)

Here’s the real kicker: the effects of exercise are shown to improve learning and memory in laboratory conditions. We’re talking rats—in little Lycra gym suits and itty-bitty sweat bands. Compared to the couch-potato rats, the gym-junky rats learn better, perform better, and have denser brain tissue. And they’re not cranky or morose either—at least not until they lose their enhanced brains and active lifestyle to the scalpel! Scientists are not suggesting that working out will create geniuses (so put down that barbell, Einstein!) Unfortunately, the accelerated learning plateaus in the exercising lab rats.

The benefits of exercise are not limited to adults. Children’s learning can be enhanced as fine and gross motor skills are developed through play and physical activity. Kids who are fit generally experience better health and higher self-esteem than their unfit peers. Social skills and team work are picked up on the playing field and the playground. At a time in history when teenagers are more sedentary than ever before, the moodiness of today’s teens is legendary. It doesn’t take a scientist to see a crucial link between their lack of activity and adolescent irritability.

Even a confirmed couch potato like me has to concede that the benefits of exercise, sharper memory and better mood , are well worth the sweat. You might not be able to exercise your way to brilliance, but you can definitely exercise yourself happy!


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Intrepid is not a word that applies to this traveller. Sure in my twenties, I got around—and I didn’t do the tourist thing—no hotels, group sightseeing, or bus tours. No, I lived in the countries I went to. I studied. I worked. I hit the roads and seas with swashbuckling fervour. But things just didn’t work out.
The sad truth is I had to concede defeat. In the end, I did not conquer lands, amass languages and assimilate cultures. I just settled down and feathered my nest. And I owe it all to a sensitive inner ear: I Suffer (with a capital S) from motion sickness. I might have the heart of a traveller, but I have the stomach of a gutless homebody. I have spewed on one too many ferries to class myself as an intrepid traveller.

Intrepid? Hardly– I turn green merely watching movies of other people riding on a bus. (Diesel fumes—gag!) I was the child who threw up twelve times on the 6-hour car ride to Ocean City, nearly breaking my father’s childhood record for the same trip. Most car rides involved pinning a barf bag to my shirt, just in case. It wasn’t something I could help, yet I (rightfully) incurred the hatred of many a friend’s parent, after I’d “decorated” their car. I’d like to know how I came up with the bright idea to do all that travel in the first place.

Above all the memories of my motion sickness induced degradation, one holds the place of honour as the worst travel experience in my life. Even a 36-hour labour could not outdo this memory for its sheer awfulness. It happened in Italy in the spring of 1983 on a huge ocean-going ferry leaving from the port of Sassari in Sardinia heading for Genoa. Reports that night were that the Mediterranean was burrascosa—rough.
Decency requires that I spare the reader the gory details of the women’s restroom that was writhing with lily-livered seafarers heaving their guts, so I will fast-forward about 4 hours. Dizzy with dehydration, I crawled out of that hellhole, in search of fresh air. I stumbled up to a foyer that led out to a deck. It seemed like a good place to recuperate, because one thing was certain: I would not be reacquainting myself with that reeking lavatory again, no matter what happened. Under a humming florescent light, I crawled up on a settee to try to rest.

After who knows how long, I awoke to find a squat Sardinian man leaning over me, staring into my face. The unsettling sensation of his garlicky breath on my brow caused me to jump to my feet, despite my weakness. He asked me if I was feeling all right. His croaky Popeyesque voice was almost as disturbing as the sooty blackheads that pock-pitted his nose. “I’ve been seasick all night. I just need some air,” I hastily replied as I headed for the door to put some distance between him and me.

I walked outside into the wild wind. Its coolness shocked some clarity back into my fuzzy head—just enough to notice the little monster had followed me outside. I sat down despondently, with the sinking awareness that out in the howling wind in the middle of the night away from every other human on the ferry, there was no one who could help me if I needed it. I tried to look confident as I reviewed my escape options…which were nonexistent. He could toss me into the inky Mediterranean if he wanted and no one would notice my disappearance for several days. As I formulated the dire appraisal of my situation, his squeaking voice intruded into my thoughts.

Da me un bacetto, signorina.” Give me a kiss, little lady.

Experiencing a healing of near Biblical proportions, I stood up and replied—in perfect Italian—”My mother told me never to kiss strange men.” (Where did that come from? I was sure she’d never said that.) I darted towards the entrance to the foyer. The sooty-pored sailor from hell lunged to block my get away, but being a good two feet taller than him, I had the upper hand. I kneed him in the groin (I could have nailed that nasty studded nose if I had wanted), shoved him against a wall and gave him a hearty New York salute (and a few choice English words!) By the time I got to my assigned seat in the passenger section, I had no symptoms of seasickness or dehydration. The truly miraculous part is that despite the adrenalin I slept until we arrived in Genoa.

Maybe that does count as intrepid…



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Hot flushes get all of the attention— and it is undue hype, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been experiencing some far more disturbing symptoms of perimenopause than a bit of heat and some sweat. When a woman suffers a hot flush, at least she can do something to alleviate it—jump in a pool, strip down to her g-string, or roll in the snow—or all of the above. As the hot flush subsides, blessed relief comes with a satisfying sizzling sound and a wisp of steam.

My bizarre perimenopausal symptoms have me at their mercy, leaving me beside myself with shame and grief. It’s not the thinning hair, the night sweats or the numb mind that has me worried. The real problem is, in the past few months I have devolved into a poor driver, and I place blame squarely where it belongs: on my hormones. Some may think my claim is a bit of a long stretch, but I am serious.

For most of my driving life, I have had a stellar record. Cramped kerbside parking spaces on busy city streets never fazed me. Backing the car smoothly into the space in one swift movement, I would congratulate myself and declare: “Who says girls can’t parallel park?” But those days of smugness are gone, apparently. My parking antics now hold up traffic, causing newsworthy gridlock and outbreaks of road rage. Taxi drivers shake their heads at me. Blokes on the footpath roll their eyes. Even fellow women feel embarrassed for me. The hormone-induced demise of my ability to parallel park is a loss I grieve!

Sorrow has been heaped upon sorrow—it would seem my depth perception has gone wonky. My garage is the scene of numerous motoring incidents. The back of my car bears several grazes from the garage door scraping down on it. Come to think of it, the front of the car–on both sides–is scarred as well.  (And we won’t tell my husband about the damage to the garage door itself!) Our summer holiday apartment was equipped with a snug little garage, which I wasn’t going anywhere near.  Instead, I nosed up to a cinderblock wall in the parking lot. Given the numerous “nudges” I inflicted upon it, I’m surprised it was still standing at the end of our vacation.   These vehicular mishaps are a new phenomemon–honestly!

This bizarre visual symptom has me worried. Perimenopause, after all, can last several years. By the end of it, I’ll likely be in the Panel Beaters’ Hall of Fame.

”]Maybe her hormones are to blame? [BTW, this is NOT me!]

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