rabbit binkying in grass with sunrise in background

Exercise is my secret weapon

Crank the pump of the lymphatic system and away we go

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, once said ‘Exercise is my secret weapon’.

As a person with MS, two businesses, and a family, exercise is my secret weapon, too.

It’s no coincidence that my most stunning insights come when I’m mowing the lawn. When I’m moving, my brain starts popping with ideas.

I have breakthroughs. Opportunities start lining up that I couldn’t see before. It all becomes so clear. I feel optimistic.

Movement clears the driftwood.

Like sleep clears neurofibrillary tangles in our brains, exercise is good for us.

As humans, we need movement to crank the pump of the lymphatic system.

MD Anderson Center says that the lymphatic system is part of the immune system. Squeeze a muscle. Release it. Well done. You’re cranking the pump.

Any exercise helps it work.

Exercise rewards us.

*

This morning, my exercise was not intentional.

Let me tell you a little story about Maple Syrup.

We have a pet rabbit. She is a Dwarf Mini-Lop. She’s no dwarf, though. She’s a giant.

Maples Syrup is soft, intelligent, and a manic escape artist.

She can squeeze through the timber gate of her luxury bachelorette pad.

Every few days, she gets sick of her digs and makes a run for it. Her joy is unmistakable.

She catches insects in 360-degree spins.

She binkies. A binky is when a rabbit jumps and claps their ankles together. It’s adorable. Even though I want to kill her because mornings are not the best of times when you’re getting two recalcitrant kids ready for school.

The kitchen clock is set ten minutes fast. It’s a ploy to add an extra EXTRA sense of urgency. My daughter likes to get dressed at the very last minute and then do her hair 4 or 5 times. Bus she is also an expert bunny wrangler.

After darting around the back yard, then the fornt yard, then the side of the house, and then under the house, I call for help.

I feel my heart rate escalate and its unwelcome friend, cortisol the stress hormone, join the party.

I proffer an enticement of dried pellets. Saff is disgusted.

‘Grass! She wants grass! Dandelon leaves! Flowers!’

Maple Syrup starts basking spreadeagled under the shade of the persimmon tree.

Saffie stomps nearby and spooks her into action. Then she manouvres bun-bun from the spiky grevillea to the crepe myrtle.

Next when I look, Saff is sliding the lock across the door.

When you exercise, you also get rewarded. That brief exercise encounter was enough to trigger the cascade.

Trigger the neurochemical cascade

The reward is in the neurochemical cascade.

Every morning, I like to trigger the cascade. Not for my physical health, that’s a side benefit, but for my mental health.

The cascade lets me handle whatever stress or chaos confronts me during the day. It’s a bit like a prophylactic. Or a stress condom. Any bad vibes can slide right off.

The cascade is:

  • serotonin
  • endorphins
  • endocannabinoids (the runner’s high)
  • neurotransmitters
  • dopamine

Exercise is neuroprotective too, which we need as people with MS.

A 2017 metastudy in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that ‘Exercise significantly improves depressive symptoms among people with multiple sclerosis‘.

Significantly improves depression. That’s significant.

It doesn’t only improve depression. It gives you hope, insights, and clearer thinking.

Exercise clears the driftwood in your mind.

Do I need to run?

1The good news is that any exercise will do. You don’t need to start chasing rabbits around the yard. That’s entirely optional – not for me, I’m afraid – but for you.

Do whatever is within your capacity. Do whatever you enjoy.

  • You can do Tai Chi, which is gentle. It’s more like a physical meditation than a workout but it works.
  • Sit down and stand up, over and over.
  • Dancing. Put on some music you like and have a boogie. What that looks like is up to you.
  • Yoga or stretching. Stretching and activating your tendons and muscles is also a form of exercise. It gives you flexibility and strength.
  • Sit in a chair and lift hand weights or cans of food.
  • You can use stretch bands hooked around a door.
  • Swimming. If your arms are weak but you want rocket speed, put on some flippers. Fly through the water.
  • If your body is too weak but you enjoy the water, immersing yourself in a short bath may be all the exercise you need.

The best exercise is the kind you like.

They say appropriate exercise for around 150 minutes a week can cause noteworthy improvements to your MS conditions.

That has made ‘exercise prescription‘ a real thing. It seems that exercise is a human need for survival, not just a ‘nice to have’. As this Scientific American article points out, humans have evolved to get high levels of exercise.

Wrapping up

We made it to school on time.

I felt like binkying. It was difficult to resist but I chose not to embarrass the children.

I exercise for my mental health first. Physical health is a good side effect.

Exercise is most definitely my secret weapon, thanks Richard Branson. Not exactly a secret, but it gives me a forcefield to face challenges with a sense of fun and possibility.

It gives me a more powerful perpective in which I can see that life’s a game. And it should be fun, as well as hard and horrible, and all the bad stuff. It’s fun if you make it fun.

Exercise is my secret weapn to keep my body healthy and make life more fun.

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