What a difference some exercise makes

I’ve been lax with my posting, lately, but for a very good reason — my life is chock-full of some really great developments, and I’ve been focusing on living my life, instead of writing about thinking about living my life.

The relatively recent change with me is quite noticeable, and it’s also remarkable. Both of my neuropsychs are seeing improvements in me, and I’m getting to a point where I’m thinking more and more about what else is possible in my life, and less and less about what sort of damage control I need to do.

One of the things that’s made a tremendous difference, has been exercise. Ever since I started riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes, first thing in the morning on Saturday, July 25th, my life has been steadily improving. What’s more, since I started riding the bike — even just for 10-15 minutes on really busy days — I have started to lose the weight I was struggling with, I’ve started lifting my free weights again, and I have more energy and more focus than I have had in years. Literally years. It’s almost too good to be true — but it is true. Something as simple as getting the blood pumping and oxygenating my brain and muscles and overall body has given me the much-needed boost I was desperately in need of for quite some time.

It’s interesting – when I think back over my life, to the times when I was head-injured and was incapacitated, versus the times I was head-injured and managed to make a recovery, exercise has played an important (but till now unnoticed) role.

The times when I was hurt, but managed to eventually bounce  back, were the times when I was very active and was getting a lot of energy. I was able to function in school and at work, despite my fuzziness and confusion, and I was able to improve over time. As a kid, I sustained a number of head injuries, some of them pretty disruptive. Yet, I did manage to have an active and involved childhood (all my emotional and behavior issues notwithstanding). Exercise and being active made all the difference in the world.

But when I was injured and stopped exercising and became less active (either drinking a lot or just going off by myself to stare into space for hours at a time without knowing what I was doing), I just couldn’t manage to recover. It took me years to get my act together, and ultimately, it was often deciding to get back to the gym or get back on the exercise bike or get out and move that jump-started my recovery.

I’ve been reading the Give Back Orlando material a lot, lately, and there are some great tips and techniques in there. But for those who are not quite able to keep up with the information, I think that exercise can go a long way towards helping TBI survivors get their acts together. In fact, adding exercise into the daily routine might just help folks get to a place where they can understand the info enough to use it well.

Yes, what a difference exercise makes! I think it should be the first and primary building block in TBI recovery. It’s something so simple, so basic, so fundamental. Just get up and move. If you live with someone who’s sustained a brain injury, get them to get up and move — it might also help you with your own physical figtness. And exercise doesn’t have to be terribly expensive, or even overly complicate. I still cannot bring myself to go to a gym — they’re too loud and there are too many people there, generally, and I have a hard time coordinating my time to get there regularly. Plus, my balance and coordination has been giving me trouble.

A good piece of exercise equipment can solve that issue for you. If you have trouble with balance or coordination, something as basic as an exercise bike (that can go at different speeds with different resistances), can be of tremendous help. All you have to do is sit there, hold on, and pedal to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Maybe even break a sweat — it feels good! Believe me, I would be lost without my exercise bike — it’s a life-saver on those days when I am having trouble with my balance, or I am bumping into things left and right.  And it wasn’t horribly expensive, either. Anyway, even if it did cost me more money, it would be worth every penny. It solves so many problems I have, in the space of 20 minutes each day.

On my epic journey to take care of my brain and heal my mind, I’m finding more and more that my body needs my attention. I’ve found this to be true:

Take care of the body, take care of the physical vehicle that not only houses and supports the brain, but also takes direction from it, and you may just find your brain better able to take command of your life.

If you’re still sitting here reading this — get up now and move. Do some knee bends, arm circles, leg lefts… it doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. But you do need to do it.

I’m serious — stop reading this — get up and move!

I am…

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

4 thoughts on “What a difference some exercise makes”

  1. BB,

    Wise advice – exercise makes such a difference. When I’m in Toronto, I ride a bike – for real – almost every morning and come to depend on that fifteen, twenty minute burst of energy to give me clarity for the rest of the day. Here in Brooklyn, I go for a long walk, do cross-training exercises in the afternoon. Also – yoga, I’m getting back into yoga after letting it more or less lapse for a couple of years, and am reminded of how completely it can clear the mind, rid the body of all the tension that seems to be one aftereffect – for me at least – of the fog that comes with a head injury.

    I would also recommend something that helped me a great deal after my last injury – and probably saved me from having much worse learning problems – repetitive learning. Around the time I was injured I’d committed myself to relearning French – I was moving back to Montreal – and had bought a book of verb tables which I read through for half an hour each day. Also, I decided to force myself to write in the morning, even if it was gibberish, to get into the habit. Later (much later, sadly), when I finally saw a neuropsych, he told me this was the best thing for an injured brain, since it opened up new pathways. I think Doidge talks about this in ‘The Brain That Heals Itself’.

    Good article on football dementia btw. My gf read it before I did – now she worries when I get irritable that it’s the first sign of dementia! Well, not exactly.

    Best,

    Cos

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  2. Hey Cos –

    One of the things I’m working on, is eventually building up to where I can go out and ride a bike for real. Being out in the open and exercising (including going for the kinds of long walks that used to be a regular part of my life) has been a real sticking point since my last injury. At first, I told myself, “I don’t want to go outside… I have so many interesting things to do inside!” But then I realized it was sour grapes, because going outside, including working on my yard and taking care of the outside of my house, was never a problem before my last head injury. Prior to that, I was out and about constantly. Then I fell, and suddenly the outside world became too overwhelming for me to deal with. It’s not that I’m agoraphobic — I just get so overwhelmed and turned around at times.

    I’ve also had problems with balance and not being fully aware of everything going on around me, which can make riding a bike a bit dicey when there’s a lot of traffic.

    I’m not going to let this become a permanent condition, however. I’m working my way up to being able to be out and about. I have taken to forcing myself to get up and out on weekend days, breaking out of my desk-sitting routine to take care of the house and myself as well. Riding that exercise bike has been a huge help in this regard. It gets me moving immediately, before anything else can happen in the day.

    Very cool, what you’re doing with learning and writing. I am sort of doing the same thing — I have been spending time, now and then, reading news in German. I lived in Germany for a few years back in the 1980s, and once upon a time I was nearly fluent. I haven’t done anything really focused or structured around it, but I realize now that I do need to. Thanks for that tip/reminder. I was trying to learn French, before my last accident, but after the fall, that pretty much went away. I figure, if I focus on things I had success with in the past, I may rekindle some old enthusiasm for it. Thank heavens for the World Wide Web — I can use it anytime. Heck, I may just see how French works for me, too. My ancestors were French, and Germans used to tell me I spoke German with a French accent… I think it has to do with the physical structure of my pallet. I’ve heard that plays a large role in people’s pronunciation of words.

    As for writing, I’ve heard that writing in longhand is good for the executive functioning of the brain. And eye-hand coordination, too. I am working on that aspect, as well. After my injury at the end of 2004, my handwriting went to hell. I also became a bit dyslexic, which was NEVER a problem for me before. I kind of gave up on handwriting, preferring a keyboard, and I quit keeping the journals that I had been keeping for over 20 years. That part of my life just stopped. Again, like the outside exercise, I told myself I didn’t want to do it, but the fact was, I suddenly had such a hard time doing it (it had been so easy for me before) that the difficulty made no sense to me and was terribly discouraging, disorienting, and anxiety-producing. So, I just stopped and told myself I didn’t want that part of my life anymore.

    Now I’m back at it. And I’m also working on my reading. I actually managed to read several chapters of The Bourne Identity a few weeks ago. It’s a perfect choice for me, because it’s about a head injury survivor who has to piece their life back together, when nothing makes sense to them at all. That sounds familiar! And I loved all the “Bourne” movies (except the last one, which was kind of weak, IMHO), so it helps me follow the action a bit better than with other books about unfamiliar material.

    Of course, I had to lie down and take a three-hour nap after I was done reading, but still, I actually read more than 10 pages of something at one time, and I understood pretty much everything that was going on — and I didn’t have to back-track and re-read things every 5 pages or so. Woo hoo.

    The focused, intentional practice IS so important. Pushing our brains. Pushing our minds. Pushing our hearts… to do better. It’s a fine line, of course, and it’s all too easy to over-do it. But our brains can change and heal, as Doidge (one of my big-time heroes) points out. It is so very important to remember that, lest we just give up — as so many do — and just resign ourselves to a state of steady decline. As the “Nun Study” directed by Dr. David Snowden, which followed a community of elderly nuns to see how they aged as well as they did — http://www.healthstudies.umn.edu/nunstudy/faq.jsp

    I’ve been reading a little bit about it, this morning, so I’m going to post about it now. In light of the football dementia/dog fighting story, and in light of the fact that I myself have sustained multiple concussions (including several sports-related injuries, one of them during a football game), I’m very hungry (ravenous, in fact) for any information that’s out there about how people who are “predisposed” to dementia/Alzheimer’s/other forms of cognitive decline, manage to avoid it and live long, fully, happy lives.

    It’s for our sake, as well as our loved ones’.

    Cheers
    BB

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  3. BB,

    Just read your ‘nuns’ posting – very interesting. My feeling is that if you keep your mind active – injured or not – you have a much better chance of resisting Alzheimer’s. So many people just quit when they retire – or before.

    Regarding language: I was following a method a friend had recommended. He said the best way to learn a language was to memorize the verb conjugations. This is especially true in French – and German (Like you, I lived there a bit in the 80’s, and spoke some German, though I never became fluent). He told me to get a book of verb conjugations – Larrousse is the definitive title for French – and repeat them aloud for half an hour every day.

    I do sometimes find biking outdoors overwhelming. I didn’t understand it until recently – I’d come home and be exhausted and have to lie down in the dark (when I think about how much time I’ve spent the last ten years lying down in the dark . . . ) and wonder why. Now I understand that it was from the effort of having to concentrate on several things at once. However, it is soothing in other ways – being out in the open air is liberating. I’m in New York now, and I miss Toronto’s wide streets, which are good for biking . . .

    I began writing in the mornings because, before my injury I had never been able to write in the mornings and I wanted to start. Even if it was gibberish. I’m glad I did, because I value that time in the morning which, after exercise, is a good way to get the brain in gear for the rest of the day. Writing longhand of course . .. .

    I think prayer and meditation is very good for the brain as well. Creates new paths . . .

    One thing I’ve been dealing with lately is memory, how much memory I’ve lost – or rather, how I process mid-term memory, which is one faculty that seems to have been damaged. For years, I felt like my life was a bit like ‘Momento’ – in a much more minor way of course. But some part of my mid-term memories kept going missing unless I wrote them down (morning writing was good for that). For years, I’d refer back to old journals to see into the recent past. Lately, I’ve been putting that aside, trying to live more in the moment and use the morning writing time for more practical writing. All my journals are in storage up in Canada and I feel a little marooned, a little cut off from my own past. I wonder if you’ve had any experiences like this . . .

    Best,

    Cos.

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  4. Hey Cos –

    I hear you about the mid-term memory and “Memento”. I have big gaps in my memory in certain periods of my life, and there are often times when I cannot recall what happened over the past day or week. Not long ago, I asked my spouse, one evening, what we had done earlier that day. They looked at me with shock and horror, like I was totally losing my mind — we had just gotten done with a full day of activities (can’t remember what they were, ironically), which were certainly memorable. Except for me, that is. But when they refreshed my memory, I was able to recall where we had been and what we had done. It really scared them. But all I needed was a few minutes to recall what went on.

    Oh – wait – now I remember what we were doing — we had driven to a neighboring state to shop for supplies for a huge birthday party we were planning, and it had been quite the adventure.

    Anyway, that’s what it’s often like for me. I need to stop and think for a few minutes to recollect the details of my life and collect my thoughts. I often have to back-track through a long series of interrelated events to get back to the original memory. But given time — and lack of pressure — I can usually do it. Just takes a little longer.

    I have been working more actively with memory techniques that involve story-telling and “filming movies” in my head, so I can remember things later by telling myself the story of events that happened. It’s like I’m storing the details in images and motion and color, and it helps me.

    What I do, occasionally, is play a game I call “What Happened ____?” where I try to recall what I was doing and what was going on in my life a certain time before. I ask myself “What happened a week ago this time?” and I try to think back. Or I think back to a month before. Sometimes I check my notes afterwards, sometimes I don’t. It’s something I do when I have extra thinking time — like when I’m exercising or I’m driving to/from work. I also do daily journaling that often covers what happened the day or two before, not the day I am in. I have found that my memory has improved as I’ve forced myself to write about what I’ve done, as well as what I’m planning to do.

    I have also been thinking back farther to times around when I had my injuries, to see if I can remember how I was before, and how I was after. Things get a little fuzzy prior to age 12, but it’s still interesting to think back.

    The thing is, memory is a tricky thing, and sometimes we can “mis-remember” things that never got inserted into our brains, to begin with. I’ve been reading a book on self-hypnosis, thinking — as they say often happens — that I can use hypnosis to recall things I’ve forgotten. But the brain is not like some recorder that is always on, and all we have to do is go into a trance to retrieve information. If the info never got there to begin with, it’s not going to come out. Also, our brains can make up memories. For years, I thought something had happened, until my mother told me that it was completely different from how I recalled. And miraculously, my “memory” then changed to match what she told me happened. So, memory is a tricky thing.

    For me, the best way for me to take care of my memory is to not only try to strengthen it periodically, but make sure I’m paying really close attention and I’m deeply involved in the things I do, so my brain has a chance to create memories I can (hopefully) recall later.

    Still, it’s fun to think back over the years, and it’s very useful for me to practice recollecting information. Like going to the library and finding the call number of a book I want to read, writing it down, and then seeing if I can find the book without looking at the piece of paper. When I get it right — which is happening more and more — I have a little mini-celebration inside my head and try to reward myself for my progress.

    We’re getting there…

    BB

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