Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Musings on Exercise and Brain Function

Working out has saved my life more times than I can count. The chaos of Pride, my fiance's new job, and a full performance schedule until pretty much the end of the year caused me to lose focus on my workout routine. Day by day, I became less and less capable of functioning. More and more things started to feel overwhelming. Then one day, I was barely able to breathe without screaming. I couldn't avoid the thoughts of ending it all just to stop feeling that way, despite my seemingly contradictory existential death anxiety, which likes to creep in at random times throughout the day and night. It only took about two weeks for me to get to that point. I knew going to the gym would solve my problems almost instantly, but I was too far gone to make it alone. 

He sacrificed sleeping that night to go with me. He gave himself a migraine just to pull me out of the darkness when I couldn't do it myself. I don't know how to thank him for all the ways he shows how much he loves me. Words are never enough. 

It's day 2, and the world already seems a little less terrifying. I feel more capable of taking on new projects. I'm less afraid of failing. That's not to say that these don't represent major obstacles anymore, but working out allows me to broaden my view of the situation so that I can find ways around them. 

This is what I want to study. I want to research how something as simple as lifting weights can fundamentally alter brain chemistry, structure, and function. Particularly in people like me. I've seen these effects in others too. I've heard story after story of how physical activity has transformed the way people view themselves and the world around them, and I've been fortunate enough to be the catalyst for change in many of these situations. Knowing more about the neural mechanisms underlying these changes will provide greater insight into brain function in general, and in various populations. 

There's so much work to be done. For example, wouldn't it be interesting to compare the effects of resistance training to those of commonly prescribed antidepressants/antipsychotics, or the combination of the two? To cardiovascular training alone? In people with depression versus controls? What does the brain look like before and after resistance training? Does functional connectivity change, particularly in executive function networks? If so, can resistance training be implemented to help people with disorders affecting executive function? 

The funny part about all of this is, working out is the only thing that is going to allow me to have the functional capacity to do any of this research. A few days ago, I thought about scrapping the idea of grad school altogether. If I could barely function doing what I do now, how could I ever manage the work involved in getting a PhD and finding employment in the field? 

I'm pretty sure these ramblings will find their way into my personal/research statement, which is definitely impersonal at this stage. 

I'm starting to feel like I've got this. Who knew some lat pulldowns could be so powerful?

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