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Al Stahler: Evolution hits home

Al Stahler

We’re watching a monster movie, and our heroes are moving through the house. They don’t know … nor do we … behind which door a monster lurks. Maybe there is no monster … in this particular house … at this particular time.

Do you ever get the feeling that we all live in a monster movie, a movie we call the 21st century? Where is the next monster lurking?

Let’s stick with the medical monsters: Viruses … dementia … Alzheimer’s … cancer …

We already have clues as to how to fight off these monsters, before they get into our bodies. And the pharmaceutical industry is trying – HARD – to put these defenses into a pill … into LOTS of pills. Problem is … well, one of the problems is … these pills only work on one monster at a time. And, all too often, the pills bring on new monsters: They’ve got side-effects.

A very common example: Caffeine is the most widely-used drug in the world. Caffeine interferes with a molecule that attaches to a receptor in our brain, that tells our brains we’re in need of sleep. (And if our brain needs sleep, pretty much every organ in our body likely needs sleep).

It takes time for our liver to de-toxify that caffeine – to get it out of our system. If, come bed-time, we still have caffeine in our system – perhaps because we drank that coffee too late in the day to clear it out – we might have trouble falling asleep.

Well, that’s what sleeping pills are for. Of course, sleeping pills don’t really make us sleep … they make us unconscious. Which means we get up in the morning … in need of sleep … something a good coffee will cure.

We already have some idea of how to fight off a lot of our bodies’ monsters, before they gain control. But such a system – that works on multiple monsters – cannot be put into a pill … which that pill companies are not especially interested. The National Institutes of Health is looking at how molecules produced in our bodies can keep us healthy … molecules our bodies produce in response to exercise.

Working out at the gym, most folks go through a half-dozen-or-so different exercises, working out with one set of weights, or on one machine, then another. If someone is already using the weights, or the machine you want, it’s no big thing … We can move on to another, and come back to this one a bit later.

That strategy usually works … except maybe not in January. In January, the gym suddenly gets crowded … all those New Year’s resolutions! But not to worry … by the third, maybe fourth week in January, the crowds are gone.

Let me suggest not making New Year’s resolutions about exercise, but, rather, just getting out there … today. Not January, but today. Instead of sitting down in that car seat that’s been engineered to feel good to one’s butt … rather … walking … jogging … biking … dancing.

At some point … in just a few weeks … something interesting happens. Instead of having to force ourselves to move, we find that, if we’re not moving a lot, our body doesn’t quite feel right. We’ve evolved to move.

Statistics bear out that – somehow – exercise makes all sorts of ills less likely. It strengthens the immune system, and wards off depression. For more – lots more – on the subject, check out Judy Foreman’s Exercise is Medicine.

Al Stahler enjoys sharing science and nature with friends and neighbors, in The Union and on KVMR-FM. He teaches classes for both kids and grown-ups, and may be reached at a.a.stahler11@gmail.com.


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