Healthy, Free and Natural Drugs

Blog # 105   Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Each and every one of us has the capacity to draw upon a powerful pharmacy housed within our bodies.  We are capable of producing and using to our benefit a powerful ‘cocktail’ of natural chemicals and hormones that can dramatically influence and affect our mood, energy, focus, drive, etc.

I am capable of tapping into my supply of  ‘happy drugs’ through the means of vigorous exercise. On my part it demands exertion, sweating, my heart pounding and heavy breathing—walking on the treadmill will not suffice for this purpose, even though any form of movement is certainly of benefit.   The ‘fix’ I get through physical exertion probably accounts for my ‘addiction’ to exercise and my suffering from ‘withdrawal’ if I miss my ‘dose’ for a day or two. It is not just the physical high that I get from this ‘drug’, but more importantly the emotional high that really keeps me coming back for more. Exercise is certainly not the means for everyone—we all need to try to figure out how to exploit our internal pharmacy that does not call for a doctor visit, prescription, co-pay or a medicine cabinet

Most days, I do not get the opportunity to exercise until after work, at 5PM or so.  On rare occasions, I will have a gap between early morning procedures and afternoon office hours, an interlude that affords me the opportunity to go home, exercise, shower and have lunch before returning to the office.  This past Wednesday, I had one such lovely day.  I began the day with a 7:30AM surgery at the hospital and because of the fact that I was finished by 10AM and did not have to return to the office until 12:30PM, I went home, changed, headed to the basement and pulled out one of my P90x plus DVDs, specifically the total body workout.  I exercised for an hour or so, and even though this particular workout was primarily resistance, I still worked up a great sweat and had my heart pumping and lungs heaving.  After a shower and a healthy lunch, I headed to the office, refreshed, renewed, restored and invigorated, feeling like the day was just beginning.

My office is hectic and stressful—especially since we started electronic medical records last summer.  That stated, on days in which I get to exercise midday, stress is banished.  I find myself super-alert, focused, energetic and immune from the many frustrations and irritations that typically chip away at my good spirits.  I am convinced that vigorous exercise releases a host of ‘happy drugs’ including dopamine, endogenous opiates and a cocktail of other natural chemicals that are responsible for my heightened state of mind, vigor, stamina, serenity and resistance to the usual stressors that typically leave me fatigued, depleted and emotionally and physically spent.

Because exercise makes me feel so physically and emotionally robust, I can better resist the urge to consume some of the junk foods that I am bombarded with at work. To wit, I had absolutely no urge to indulge in that piece of Dairy Queen chocolate ice cream cake that we had in the office. After my workout, shower and lunch, I truly had enough of a ‘high’ such that I did not need to get a sugar/fat/chocolate ‘high.’  Additionally, the thought process of ‘why blow the benefits of a great workout on an unnecessary indulgence?’ is very helpful in maintaining eating discipline.

I always vow that I must schedule exercise into my midday routine—for the benefit of myself as well as my patients— but I never do—the rare occasion it occurs is due to happenstance…and is a welcomed gift.

“Exercise is medicine, and every man needs a daily dose.”

Jordan Metzl, M.D.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

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