Can Olympics Help End Sedentary Lifestyle?

Odds are that you watched your first Olympics from the comfort of your living room. And being in the living room during childhood meant family time: you were accompanied by your parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Now (and before too) the Olympics usually lasts for around 2 weeks which means that you have a significant amount time to spend with the family. Going in and out of the living room, regular trips to the kitchen, the restroom, heck even school felt like an intermission from an activity more central in your lifestyle.

The sentiments felt during Olympics are something too elusive and exclusive to find and feel again, even back in my time: the day when Olympics came to an end I still remember the feelings of nostalgia that would rewind the whole event over and over again inside my head. No one wanted them to end. The reason was simple, while the games were on we felt as if we were a part of them, a sense of purpose or a peculiar drive that always seemed to be evanescent.

But of course to enter this realm of energy, one usually needed a game he/she was passionate about, to act as the entrance. However, it was never a must to have a ‘my game’, a mood that was interested in the general aim, a mood that appreciated the air of competition during the games was enough. This mood, which bestowed upon you that celestial fervor during a close call in a game, let’s call it the ‘Zone’.

But before I ramble any further about the Zone, we first need to discuss the content of the Olympics briefly, the actual games.

Not to most Americans liking, soccer/football tops the charts in terms of sheer viewership. It is then accompanied in fame by the more signature Olympics sports like swimming and athletics. In terms of the popularity of the player, there is good news for US citizens; the most talked about player was not a soccer player! That designation is solely kept for the athletic phenomenon: Bolt. Usain Bolt aka the fastest person ever timed has been just sensational in the Olympics arena or should we say the stadium, unquestionably the only person for whom you should legally be allowed to use the word pizzazz.

Then comes the sport not as widely viewed around the globe as compared to the three mentioned above. Hint: people don’t watch it because usually there is no competition going on, just a one way butchery. That’s basketball. No matter how hard EU or Spain tries, when it comes to an all-star team, you will always find them in Team USA. If and when a US team member misses a shot in the Olympics, quite frankly it seemed as If that guy was physically not capable of missing the subsequent shot, ever.

The Emotional Overflow

Now let’s get back to that odd mood I just dubbed as the ‘Zone’. The Zone was always amplified by being surrounded with a company in the living room. The presence of others used to legitimize the expression of emotions stirring within. When alone, such expressions of vitality felt hollow somehow. But it was never the people around us who were the primary source of the Zone.

As mentioned above, an appreciation of the competition during Olympics was the gateway to Zone. Olympics, the ultimate arena of fight, are the place for which a contender would spend years of his life planning and scheming for his/her one chance. When the moment finally arrives, allegiance to excellence is never higher: body and mind both are primed. And it is such vitality of the competitors which is the singular origin for your Zone, thirst for glory percolating out your screens, enchanting you.

This Zone is so strong an emotional flow, almost always we get super motivated to do some bustle ourselves. From the old to the youngest, everyone is excited and moving around hither and thither, looking as if all they ever needed to get active was a random petty chance. In fact, emotions are so high several people start a particular sport. Sadly all this motion and energy frequently settles along with the Olympics, once the games are over no one seems motivated to do anything.

The basis for this comatose behavior is distinctively the lack of Zone, the emotional high provided by the sense of competition which was previously appreciated by almost everyone during the Olympics. The ‘air’ of Olympics, it would seem is the essential element. But that’s not the complete truth. For if fame and public celebrations were the only reason a person got thrilled enough for the hustle, then no athlete would ever be motivated to train before a major event like Olympics draws near.

It is clear that the air around and the enthusiasm of others is immaterial to the competitor. Honestly, your source of zone is not dependent on you as his/her source of zone. So are Olympians truly cut from a different texture than Ordinary people like us? Can we never hope to sustain our efforts of exercise more than a meager two weeks?

The answer to the first one is quite simple, in certain ways: yes Olympians are inherently different than an ordinary Joe. Many of them are genetically predisposed with traits that slightly make them more physically fit. Their bodies have developed in ways that would make them more suitable for Olympic contests than you or me. However, those are about the only ways they are inherently different from us. Mentally, a drive with enough prowess, sufficient to do sports day in and day out, is not something which Olympians have hegemony over.

However in order to understand how you can lay claim to your birthright of a perpetual source of Zone, a light which does not fade by the mere disinterest of those around you, first you need to know what inactivity does to you.

How Exercise Transforms You

Start off by watching this sweet lesson by Murat Dalkilinç and then take a short walk before coming back to this article (seriously, do as he says). The video does an awesome job by explaining how everything in our bodies is designed for mobility. The blood in veins, especially in legs, needs muscle movement to be pumped upwards toward the heart, if you don’t flex your muscles properly then blood will simply build up in veins beside your muscles.

The Conundrum really escalates when we sit in for long hours to work. Typically when we sit, the oxygen supply to our brain plummets, making it ever harder to concentrate. So you can’t really sit for an extended period of time and not gradually lose your productivity.

Counterintuitively, even our spines face a greater wear and tear during the time we are sitting at our desks. The fact of the matter is simply, the human build is not meant to be stationary for a significant time. Though not an explicit disease itself, sitting for lengthy hours is often called the ‘sitting disease’ by researchers. “Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression, and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease” declares the MD James Levine to JustStand.org.

Even though doctors like James Levine have made it explicit that the human body certainly deteriorates by prolonged periods of sitting, it looks as if as if we have designed our lifestyles centered on sitting. The nine to five jobs of the previous generation certainly took its toll. However, we appear to have paid no heed to the issue as we have let Internet encroach work into our homes, increasing the total time spent while crouching. And it’s not just work, video games too have taken the physical aspect out of gaming, with the recent exception of Pokémon GO.

The unnatural regime starts from school, when we ‘discipline’ our children to sit in a chair for several classes in a row. Little does the teacher know that just by making the students sit, he/she is instructing them towards a routine, degenerate for any individual’s physique.

I could go on and on about the benefits of physical movement,  but if I had to choose one phenomenon, I would choose this paper, which made news in the New York Times a couple years ago. The paper is about a study which revealed that exercise can literally change your DNA. The body puts tiny modular molecules atop your DNA, in order to control it and turn specific genes on or off. These molecules, the Methyl groups, have been shown to change their locations along the DNA in a fashion that improves general health of an individual, the study showed in individuals who bicycled.

The individuals who exercised had healthier profiles from the bottom up. The changes that occur when you exercise aren’t merely aesthetic, they result from processes deeply built in, which then go on to make you fit in several ways, like reducing heart diseases and lowering the chances of getting diabetes.

The surprisingly good news is that since this DNA methylation is not age dependent, you don’t have to be a juvenile to reap these benefits of exercise. Indeed, all adults can and should exploit this cheap boost to one’s health.

The second most profound effect exercise has, is that on your brain. It is widely acknowledged that exercise helps your brain function optimally by providing fresh oxygen supply. Research shows, in several instances exercise helps prevent cognitive decline in age related disease like Alzheimer’s. But that’s not all. Another trailblazing finding, also published in the New York Times, looked at a brain of one Olga Kotelko. Koltelko was 93 years when she became part of the study. What’s so special about her you ask? She started athletic training at the age of 77 years.

The results showed her brain aged a bit oddly than the rest of her age fellows, it looked much younger. Further research in rats has exposed that exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis, a process which otherwise slows down in elders. The Hippocampus is the brain region associated with Memory and controls the limbic system.

Overall exercise affects the brain by two general mechanisms. The first is Oxygen supply as already noted. The second is by stimulating the release of a wide variety of hormones which cultivate plasticity in your brain.

The Self-Perpetuating Cycle In Your Head

These are the two things you are missing out on if living an inacive life, Oxygen rush and the hormonal soup. Unluckily, these two very things play an important role in brain plasticity and neurogenesis, the events required when learning a new habit. Therefore the people trapped in a sedentary lifestyle are part of a vicious circle. Their inactivity hinders any oxygen and hormonal stir in their brains, thus they can’t begin to learn enjoying physical activity itself.

But of course this barricade only holds itself it there is no outside stimulus, no external motivation.

And then there are Olympics, the Divine source of Zone, ripples of hormone and the competitive rush beam out alike in no other occurrence. Finally, we can return to our original question. Can Olympic fervor help you in ending a sedentary lifestyle once and for all? Is it possible to sustain our efforts of physical activity beyond the two weeks of Olympics?

The fact that should be obvious by now is that change in such behavior extends like a wave, feeding itself and getting ever bigger. Like money makes means for more money, it looks as if activity engineers the means (the neural circuitry in our heads) for more activity.

Therefore it is up to you: either you can let the fervor and passion of Olympics die out, or ride this wave until you have made new mental circuits which feed themselves, that gift you that supreme appetite, the hunger précised by the Olympics motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

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