Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for October 5th, 2010

Brain Exercise

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 5, 2010

    Lauren, fifty-six, bored, lonely, single, searching for “meaning” in her life,  says bashfully, “I am going to do the marathon. I am going to train for it. I am not an athlete. I don’t even like running, but I am going to do it.” Fast forward one year, Lauren loves her life. She is still single, still looking for intellectual stimulation, but now she reports feeling “really good.” She ran the marathon; she made new friends. She changed the structure of her life. She plans on running another marathon this year as well.

      I am curious about the impact of exercise on her brain; I am also curious about the mental benefit that came from the physical challenge of trying something she had never done before. Additionally, by training for the marathon, she changed her focus. Her week became centered around her training. She had a goal. She also made new friends; friends who did not expect anything from her besides being an exercise buddy. Friends who she met with in her exercise clothes, rather than dressing to impress them. Lauren was liberated from a life that she felt was empty and superficial. At the same time, Lauren laughed at herself that suddenly running 26 miles seemed more meaningful than dating eligible men. Together, we struggled with trying to understand this. She could control her exercise routine; she could not control how men treated her. Yes, the control made her feel better, but how is it that she was not lonely? Yes, she had new friends, but Lauren never lacked for friendships.

    We talked about how her feelings of loneliness were woven together with her feelings of emptiness. She used to feel that a man would fill up all of her bad feelings in her life. Although that might be true, Lauren discovered that the marathon did this as well. Did therapy help Lauren take the leap into a new endeavor? I do not think so.  I provided for Lauren an opportunity to reflect on the psychological meaning of the marathon. Together, we speculated about why this decision was transformative to her mental state.  Understanding the key ingredients of this transformation helped her decide to do another one. Brain exercise-stretching mind and body-good idea.

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