Elle Woods said it best in “Legally Blonde”: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
I became recommitted to exercise and endorphins about 15 years ago. Between diabetes on my father’s side and osteoporosis on my mother’s, the genetic handwriting on the wall was that I knew I needed cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise in my life, and I realized that the sooner I made this commitment, the better off I would be. I talked myself into joining the Stuart Ketchum Downtown YMCA in the building next to my ULI office. Korean matrons swimming in the pool, executives reading the Wall Street Journal on the treadmills, and knowing Stu Ketchum made for an experience more palatable than one in a gym with loud music and guys with tattoos. Over time with friendly advice from YMCA trainers, I overcame my gym intimidation and got into a comfortable early-morning routine.
I had forgotten the benefit of exercise-induced endorphins that I got from long runs and bike rides in college and law school. With my YMCA workouts, I found slept better and had more energy. Then one morning, the exercise habit became my saving grace. I left Bing’s intensive care room at the City of Hope and arrived at my ULI office, facing decisions that did not seem humanly possible to face. I could not stop trembling, and I knew I had to get a grip. I ferociously pedaled the elliptical trainer until exhaustion set in, and then sobbed in the steam sauna until a new numbness set in. I emerged from the gym strangely purified of life’s harsh realities with resolve to deal with that which had to be dealt with in the days that followed. Endorphins could not have possibly made me happy at that moment, but I will always remember the peculiarly powerful strength that came to me when I thought I had none.
Over the past few days on the WM International Foundation e-mail talk-list, some “talkers” circulated articles on the benefit of exercise helping to mitigate the side effects of cancer treatment, decrease the recurrence risk, and improve overall survival rate. One USA Today article they circulated tells of Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shannon Miller, recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and undergoing chemo this spring. She’s not trying to keep up some Olympian level of training, but rather is dealing with days when she can barely get out of bed. She advocates some exercise to help clear the “chemo fog” in the brain, regain a sense of control over some part of life, and keep flexibility and mobility up until you can tackle more rigorous exercise. Some physicians and researchers are pointing out that especially for patients of lymphatic cancers, it’s important to keep moving to keep the lymph circulating – undoubtedly good advice for all of us.
So I made it a priority to be back at the gym tonight, a week after a treatment. I’m maintaining this “can-do” state of mind as I tackle the accumulated work and incoming projects back at the office. Whether from endorphins, blessings from prayers, especially others’, and lots of good wishes, I’m feeling good about feeling good again. With Elle Woods confidence, I’m starting to plan my June trip to Vancouver for a conference and my July trip to Chicago for a board meeting. In case you are not up on “Legally Blonde,” it all works out in the end.