Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Mental Fitness and Physical Fitness Go Hand and Hand"

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

The title is one of my all time favorite statements. I believe Plato said it over 2300 years ago. It is the first thing I remember on the bedroom wall that I shared with my brothers as a kid. That was a long time ago. When I left home it came with me. It is now on my office wall. Today I see it more as a goal than an axiom. I believe the closer I can get to both mental and physical fitness at once, the closer I am to my personal potential for long term health.

As a kid I had no idea how challenging it might be to fulfill both components of the equation at the same time, long term. I thought they would naturally flow together along a continuum; it turns out for some of us it is a little more complicated than that and requires constant due diligence and focus.

David Linden has written a book entitled, “The Compass of Pleasure”. Linden describes normal pleasure as water, food and sex. He suggests that many of the other obsessions we experience are a result of the dopamine circuit of the brain gone a bit awry.

There is an attenuated dopamine system in the brain. If dopamine is low, the same set of variables that lead someone else (more "normal" -- whatever that is) to experience pleasure may not register pleasure for another. Some of us need to go near or over the line to find similar pleasure. Those impulses may serve us well in business, when serving clients, seeing patients, seeking control, saving the world or when pursuing athletic success. However, those expressions can also look extreme to someone else.

If we take Plato and incorporate Linden’s ideas we might have a compass for health. It is Linden’s opinion that our pleasures can be virtues or vices. Interestingly, brain scans demonstrate that generosity and exercise impact the same areas of the brain as gambling, alcohol and marijuana. Likewise, uncertainty (and all things that bring it) stimulates the medial forebrain and the dopamine circuit; the same brain center that is stimulated while waiting for the flop card when playing blackjack. More than a few endurance athletes intuitively understood this prior to being presented with medical evidence.

The things that provide us short term happiness seem to over lap in the brain with things that make us healthy (or unhealthy) long term. His advice: take your pleasures wisely, take your vices moderately and mix in some virtuous pleasures. In other words, raise dopamine levels on purpose (generosity and exercise).

It would be a mistake to underestimate the role our attitudes play in recovery. Whether recovering from sessions on a bike or run, or sessions in chemotherapy, we need all of our resources to be our best. Be kind, exercise and seek to maintain a positive attitude. There is a healing force in the body that is enhanced by positive attitudes. This healing force is something no one can dispute and no one can say is philosophical rhetoric. When we boil health down to a healing art and science, it is clear how powerful our choices can be.


Kevin Purcell, D.C., works with long course triathletes; from elite to those new to endurance sport. Coach KP has guided over 30 athletes to qualification in Kona, including 10 IM age group championships and two AG podiums. Dr. Kevin is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and recently did a two week medical rotation at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Coach KP retired from competition in 2006.

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