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The Prisons of our Past

Jordan Antunes,

St. Xavier's College (Autonomous),

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


So, if I were to offer you a stress modulator that also boosts your mood, makes you more attentive, and just makes you sharper overall, if I presented this to you in the form of a pill, you would doubtless take it right?

Okay, I confess, I may have stretched the truth a little, suppose I changed the medium of consumption, its benefits intact, but instead of a pill, you would have to acquaint yourself with the nearby roads, and you would have to run to reap the benefits. Suddenly the offer seems a lot less miraculous huh?

I want to address two things we all want and their paradoxical nature, our knowledge about the benefits of change and our aversion to it.

When presented in the form of a pill we were all for it, but when we had to work for the benefits, suddenly the whole operation seems less appealing, so what changed? Why do we feel this way?

Well, it's not totally your fault, or it isn’t consciously. The root of it all is in the way our brains are wired up namely our reward systems.

What we've fallen into is a trap laid out rather insidiously by progress and technology:- The Pleasure Trap.

“What is right, is often forgotten for what is convenient”, or in this case, if task “A” is more rewarding than task “B” we'd go for task “B”.

So why is this dangerous? Why is something so unassuming so impactful? It has to do with how and why our brains evolved.

Some theories suggest our brain evolved to facilitate movement, because back when stones were so popular (during the time of our ancestors, some 15,000 years ago) movement was everything, if you needed to survive you had to move. Before the Agricultural Revolution food was scarce and it was easily run out, so those families that moved survived and those that didn’t, did not.

A more present example would be the brain of the koala bear. Ever since it evolved to survive on eucalyptus, its brain shrunk and grew smoother, another animal, this time marine in nature, colloquially known as the sea squirt has a brain of 300 neurons in volume. It roams the seafloor and once it finds a sufficiently attractive rock it can anchor itself to, it digests its own brain for nutrition because it's no longer needed.

So let us leave our ancestors in the past and fast-forward to the present. Our brain's reward pathways haven’t changed all that much, we're still profusely rewarded for consuming high-calorie foods ( a mechanism the fast food industry has taken advantage of).

Suddenly a burger is more “rewarding” than a balanced meal.

Our current lifestyle actually encourages laziness and we are essentially killing ourselves, such is the insidious nature of The Pleasure Trap.

Like a moth, to a flame…

Which is why exercise is so important in this age of instant rewards, it's important because it’s a choice, a decision made consciously, because walking and exercise are not as important as it was back then, and because it’s a conscious decision, every time you wake up at 5 am for a jog, every time you hit the gym, every time you force yourself to do something your brain doesn’t want to, its primitive influence on you decreases, its grasp on you weakens, and inevitably, with constant effort, you’ll eventually break free.

Exercise is not just a form of independence from your primitive self, once you’ve taken control back you can actually use some of these mechanisms when benefited our ancestors.

About a decade ago it was thought by the scientific community that our brain was obstinate, resistant to change, and saying otherwise would get you laughed at. However recent studies have proved otherwise. Our brains are in fact plastic for most of our lives, there's even a term for it “ Neuroplasticity”, our brain's ability to change, and “Neurogenesis”, the formation of new brain cells.

Aerobic exercise, about 30-40 minutes of it each day has proven beneficial, it promotes neurogenesis by increasing the production of something known as BFNF or Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor. 30 minutes of exercise increases the concentrations of BDNF in the blood by 32% in some cases, which, as a study was taken which measures the number of words memorized by people just after aerobics, increases learning ability by 20%, its effects last for about 2-4 hours. It also increases the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine produced, which alleviates mood.

So the next time you’re confronted with a seemingly impossible problem, go for a run, who knew? Running away from your problems is actually the best way to deal with them.

References :

The Pleasure Trap. (2012, December 5). The Pleasure Trap.

Brain-changing benefits of exercise. (2018, March 21). Exercise and the Brain.

How to keep your brain healthy. (2016, May 16). Healthy Brain.

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