Summer took a while to make itself known here in Los Angeles. Yet when summer finally hit in July, it did so with a vengeance, with parts of Southern California experiencing record-setting temperatures.
We didn’t need much exercise to make us sweat during this stretch of time, but that’s no excuse to skip working out. Not only is sweating good for our bodies, but the workouts that make us sweat are also necessary for our brains.
Your brain on exercise
Consider this 2016 brain-imaging study from the University of Arizona. Running blogger Ben Martynoga notes that the researchers discovered running turns down the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is what our brains do when we’re not focused on any particular thing (such as daydreaming). Instead of our minds creating any number of narratives, regardless of the reality, running calms down this portion of our brain. Pushing your heart rate to its threshold has many positive cognitive and emotional benefits, beyond the cardiovascular effects.
The DMN is responsible for your imagination, for better or worse. On the better side, running is a great activity to lose yourself in, to achieve the “runner’s high.” Running puts you into a flow state, in which the parts of your brain associated with identity and fear are tamped down. The boundaries of self and environment dissolve. Interestingly, the DMN is equally responsible for the not-so-good effects of the imagination. Martynoga notes that it is the culprit behind clinical depression. Letting your mind go doesn’t always end positively.
Yet numerous studies have shown that running helps combat depression, as well. This is true of all aerobic exercise, mindful exercises like yoga and meditation, and—as has been shown more recently—weight training. The team from that last study discovered that regardless of age, gender or health status, resistance exercise training (RET) is “associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.” The largest gains were found in adults with elevated symptoms, which gave the researchers hope that RET “may be particularly helpful for reducing depression symptoms in people with greater depressive symptoms.” They also found that supervised workout sessions resulted in larger gains than in unsupervised sessions. (There’s a reason it’s called “group fitness.”)
Movement is our birthright. Whether we’re pushing our maximum oxygen uptake, taking deep breaths in calm postures or mindfully tearing our muscles with resistance so they recover stronger, pushing our boundaries is mandatory for staying healthy throughout our lives. However we can sweat, we need to do so. Thus, this month’s playlist.
To help you push your boundaries this summer, August’s playlist is filled with high-energy dance tracks to keep you going on the trail or treadmill. The first half of this set is dedicated to African and Latin rhythms. Songs by Duran y Garcia, Silvana Del Gado and Milangos are percussive dance floor tracks locking your mind and legs in sync. The C.I.A. track “Green Africa” is an old favorite of mine from DJing international music parties; it’s a remix of a Fela Kuti classic.
Speaking of classics, “What a Bam” is a house reworking of a 1982 Jamaican super hit by Sister Nancy. From there, we go to Latin cruisers by Mark Knight and Erick Morillo who have kept my high-intensity fitness classes filled with energy. Marco Lys’ reworking of “La Tromba” removes most of the vocals from the original but pushes the boundaries in its own unique way. The Copyright remix of Todd Terry’s “Babarabatiri” is epic.
New tracks by Format:B and Hot Since 82, both of whom have appeared in previous 24Life playlists, represent the hardest push of this set. From there, we tail off with a recent mix using Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes,” which, of course, was made famous by Moby. Speaking of old school, hearing BDP frontman KRS-One on the Low Steppa remix of Robosonic was a nice find of late.
We close with a sweet vocal track by Ferreck Dawn and Felipe Avelar’s “Funky Lowdown,” which is a new take on Aretha Franklin’s 1971 gem “Rocksteady.” It’s a perfect cool-down after an elevated respiration session.
Photo credit: jacoblund, Thinkstock