Monday, November 28, 2016

Stuff I Learned - Week #14

This past week of school was significantly shortened by the Thanksgiving holiday. As a result, I learned about 60% less than most other weeks. Despite the paucity of class time, there was still plenty of work to do and stuff that I learned.

For this week's blog, I have been debating whether to write about basal ganglia or diabetes. Writing about basal ganglia would reference my neural control course, whereas writing about diabetes would refer to my exercise physiology course. For a couple of reasons, I've not written very much about my neural control course thus far this semester.

As far as coursework, neural control is more closely related to my research interests than exercise physiology. That being said, I've aways loved to move my body and work out. And the exercise physiology course has focused on what happens while moving the body and working out! I've found this exercise physiology course to be personally very interesting, and the material also potentially interesting to those that are fond of yoga and other physical activities.

As the name may imply, neural control can be pretty technical. By studying various neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, and deafferentation, our class has been learning about the various brain structures and neural circuits that underlie our sensing of the world and how we move through our world. Fascinating stuff!

Next semester I anticipate significantly deepening my understanding of neural control by being a teaching assistant (TA) for an undergraduate neural control course. I imagine that I'll come away from Spring semester with a much richer understanding of movement and its neural signaling. It's been said; if you really want to understand something, teach it!

Along with TA-ing neural control next semester, I'll also be taking a graduate-level neuroscience course, systems neuroscience. The systems neuroscience course has humbled people far more intelligent than me, so I'm girding myself for a busy semester of memorizing. While the price of admission to systems neuroscience seems to be a daunting amount of work, the payback promises to be incredibly rich - I've long desired a better understanding of the brain circuitry that underlies the richness of our lives.

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with basal ganglia or diabetes? Well, the short answer is that this blog posting, at least thus far, has had virtually nothing to do with either one! So, I'd best get to work - and write a bit about diabetes.

I took away three primary points from the recent lecture on T2DM (Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus). The first two points weren't really new information, but rather a clearer presentation on material that I'd heard before.

The primary causes of T2DM are lack of physical activity and obesity. There are certainly other factors at play in the increasing incidence of T2DM (such as familial history, ethnic predispositions, etc.), though being obese and sedentary overwhelmingly increases the risk of developing T2DM. I had heard this before, though it was a good reminder to keep moving and to avoid regaining the 40-pounds that I recently lost.

A point about diabetes that I did not know, is that T2DM is largely caused by inflammation. And the cause of this inflammation is the obesity. I was unawares that obesity, on its own, elevated systemic inflammation in such a significant way. Simply being obese elevates inflammation, and this uptick in inflammation can lead to the body's tissues becoming resistant to insulin.

The resultant resistance to insulin can change how blood vessels respond to stimulus, including exercise. With diabetes, the endothelial tissues of the blood vessels (a fancy name for the specialized tissues that line blood vessels) no longer appropriately dilate, which hinders the body's natural responses to exercise. Net result - a person with insulin resistance may feel more tired and depleted from exercise, and then is less likely to stick with an exercise routine. A downward spiral!

Diabetes has become a worldwide epidemic, and while diabetes can be effectively managed, the long-term side effects continue to extract a heavy toll. Diabetes-related issues in circulation can cause kidney damage, loss of eyesight, neuropathy, and amputation... to name a few. Diabetes is a much larger subject than this blog can handle, though I'm hoping that a couple of points can emerge from this brief discussion.
  • Keep moving! In particular, keep up with your aerobic conditioning and strength training. These are the only two paths of exercise/movement that have been shown to both treat and prevent diabetes.
  • Stay trim. While I'm heartened to see the great strides that are being made in body-acceptance, I hope that we don't lose sight of the fact that obesity significantly increases the risks of developing serious health problems. Serious health problems! Staying at a healthy weight remains an important predictor of good health.

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