I had just finished speaking to a large audience about the remarkable effects of exercise on behaviour, learning and the brain when one of the attendees, Rob, approached me and said, “Dr Bardsley I would like to share a story with you.”
Rob began, “My son Chad never had a learning or behavioural problem. He was a well-adjusted, outgoing boy who always enjoyed school and was a solid B student. All that changed the moment he entered the sixth grade. By the second week, he began complaining of stomach pains and headaches. He became quiet and withdrawn and did not want to attend school. We made two visits to the family physician but he could find no cause for Chad’s symptoms. The physician suggested trying out anti-depressants; we declined. His attendance and grades continued to plummet. His school was the same and he knew most of his teachers and classmates from the previous years. There was no explanation for what was happening and we were extremely worried.
“At the end of the second month, I overheard Chad speaking to someone on the phone. He was saying, ‘Well I guess I’m so fat because I eat too much.’ When he had finished, I asked him who he was talking to. It was his best friend John.
‘What were you talking about,’ I asked.
‘Well, he was asking me why I was so fat, he replied.’
‘Does anyone else ever ask you that?’
‘Yeah, all the kids do.’
“During my summer vacation, I normally took the family on a camping-hiking trip for three weeks. That summer, I worked instead of taking the trip as finances were tight. Chad had spent the summer watching TV, playing video games and hanging out with friends. He had gained 13lbs [about 6kg] on top of his already stocky build and it really stood out. I told him he needed to start exercising and that I would help him with it. I also told him that there would be no more screen time unless he earned it. For each half hour of exercise he would be allowed a half hour of screen time. We decided to start running three mornings a week [Mon-Wed-Fri]. For me, this meant getting up at 5:30 in the morning to be able to reach work on time.
“We mapped out a course of one mile [1.6km]. At first, we had to run-walk-run-walk. It wasn’t Chad who had to walk; it was me. I did not realise how much weight had crept on over the years and just how out of shape I had become. By week three, we were able to run the whole distance. Shortly after, we added another half mile to our course. Gradually, we started running three miles [4.8km]. Then, we concentrated on lowering our time. In just four and a half months, my outgoing happy son was back. No more stomach pain or headaches. He once again enjoyed school and was soon back to being a solid B student.
“His mother and I had no idea that being teased or bullied about his weight could have caused such a dramatic change in his behaviour and personality, but all that was behind us now. Chad had shed 16 lbs [7.2kg], three pounds more than the weight he had gained! And I had lost 18.”
Several members of the audience had gathered around, while Rob told the story. When he finished one of them said, “You’re an amazing father Rob; I don’t think I could ever do that. It would take six alarm clocks just to wake me up at 5:30.” “Actually” said Rob, “I had to set three alarms for the first two months but now I don’t need anything.”
That’s because you have reset your biological clock.” I explained. “No” said Rob, “I still hate getting up that early, but every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30am, a small finger pokes me in the shoulder, ‘Get up Dad, it’s time for our run’.”