Mail Call: Exercise Might Just Aid What Ails You

Readers were invigorated by our cover story on the benefits of exercise that reach beyond weight loss and may make us smarter and possibly prevent dread diseases. One exercise enthusiast who came to it later in life said, "And now to find out that we're all smarter because of it—what a bonus!" Another added, "Exercise is the best generic medicine." A 23-year-old who at the age of 11 weighed 163 pounds and is now down to a size 4 wrote, "Those who are overweight and don't enjoy exercise can change. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Not only is losing weight and achieving goals good for your health, it will build your confidence and spill into other areas of life." Another hoped that schools would heed this research at a time when curricular demands diminish time for recess and PE. "In the future, successful schools will have to understand a student's need for fitness and using the body as a learning tool."

Of Sound Body and Mind
Finally, an article about the relationship between exercise and mood—my fitness buddies and I have discussed this for years ("Stronger, Faster, Smarter," March 26). I was not an athletic youth and began a workout regimen solely to get in shape for my 10-year high-school reunion. Almost 20 years and scores of endorphin highs later, I'm still hooked and love the benefits of regular exercise. When my children were young, I joined a gym for pregnant and nursing women and discovered the correlation between exercise and stress relief. When I went back to work full time, I was concerned about how to squeeze in my exercise routine. I now get up at 5 a.m. each weekday and take a spin class at the YMCA. After that kind of workout, I can face anything, including the hectic ritual of getting the kids ready for school. Show me a medication that can do that!
Monica Muehsam
West Grove, Pa.

My oldest brother has been an exercise enthusiast and practitioner since his days of high-school football—running, jogging, brisk-walking, lifting weights for more than 50 years. About two years ago he was diagnosed with a particularly devastating brain disease. He is now in an Alzheimer's care unit, unable to recognize family and friends or even to speak effectively. My conclusions? Exercise is good. Fitness is good. Communicating intelligently and intelligibly is even better. Living a life of loyalty and service to one's family, friends and others is the best. Fortunately, my brother was able to do this, but not as long as we'd have wanted. Exercise does have its limits.
Teresa Tolle
Dallas, Texas

As a registered nurse with years of experience as a diabetes educator and cardiac-rehabilitation specialist, I applaud your informative and timely article on the health benefits of exercise. However, your choice of cover model is oh, so unrealistic for 99.9 percent of us! Most people will react to her Pilates-perfect abs, sculpted biceps and yogic flexibility with a mental "No way, never, not me!" and stay on their couches. A far more attainable picture of fitness would be a fiftyish, somewhat soft, curvy lady in sweatpants, faded T shirt and floppy hat, walking briskly in her neighborhood. Might I volunteer myself?
Nancy Elkin
Agoura Hills, Calif.

I'm proud to be a lifelong physical educator. I've spent my life attempting to dispel the stereotype of the dumb jock. While teaching middle-school PE in the '70s, I observed that academic grouping and PE skills ran hand in hand. The academic elite were always the best PE students and the best athletes. Your article reinforces my observations and my passion for aerobically based PE. I hope all 50 state legislatures start to understand the important link between exercise and academic performance. If data drive decision at the state level, then with the information in this article, state governments should and must begin re-funding PE to a level that matches other important academic areas.
John B. Wiley
Titusville, Pa.

Thanks for the promising article on the benefits of exercise on the body and brain. However, instead of going off to spend more time on machines in the gym, let's part with some machines that make our lives (not our bodies) more efficient. How about washing dishes by hand and washing and waxing our cars manually? We shouldn't forget the movement required by simple tasks like sweeping the floor, raking leaves, walking to a nearby grocery store and carrying our groceries home. And the earth would give us a big thank you on top of it.
Marion Van Namen
Portland, Ore.

Your cover story "Exercise and the Brain" was encouraging. Although I don't recall mention of lap swimming as a recommended form of exercise, it's been my choice for 15-plus years. At 72, I enthusiastically take the plunge several times a week, for no less than an hour nonstop. It is very evident to me that my mood improves after exercising, that I'm more energized and have little desire for food. If I'm unable to swim for a few weeks, mild depression and anxiety cloud my brain until I get into the pool again. Any activity or change in lifestyle that will potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer's or other physical or mental ailment is welcome.
Beverly Andreos
Poway, Calif.

Firing of Eight U.S. Attorneys
The level of deception knows no bounds with this White House ("Disorder in King George's Court," March 26). Right-wing talking heads say past presidents have done the same thing with federal prosecutors, but they don't mention that these were President Bush's own appointees, and that it is very rare indeed for a sitting president to fire his own selections, especially in the middle of his second term. Once appointed, these prosecutors should be lawyers representing the American people, not the Republican or Democratic Party. This administration quite obviously sees it differently. If Alberto Gonzales had known about the reason for the firings, he should resign or be fired. If he didn't know what was happening in his own department, he should resign or be fired.
Chuck Knowlton
Danville, Calif.

Shame on you for not pointing out that President Bill Clinton had all 93 U.S. attorneys fired. The Democrats are hypocrites for wanting to subpoena all involved and making a big deal about it, since back then they did nothing about Clinton's actions. He and Attorney General Janet Reno had no good reason at the time, but certainly political reasons were suspect—same as Alberto Gonzales and Bush. The problem is, Gonzales tried to cover it up. He should have said, "Here are my reasons; Clinton did it, bite me!" (well, in polite political speech). Clinton got rid of attorneys who were making trouble for his equally unethical administration. I'm not a Bush fan, to say the least, but what is going on here is wrong.
Catherine Cendroski
Marina, Calif.

Even if they are confirmed by the Senate, the appointments of U.S. attorneys are unavoidably political. No president can possibly know all these men and women personally, so the names of prospective appointees are sent to him by local party leaders. This ensures that political connections are the prime factor and that political favoritism, if not corruption, will at some point produce questionable, if not illegal, behavior. The obvious solution is to have the U.S. attorneys elected, as many local district attorneys are. They would not then be perfect, but the need to run on their records and their ambition for higher office would help ensure that their political loyalty does not overpower their devotion to justice.
Jefferson Chase
Woodside, N.Y.

Seeking a Cure for Cancer
Cancer is fundamentally a disease of our genes. For decades, medical researchers have found cancer genes one at a time. With the completion of the Human Genome Project—which defines the universe of all human genes—along with powerful new research technologies, we can now search for all the genetic errors involved in cancer at once. That's the goal of The Cancer Genome Atlas. Sharon Begley's column suggests TCGA cannot succeed ("This Is No Way to Cure Cancer," March 26). We disagree. We've consulted hundreds of the leading cancer experts; we've done the critical thinking needed to launch this study, and now it is time to be bold. One in three women and one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes; each day, more than 1,500 Americans will die. There is no time to dawdle. NIH is uniquely poised for just this kind of high-risk, high-reward science. Future generations will not judge any of us kindly if we miss this historic opportunity.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
John E. Niederhuber, M.D. Director, National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, Md.

Sharon Begley's attack on the national Institutes of Heath's plan to survey many cancers for genetic damage misrepresents the situation. There is overwhelming evidence that we can identify crucial cancer-causing mutations and use this information to improve the control of cancer. The NIH's plan emerged from a process involving many leading scientists and was not imposed by any bureaucracy or advocacy group. The planners recognized the project's difficulties and are addressing technical issues and costs through pilot projects. But, even at current estimates, the project would require no more than half of 1 percent of the NIH budget over the next 10 years. The criticisms Begley quotes are reminiscent of attacks made 20 years ago about the plan for a Human Genome Project. Fortunately, the skeptics did not prevail then, and the Genome Project is now the foundation for much medical progress. Not to pursue this new project, when cancer cases continue to increase, would be irresponsible.
Harold Varmus, M.D.
President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
New York, N.Y.

The Colorful World of Disney
In "making a royal debut" (Periscope, March 26) I read about Maddy, the first black Disney princess. I'm glad to finally see an African-American princess, but you said that Maddy is the third one—after Mulan and Jasmine—of color. As a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, I'm disappointed you left out Native American Princess Pocahontas.
Adrianne V. Locklear
Pembroke, N.C.

Gingrich's Bad Deeds
Perhaps the republican primary electorate should be concerned with the enormous hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich's behavior ("Learning the Meaning of the Word Repentance," periscope, March 19). He impeached a president for lying about an affair. He spent millions of taxpayer dollars and the time of Congress and the nation, all while he was up to the same thing! To forgive bad deeds is Christian; to reward them apparently could soon be known as Republican.
Tonn Pastore
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

When I read about how newt Gingrich may have offended the religious right because of his now admitted extramarital affair, I was offended myself. I'm a fairly liberal Democrat who believes that women have the right to get abortions and that premarital sex is not a bad thing. But I believe that people who cheat on their spouses are (pardon the politically incorrect adjective) "immoral" and that someone who lies and cheats on his spouse might lie and cheat about other things as well. A simple "I'm sorry" or "I have asked God's forgiveness" doesn't cut it with me. I sure hope political pundits don't overlook the fact that it's not only the religious right who may be offended by immoral behavior.
Robert Hallock
Baltimore, Md.

Loving the Literary Landscapez
As I read "our books, ourselves" (the boomer files, March 19), on books that shaped a generation, I'm sitting on my deck, eating sunflower seeds, surrounded by post-Katrina devastation and misery when suddenly I am transported. I am in my childhood city library, looking through the coverless, worn volumes of "Dr. Doolittle," "The Secret Garden" and "The Black Stallion." I'm in my old room, looking in my bottom drawer for the copy of "Tropic of Cancer" that was hidden under my pa-per dolls. Mom confiscated it. I'm driving in my VW van, my copy of "Be Here Now" beside me, its blue spine split in two from wear. I'm going through chemo, feeling and looking like Gollum, reading through tears and laughter "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." I'm 57 years old and not sure which I'll need, thick glasses, large print or both, but one thing is certain. I will never stop reading. Thanks for a wonderful afternoon.
Mary Wilson
Pass Christian, Miss.