Tag Archives: intrinsic

The Benefits of Exercise (besides the fact that it can be fun!)

This post is thanks to guest blogger David Haas, who is passionately and actively raising awareness about the benefits of exercise, eating healthily, and making use of a support network for dealing with diagnosis and treatment of cancer. You can read more by David and other bloggers at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

Reasons to Continue Fitness Following a Cancer Diagnosis

Years ago it was common practice for people diagnosed with cancer to be asked to restrict their activity levels in favor of resting and relaxing. While rest is an important component of working through cancer treatment, too much inactivity can result in negative consequences such as reduced range of motion, loss of function and depression. Many organizations and research foundations now stress the importance of exercise following a diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer or any other type of cancer. Participating in regular physical fitness activities can supply you with physical and emotional benefits that serve to help you before, during and after cancer treatment.

Maintain Range of Motion

Over time, inactivity causes joints and muscles to feel stiff. The lack of exercise leads to decreased range of motion as muscle atrophy sets in and you become less flexible. Exercise is to your joints like oil is to a car engine. To keep your joints flexible and pain-free, you have to move them and keep them well-conditioned. By incorporating strength exercises into your physical fitness routine you can support the joints with the surrounding muscle tissue.

Build Strength

In addition to the strength your body needs to get through daily activity, it also needs extra strength and stamina to deal with the fatigue experienced during cancer treatment. Use light weights every other day to strengthen your arm and leg muscles, at the very least. Exercise DVDs can serve as an effective guide to help you build muscle strength. Even 10 minutes three times per week is sufficient to see improvement in your strength and stamina.

Reduce Treatment Side Effects

Cancer patients experience treatment side effects to varying degrees, but nausea, dizziness and fatigue are common side effects experienced by most people. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to help fight fatigue by energizing your body in a sustained manner. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi can help you relax and are also effective for fighting nausea. Go slowly and exercise whenever you are able. Breaking up 30 minutes of exercise into three 10-minute segments throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.

Encourage Empowerment

Feeling empowered to do something about your health is critical to your overall wellness. Regular physical activity makes you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, and you are. As physical activity lifts your mood and makes your body feel stronger, it also gives you greater hope and confidence.

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a tremendous impact on your life but you have the power to fight back and work toward wellness through regular physical fitness. As you exercise regularly, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of greater physical conditioning as well as a stronger emotional state. No matter where you’re at in your fight against cancer, fitness and exercise can prove to be one of the greatest tools of empowerment and well-being. Use this tool regularly to help you move away from a mindset of illness toward one of well-being.


I can attest to David’s advice. In the spring of 1998 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Following a summer of treatment, I wound up with radiation pneumonitis (pneumonia contracted due to radiation that reached a lung), and also managed to contract Lyme Disease. Health wise, it was a discouraging 12 months.

In an early 1999 issue of Cooking Light, I came upon a small ad for the Danskin Triathlon. The Danskin seemed the perfect way to kick me out of my health doldrums, and I wound up participating in four Danskins beginning with 1999. Having a goal, enlisting friends to help with achieving it, and following through, made a hugely positive difference in my recovery. 

And if you are looking for a way to get started, you might start simply with SuperBetter, an online game designed to help “you achieve your health goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.”



Entangled and entwined. The brain and the body. They need and feed upon each other. So it is with the meshing of my interests.

I began this blog as “the graduate course I’d love to take if it existed as a program and was local to where I live.” My plan was to learn as much as possible about the brain, beginning with its physiology, as compiled in Brain 101.

The more I learned about the brain, the more I began to associate ideas and information with the practice of learning and teaching. After all, I had been teaching children and adults for many years (this is the start of my 30th year!) and it seemed about time that I consciously considered the underpinnings of those processes.

From there my interests morphed into professional development and, specifically, adult learning and keeping the aging brain healthy, creative and stimulated. I thoroughly and emphatically enjoy planning and providing learning opportunities for adults. This is quite selfish, actually. I feel good when I can help empower others. I feel good when I have a creative challenge (to plan and provide the PD). I feel good when I can help adults enhance their brain health.

However, the brain does not live in a vacuum, so it was simply a matter of time before my interest in the human body – the receptacle housing the brain and very much involved in a co-dependent relationship – manifested itself. Seven years of practicing yoga (for stress relief, for comfort, for physical and mental well-being) collided gently and smoothly with my interest in the brain and human anatomy. More selfishness. I feel good when I can help kids and adults understand their brains and their bodies, and improve their overall health.

Meshed. Meshing.

And wouldn’t you know it…this is my 400th Neurons Firing post. Gotta’ love those round numbers!

John Medina’s Mindset

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

So…if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing ~ you’d design a frickin classroom!

Yes, that is exactly what John Medina said at the beginning of his talk. John Medina (a “developmental molecular biologist by training”) has much to share, says it succinctly and with wit, and shares it willingly both in his book, 12 Brain Rules, and in talks. Here he is (scroll to the 30 minute mark) at the iste 2011 Conference in Philadelphia, talking about “how the formal brain sciences might influence how we teach people, particularly for people who are interested in using information technology of a wide variety of stripes to aid learning”.

I have written several times about Medina. It’s not so much that what he has to say is novel, for I’ve heard similar ideas elsewhere, but he knows how to share with passion and in a way that engages, making it easier to learn and thus to remember.

See any of Medina’s brain rules in action in his above talk?

Quest for a Community of Practice

Jane McGonigal, in Reality is Broken, notes that among well-designed games there is always some sort of quest.

A quest is a journey to accomplish a task. Completing the quest often provides the participant, in this case the gamer, with a sense of satisfaction. And the more epic the quest, the more satisfying the accomplishment. The game design typically impacts the motivation of the person playing, and most of the better designed games inspire intrinsic motivation on the part of the gamer.

The other day, @alexragone tweeted:

@brainbits @fredbartels Just got to the player investment design lead in #realityisbroken How can we design OPuS courses with this in mind?

OPuS is the Online Progressive unSchool being developed by Fred, and he describes it as:

an education environment in which learners work together to discover and develop what Ken Robinson calls their element, or what many of us call, their passion.

OPuS supports communities of practice in which teachers and students with shared interests collaborate to develop mastery of their chosen element, and as part of that process, work to make the world a better place.

Additional information about OPuS is available in this Prezi. (By the way, Fred replied to Alex that OPuS is Communities of Practice, not courses.)

Alex’s tweet got me thinking about Fred’s description, and how it meshes with much of what Jane McGonigal describes as being the important factors in game design. The “player investment design lead” refers to a job description at the game designer Bungie, of Halo fame. The person in this position

directs a group of designers responsible for founding a robust and rewarding investment path, supported by consistent, rich and secure incentives that drive player behavior toward having fun and investing in their characters and then validates those systems through intense simulation, testing and iteration. (page 244)

McGonigal concludes that, based upon the job description above, the goal is to design a game in such a way that “participants should be able to explore and impact a ‘world’, or shared social space that features both content and interactive opportunities.” She then notes the additional characteristics of such a game:

  • participants will be able to create and develop a unique identity
  • participants will see the bigger picture
  • the only reward is participation in good faith
  • the emphasis is on making the content and experience intrinsically rewarding

Hmm, a well designed community of practice has a guide to steer the process. The members of the community are self-selecting participants because they share an interest in a particular passion and know that by participating they will enhance both their own and everyone else’s understanding of the topic. The participation happens individually and collaboratively, in physical spaces and interactive virtual social spaces. And the quest to learn is its own reward.

In another tweet, @alexragone wrote:

More on definition of student engagement:  https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Student_engagement#Indicators#isedchat

Sounds to me like a well-designed game and a community of practice share many of the traits that encourage student engagement.

Got Game? Got Reality?

For five days in a row I was wakened by the phone ringing early in the morning, someone on the other end gleefully stating: School is closed due to a snow day. It was winter 1993 or 1994, and we had a week of knee deep snow. For me, this meant a week of total immersion in Myst, played on our Macintosh LC 520 (our first Mac).

Equipped with my computer, the game, the journal, and my telephone, I spent hours upon hours navigating the terrain of this beautifully developed graphic world, searching for and solving the myriad puzzles, and taking detailed notes about where I was, what I was doing, and what I uncovered. While I was busy in my world of Myst, colleagues and students were busy on their home computers exploring their world of Myst. Anytime any one of us was stumped, help was just a phone call away. We were collectively immersed in this digital world that was playing out individually on each of our own computers; yet our collaborative problem solving was making this digital world seem real.

When we eventually returned to school the following week, we would stop and talk about Myst, sharing tales and descriptions that were equally familiar to each of us, as if we had all vacationed at the same resort. We acknowledged that tremendous satisfaction had come from uncovering and solving puzzles, from our telephone collaborations, and from having this shared yet individual experience.

Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, describes 25 games that are immersive, collaborative and require problems to be solved. While these types of digital gaming are not new – as a teenager, our older son was attending and hosting lanfests in the late 1990s – McGonigal posits using digital gaming for social good, and all the games she lists are examples of her gaming-fix for a broken reality. (I am already imagining an upper school class on social responsibility, collaborative problem solving, the psychology of motivation and change…using McGonigal’s book along with Nudge and Drive.)

What fascinates me about her book is the discussion of gaming and the brain, specifically the positive feelings that game playing can produce and the role of intrinsic motivation. All these years later, I can still recall the euphoria felt while playing Myst.

McGonigal has done her research (noted throughout the book), and when it comes to intrinsic rewards she has concluded there are four categories. Here, from page 49, are the first lines of each of her four descriptions:

First and foremost, we crave satisfying work, every single day.

Second, we crave the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful.

Third, we crave social connection.

Fourth, and finally, we crave meaning, or the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves.

She goes on to note that These four kinds of intrinsic rewards are the foundation for optimal human experience. Of course, it is not always easy or simple for people to engineer their lives to be filled with intrinsic motivation and the resulting intrinsic rewards.

Over the past four years I have explored the idea of motivation, and was reminded of a 2007 post that mentions a psychology book in use at the University of Purdue. The author, Edward Vockell, includes a chart on Intrinsic Motivation that smoothly meshes with the points McGonigal makes about the benefits of gaming.

Ultimately, McGonigal’s belief is that playing immersive, well-designed, collaborative games crafted to promote social well-being can help people to harvest more moments of intrinsic satisfaction and, at the same time, help solve some of the pressing, pending social, economic and climate issues facing the world.

As for my thought about an upper school class – hmm, organizing it in a way to attract gamers, playing the games referenced in McGonigal’s book, reading other books, reflecting, discussing and tapping into the experiences and hopes of these teens…

[April 26, 2011 UPDATE: John Hunter, who is a teacher among his many endeavors, has created the World Peace Game, a simulation that his 4th graders engage in to “explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war.” He gives a TED Talk about the game which gave me (good) chills as I listened.]

The Games of Life

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. There is a reason her book resonated with me, but that reason will have to wait till another post. Meantime, below is the list of games that Jane describes throughout her book. Do any resonate with you? Which ones? Why? (At the end of this post is Jane’s TED Talk, where she describes why game playing makes sense to her.)

[UPDATE June 26, 2011 – McGonigal’s newest game, Find the Future, receives a positive review in the NYT article Putting the Library on Your Smartphone.]

Bounce is designed to help jump start conversations between people of different generations, specifically, between you and people old enough to be your grandparents. You have likely heard of doing random acts of kindnessCruel 2 B Kind takes that idea one step further and turns those random acts into game play. And maybe you just want to make someone feel good? PlusOneMe(+1 me) “helps you acknowledge people’s strengths.” Or maybe you know someone who is not feeling very well, and needs help with recuperating and recovery? Try the game SuperBetter. Here is Jane McGonigal’s six minute Ignite talk describing SuperBetter. 

Chore Wars is the perfect way to get anyone, from a kid to an adult, to do those niggly yet necessary house chores.

Anyone out there who loves to fly? Congratulations if you answered “yes”. Most people I know are reluctant airplane passengers, and if you fall into that category (or even if you love to fly :-), The Day in the Cloud Challenge, created by Google and Virgin America to make your in-flight time more enjoyable, is an “online scavenger hunt played simultaneously in the air”. Another game for flyers is jetset, designed to be played on your mobile phone while in the airport.

Looking for game simulations that will help you make a difference in the future of our world? Try Evoke, “a crash course in changing the world.” Another game along these lines is Lost Joules, a way to get you thinking about your use of electric power. Superstruct was a future-forecasting game designed to get people thinking about problems humanity will face in the future, and brainstorm ways to cope with, solve or maybe even prevent those problems from manifesting. This game was created by the Institute for the Future. One more game is World Without Oil, “a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.” What better way to figure out potential solutions to future problems than to harness people power!

Simply want to volunteer but are dulled by the “same old” types of ideas? Check out sparked, “the microvolunteering network.” You can read more about this idea on the sparked blog.

Back in the days when he lived at home, my older son loaned some of his home computer processing power to SETI@home. Several science departments at the University of Washington have a similar plan for solving science puzzles requiring lots of computing power, in particular the folding of proteins.

Want be less of a home-body? foursquare is designed to get you up and out and socializing. Similarly, if you like to dance or would like to like to dance (!), Top Secret Dance-Off is designed to help you get over your shyness hump when it comes to dancing.

Increase your vocabulary and help donate rice to hungry folks through the World Food Programme with Free Rice.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned a clever alternate reality (ARG) game, Ghosts of a Chance, to help museum goers have an immersive experience with the museum.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s, AKQA, the International Olympic Committee and Jane McGonigal teamed up to create The Lost Ring as a way to give non-Olympians a way to participate more fully in the feel of the games. There is a video and case study of this project available here.

Many of you have probably heard of the marriage of Nike running shoes and an iPod or iPhone to not only provide music while you exercise, but also track your performance. Surely you realized it’s a game!

My younger son would be tickled to know that a game he plays, spore, was included in Jane McGonigal’s list. And why not? It’s all about creating a universe populated by creatures of your own crafting.

If you like playing games, or are just plain curious, the Come Out & Play festival “is an annual festival of street games that turns New York City [or perhaps other cities, as well] into a giant playground.” I haven’t attended this festival, but at a quick glance it reminds me of flash mob games such as The Sound of Music at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium or those organized by Improv Everywhere. A company that organizes games in this genre is slingshot, a British-based company that creates “games for people and cities.” Another company that crafts games of this type is Citizen Logistics, makers of Groundcrew. And yet another, this one based in the United Kingdom, is Hide & Seek.

Speaking of the UK, one of the more intriguing games is Investigate your MP’s expenses, a game designed by the Guardian [a newspaper] to garner citizen assistance in wading through thousands of pages of scanned documents released by Parliament. Apparently, a number of British MPs had rather high expenses that were not exactly legal… This is an example of how crowdsourcing can be used to enhance citizen participation.

Believe it or not, there is at least one school, Quest to Learn, that translates “the underlying forms of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders.” You can read more about Q2L in their Overview. If anyone knows of other schools like this, please add them in a comment below. Thanks!

Here is McGonigal’s 2010 TED Talk: Gaming can make a better world.

Good for the body, good for the brain, good for the planet

Michael Pollan talked passionately at PopTech 2009 about helping the environment and feeding our bodies: we help sustain the earth, and the food we harvest can help sustain us!

Eat Food ~ Not too much ~ Mostly plants

grow gardens ~ home cook meals ~ eat with people

Dan Buettner, National Geographic writer and explorer, talks about the “Blue Zones” in the world, places where people are healthily living into their hundreds. What’s their secret? What are the commonalities between each of these geographically disparate communities (Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, United States)?

Move Naturally

Right Outlook:  Downshift ~ Purpose Now

Eat Wisely:  Wine @5 ~ Plant Slant ~ 80% Rule

Connect:  Loved Ones First ~ Belong ~ Right Tribe

[UPDATE: February 2, 2010 – The 6th grade Science teacher at my school quite enjoyed Dan’s talk. Turns out the teacher has been referencing the “Blue Zones” with his classes, and they have followed Dan and his team of researchers as they visited Italy and Greece in 2007. This teacher pointed me to The Longevity Game. While this is a PR device for an insurance company, playing the game does get you to stop and think about your lifestyle and how it impacts your health.]