Not a dry eye in my house. Paralympics, pain and plasticity.

I LOVE the Olympics. And didn’t London put on a stellar show – I have really enjoyed watching you Brits hold up the mirror and get rather surprised at how good you really are at stuff – the Olympic medal haul from Team GB was truly magnificent of course. I remember how Uber-Australian we all became during and for a while after the Sydney 2000 Games, and it was fabulous to see that happening for your mob.

I enjoyed the incredible feats of human ability of course. Watching Usain sprint was like watching a cheetah. Seeing the rowers or canoeists move swiftly across the water like a single multilimbed stealth bug, the divers carve through the water like bullets – etc etc. I love it. I can’t wait for Rio. However, the thing that seems to have taken us all by storm during London2012 has been the Paralympics – a hearty congratulations to the Brits for bringing the Paralympics up a notch in our consciousness – the ads went viral

and somehow managed to integrate the truly superhuman feats with the personal stories of tragedy – very courageous and for mine, very effective advertising.

Our ABC television covered the Paralympics reasonably well and it was glorious to be able to go from sport to sport without any commercial breaks. The challenge however, was to be able to convince my beautifully sensitive daughter that I was actually enjoying it – every night there would be some amazing feat, some unbridled joy and self-astoundment, that I would not just tear up, but even get the facial contractions of a pre-sob.

This must, I figure, be very good for me – to experience such elation when watching another human do something gobsmackingly excellent, surely must stir good chemicals, activate good biological pathways – promote health. Which brings me to the trigger for this blog post – Dr Matt Howard from the Section of Pain Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, sent me this link ‘Broadcasters must seize on this surge in interest‘ and commented that it had him thinking about neuroplasticity, mirror neurones, behavioural relevance. It got me going too – could it be possible that this mix of personal story, pain, athletic supremity, unbridled elation and self-efficacy could take us to a new place biologically? A neurogenic, neuroplastic, anti-inflammatory state in which adaptation is optimised?

We do know that emotional engagement and exercise foster neurogenesis/plasticity and I don’t know of any mix of these that is quite so ‘recovery-oriented’ as my nightly paralympics sessions. Perhaps we should lift the heart rate doing something truly challenging, watch some Paralympics, and then do our rehab/cognitive/motor/conceptual training. Perhaps we should have posters of Matthew Cowdrey, Jacqui Freney and Jessica Long on our clinic walls and on the back of our cereal packs.