Monday, 22 September 2008

Maintain your strengths to live long and prosper

Ok, anyone who reads my blog knows that I have a load of theories and ideas. Well here's another one to try out and see if it floats or sinks.

I've mentioned before in the article 'What makes us kick the bucket' that it's possible that our bodies simply keep going until something happens that interrupts the normal processes of life and the body simply cannot carry on. Something like a blood vessel supplying the heart or brain, something like that.

I've also talked about the way fitness of mind and body is very much a 'use it or lose' scenario. There's nothing in our genes that robs us of fitness and health as we age. Our limits aren't as high, that's been shown, but we're talking the difference between running a marathon in 2 hours when you're young and maybe 2:30 or 3 hours when you're older, the message being you can still run a marathon. If you can run a marathon you can do pretty much anything else. Everything confirms that if you stimulate your body and keep pushing it regularly it will respond and stay strong and healthy.

So why is it that when we get old so few of us are able to run or swim or dance that much? What generally happens is that life gets in the way and we find it harder and harder to fit in those things that kept us fit when we were kids. Playing around. Walking to school. Playing tag. Ok we're adults and we don't do those things but there are adult equivalents. We just have so much responsibility and so many other things open to us and expected of us that we don't worry about keeping active.

Also it's down to general attitudes. When we're young our bodies take care of themselves. We don't do anything to help them. When we get older our bodies are designed to need more maintenance but we're not used to thinking about this, we generally still assume that

  • a) people get unfit when they get old any way, 
  • b) there's nothing we can do about it 
  • and c) it's not going to make a difference right away

The body is constantly dealing with situations that aren't supposed to happen. From illness, to accidents (broken bones etc), to internal problems such as blood clots floating around the body and threatening to get lodged somewhere. This kind of stuff is happening all the time. Probably not every day but on a yearly or monthly basis your body is managing a whole bunch of dangerous situations, often without you even being aware. Diabetes type 2 and strokes are conditions that arise from an underlying set of problems. That show how serious things can become when your body is unable to deal with basic functionality of certain organs.

So your body is constantly working to keep things functioning well and adapts to constant stressors. The thing is that as the years go by our bodies need more attention and maintenance but our lifestyles normally emphasis less and less focus on maintaining ourselves, we focus on our kids, our parents, our mortgages and jobs. Our bodies come last. Since we don't maintain them well they gradually lose their ability to deal with these daily and monthly stresses.

In other words many organs are no longer well maintained or fit for purpose. In turn because our bodies aren't functioning so well we don't feel as fit and healthy as we did in our youth. Because this is happening to most people our age we assume it's normal and part of life. We get resigned to it.

As this progresses the point at which your body or a particular organ is unable to overcome one of these stresses or problems gets closer. So our limits are getting reduced and our ability to overcome problems is lower. Eventually something gives and we suffer a stroke or heart attack or develop other problems and this is the beginning of the end. Pretty morbid stuff but that's what happens.

Anyway, to lighten the atmosphere. What can we do about it?
Yep you've guessed it, move!!!! really, you mean it's that simple? Well yes and no.

I don't believe in taking pills or quick fixes because our bodies are extremely complex. It's very unlikely one pill can fix all the problems in exactly the right way. I believe in evolution and that we have evolved with basic solutions that are adapted to our needs. We're still hunter gatherers by design. We just don't hunt or gather, we surf and greet the mail man to get stuff and we microware and serve to feed ourselves. It's so much easier these days.

So the biggest change in western lifestyles in the last century is not our intake it's our outgoings. We just move less. We burn less calories and, more importantly our bodies are built to use the natural motion of our daily lives to help get things done.

Why do we cool down after exercise. If we stopped moving straight away then our blood would pool in the muscles. Particularly the lower legs due to gravity. All that blood with waste products from our day needs to get to organs like the liver to be cleaned. To focus on the lower leg for a second the act of walking naturally squeezes the veins running through it and helps pump blood back to the heart and to where it can be cleaned.

In terms of digestion, we do have muscles that move food around our gut in a motion called 'peristalsis' but we benefit a great dealing from natural movement to help the process along. These are just a couple of examples of how a little movement helps the whole of our body and is part of what our bodies expect on a regular basis.

I recommend moving simply because it's natural and available to all of us. It can be free and when done with a little common sense, fits in with the way our bodies are designed to work, not against them. There aren't a huge list of side effects associated with it when do correctly and in balance with our lives.

What kind of movement?
I mean mental, physical and emotional. You can exercise your mind and emotions just like you can your body. I'm not as familiar with the mental and emotional side but I'm going to look into it.

You need intense movement to keep your limits high and develop your ability to deal with stress , you also need medium and low intensity movement so you can just enjoy moving for its own sake. Things like walking just chill you out and provide a nice way of getting from A to B.

I'm going to wrap up now because I feel I've had a decent rant and I feel a natural ending coming up. I hope I've made this idea clear to you. That our bodies don't have a time limit specifically stamped on them. The limit may depend on their ability to get through each day. If we don't maintain them just like we do our treasured cars and houses, then they too succumb to pressures and crumble. With care and maintenance they'll last for years and years.

I feel this puts things into perspective and fits in with what I see around me and what I learn, but is that the same for you?
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