Movement as Medicine
A Universal Antidote to Aging
Have you ever compared the benefits of a walk around the park with taking an anti-inflammatory medication? How about correlating a game of hopscotch with high bone density? Many of us are very compliant when following a drug, herbal or vitamin prescription, but when our health care practitioner recommends exercise as a treatment, we too often accept that information with a shrug. It just doesn’t seem as critical. Yet, just as chemicals may affect specific body tissues, so do different machines, movements and modes of exercise.
A healthy body is a fine-tuned mechanism, circulating essential blood, lymph and electrical impulses efficiently. While we may accept the belief that our circulation invariably degrades as we get older, it is really that we move less and allow our muscles to tighten. Muscles are the main force generators in the body, supporting the circulation of fluids and affecting the number of calories burned; constriction of muscles contributes to a decrease in both.
Anyone, at any age, can turn to exercise for movement’s natural, rich supply of anti-aging properties, but be aware that not all exercise is equal. It is vital that we select the best program for us, one that gives us what we need to maintain a healthy, youthful body without causing problems like a stressed immune system and degenerating joints.
-- Save your joints and stretch. Human muscle tissue doesn’t change much over a lifetime; an anatomical science journal, Muscle & Nerve, reports that under a microscope, scientists can’t tell if they are looking at 18- or 80-year-old muscle. What they can see are the effects of inflexibility and tension around the joints that causes them to wear down and age us. The solution is to find a yoga or stretching class or home video and attend to it at least a few minutes every day.
-- Take a daily walk. Get those arms swinging and keep your legs extended, in order to stretch behind the knees while walking. Although one long walk is great for endurance, research from the American College of Nutrition shows that two or more shorter walks taken throughout the day may be even better for weight loss, cardiovascular health and overall metabolism.
-- Use it or lose it. Preventing the loss of your ability to get down to the floor and then stand back up again. This is a tough, whole-body, strength generating workout. Repeat it 10 times to feel an instant, healthful increase in body heat and breathing rate.
-- Choose a lighter activity. Multiple studies from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise show that the many benefits of lighter activity include an improved immune system. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a correlation exists between heavy exercise and upper respiratory tract infection. Walking is one example of a lighter exercise that meets your whole-body movement needs without compromising health.
-- Find a good exercise teacher. A 2009 study published in Clinical Rehabilitation that compared the effectiveness of unsupervised versus supervised exercise programs, found more desirable improvements in balance, functional mobility, flexibility and strength in the group that met regularly in a private session or group class format.
-- Pay attention to alignment. Just as you wouldn’t continue to drive your car around with poor wheel alignment and expect optimum performance, so proper alignment of your skeleton can have an instant impact on the health of all tissues. Find an alignment specialist who can point out a few of your postural anomalies, and work together to improve them.
-- Minimize exercises that can wear down joints. Artificial walking patterns caused by treadmills and other cardio machines significantly increase the tension in the joints of the hips and knees. Rather, choose an aesthetically pleasing walking path around the neighborhood or opt for an indoor track or, in inclement weather, the local mall.
-- Mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind in a healthy body is the goal. According to the Gerontological Society of America, consistent exercise at midlife may reduce the odds of dementia in older adulthood. Make exercise time a daily habit in your own and your family’s schedule.
-- Movement isn’t a luxury. The human body requires daily, hourly movement to optimize longevity, as well as youthful strength and flexibility. It doesn’t cost much to take a walk or to stretch your arms, legs and spine throughout the day, and the dividends are magnificent. Start by incorporating one “prescribed” anti-aging activity at a time, until you have a rich and well developed habit of taking your “movement vitamins.” It is absolutely possible to feel more energetic and vital now than you did 10 years ago, if you choose well.
Katy Bowman, a biomechanics scientist, has a master’s degree in kinesiology and is director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, CA. She has created the Aligned and Well™ DVD series to educate people about how their bodies work, so they can make informed decisions. Learn more at KatySays.com and RestorativeExercise.com.