Simple movement has profound effect on health
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
I often ponder about which lifestyle changes have the most profound effect on health prevention and treatment?
I believe that for most people, movement would rank first, perhaps competing with emotional health and nutrition for top spots.
I prefer the term movement rather than exercise. Lifestyle changes that are aimed only to include exercise are often too limiting and too intimidating. Exercise usually implies an activity that is set apart from daily tasks of living. Often this means scheduling yet another event in our busy lifestyles such as driving to the gym before or after work. Although this can be an excellent form of movement, let's look at additional ways to incorporate movement into our everyday routines, and why moving our body is so important for our health.
Whether it's to restore or to maintain optimal health, addressing the lymphatic system is an important aspect of every treatment plan. Like our veins, arteries and our nerves, the lymphatic system is another net-like system in the body. It's most important functions include:
- carrying out immune responses
- transporting dietary lipids (fats, cholesterol and lipid-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K)
- draining wastes away from our tissue.
The lymphatic fluid (or lymph) is not pumped through the body like blood. Rather it depends on the contraction from our skeletal muscles. This "milking action" is what allows lymph to drain from our limbs. If there were no movement, the lymph would pool and become stagnant. This can cause edema (local swelling which commonly occurs around the ankles) thereby preventing the transport of waste products away from the body.
Decreased lymph flow can also lead to a decreased effectiveness in immune responses. So move your limbs to move your lymph.
Chronic pain is becoming an epidemic. Whether it's due to diseases such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, or residual from a trauma (like a car accident), reducing pain can significantly improve quality of life.
Key aspects of my chronic pain program include getting circulation back to the painful area by moving the affected muscle or joint (starting at whatever intensity, range of motion, and type of movement that is most appropriate to each individual).
The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses and individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations provides good adjunctive treatments to decrease pain so that movement can even become possible.
Implementing movement within everyday activities rather than exercise has additional benefits in reducing pain. Exercises that are too task- and goal-oriented can remind someone too much of his/her illness or pain, thereby reinforcing the pain cycle in the body.
For example, one can choose to do yoga specifically for back pain (such that during the yoga session one focuses on poses specifically to 'fix' the back ache) or one can decide that the yoga practice is to benefit of the whole body thereby shifting the emphasis away from the pain.
Choosing the whole body approach can generate faster results to decrease pain.
Recommended ways to move your body
Circle the ones that you are interested in and try one this week.
Walk moving your arms and legs simultaneously. A healthy goal is to walk at a moderate intensity 20 minutes daily, or 40 minutes four times per week.
A recent study defined moderate intensity as being equivalent to a brisk walk, or about 1,000 steps every 10 minutes. Consider buying a pedometer, which measures how many steps you take a day, and gradually increase the number of steps you take every day. If you're lucky enough to be walking distance to any malls, grocery stores, banks, etc., walk to do errands instead of driving.
This is an excellent alternative to walking when weight-bearing exercises are less tolerable.
This is a fun activity for the whole family to enjoy together. For those more enthusiastic, start bicycling to work. Being well-equipped is key. Use good quality fenders to prevent splashes from water kicked up by your wheels, and use a rear rack that can hold pannier bags.
If you haven't planned a garden yet, it's not too late. Moving soil around, weeding, and planting incorporates a lot of movement with the additional reward of enjoying a beautified natural landscape as well as tasty fresh produce.
* Yoga, Qi Gong, or Tai Chi:
These practices are geared to moving all body parts in a gentle, yet effective manner. There are many forms and styles of each of these, therefore try a class to determine which one you're most in tuned with.
Additional tips to move your body
Circle ones that you are interested in and try one this week.
- Schedule walk & talk dates with your friends or family.
- Take short breaks throughout the day at work to either walk outside or to stretch near the desk. This tip is invaluable for releasing tension in the body due to work-related stress or repetitive movements.
- Play with kids. They're enthusiasm is often enough to get you moving.
- If you are pregnant, is it recommended to maintain (rather than increase) your movement routine.
- Increase whatever physical activity you are currently doing by adding 10 minutes a day, or increase the intensity from low to moderate. If you have heart disease or other chronic disease, it is important that you talk to your medical doctor and naturopathic doctor before adopting significant changes in your movement routine.
- Limit time spent online, watching TV, and playing video games to one to two hours per day, or less. A good alternative, for example, is to take a walk in the evening after dinner (a time often used to decompress in front of the TV).
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or get off one floor earlier and take the stairs to the last floor.
- Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk to your destination. This actually saves time because you don't have to drive around looking for the perfect parking spot. No doubt this can prove to be difficult with small children and for purchases that are too cumbersome to carry.
- Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
- View household chores in a different light. Whether it's dusting, vacuuming, weeding, cooking, washing dishes, these activities can burn calories and increase blood and lymphatic circulation.
- Use an exercise machine (e.g. treadmill, bike) while watching TV.
- Take "active" vacations -- go camping, hiking, bicycling, or learn a new sport such as surfing or snorkeling.
- Metro Moncton has countless public trails for outdoor walking. To name a few: Mapleton Park Trails, Centennial Park Trails, Irishtown Nature Park Trails, and Dobson Trial.
- Develop your movement routine outside as often as possible. Fresh air along beaches, forest trails, or mountains is especially invigorating.
Spring is a great time to incorporate movement. Moderate intensity movement improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, moves lymph, burns excess weight, brings fresh nutrients to all your cells, allows waste to move out, increases mood, and can be social, fun and easy.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday May 27th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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