There are many aspects to achieving optimal health but few are as important as exercise. We all know we need it but many people put it in the category of “I will start next week”. Exercise is so much more than just keeping your muscles in shape. Lets take a look at just exactly what exercise does for our body and why it is so important.
THE VASCULAR SYSTEM
One of the most important benefits is the facilitation of fluid movement in the body. Our blood is responsible for transporting nutrition and oxygen to every cell in the body while at the same time removing carbon dioxide and waste products. You can have the best diet in the world but if you don’t get the nutrients to the tissue, the health of that tissue is compromised. Our body, in a large part, depends on muscle contraction to facilitate the movement of fluid (both blood and lymphatic) throughout the body. Without muscle contraction, the venous return becomes sluggish putting increased pressure on the heart to work harder. This translates to higher blood pressure which becomes a long term risk for heart disease. The lymphatic system is just as important. Our lymphatic system is essentially our body’s sewer system, removing dead cells, waste, toxic matter, heavy metals, bacteria, etc. It does not have its own pump system but relies, to a large degree, on muscle contraction to process fluid through the system. Without this movement you can essentially slowly poison yourself.
Another muscle that benefits from exercise is your colon. Exercise increases peristalsis (the movement of waste products) and prevents constipation. One of the most common cancers today is colon cancer and keeping regular (with the help of good fiber, lots of water and exercise) is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your digestive tract.
It is well accepted that the health and density of your bones is greatly enhanced by exercise. Our bodies are constantly breaking down old bone and rebuilding new bone. It is this process that really makes healthy bones and weight bearing exercises are the primary stimulate. (Of course it takes calcium and especially Vitamin D. as well. Winter is coming in the great Northwest and with that comes clouds. Don’t let your Vit. D levels drop this winter; take a good cod-liver oil or a good natural Vit D supplement, about 1000 IUs/day. A lack of Calcium in our diet is rare while Vit D deficiencies are very common in the winter months.) If you read my previous letter on the sun, you will remember that Vit D is also a very strong anti-cancer vitamin.
There is nothing so important as exercise when it comes to losing body fat. Sixty to 70% of the energy your muscles burn is from fat, even while you sleep. Put simply, if you increase your muscle mass, you decrease your percent body fat. This is a no-brainer; lose body fat while you sleep!
THE BENEFITS OF STRENGTH
There are many benefits to strength. One of my primary goals when working with patients is to increase the strength of their spinal muscles. The pain caused by skeletal joint dysfunction and inflammation is what brings patients into my office. This dysfunction can be caused by many different factors from injuries to chronic postural stress to spinal deformities. Chiropractic manipulation is an incredible tool at restoring joint function and relieving soft tissue stress but if there is poor muscle tone the relief you get will most likely be temporary. One of the most common criticism I hear about Chiropractic care is that you get addicted to it and have to keep getting treated to stay pain free. That can be true if you don’t do any exercise or stretches to improve the strength of the tissue. (On the other hand, having a skeletal system that is working optimally will greatly enhance your chances at a successful new exercise program.) Long term stability and a relatively pain free skeletal system depends on exercise and unfortunately, it takes more than just walking the dog to get there. (Not that walking the dog is a bad thing) I often get comments like, “I work in the yard or I am on my feet all day at work and I don’t have the energy to exercise”. What some people don’t realize is that exercise creates energy. The best thing you can do when you feel physically and emotionally spent is to go do a work out of some kind. I promise you; you will feel better when you are done! If you hate gyms, then find something you do like such as yoga or swimming, or aerobic walking with some free weight exercises for your upper body. You can make up a great routine with an exercise ball, some free weights, and some rubber tubing. I personally like having a gym membership because I am more successful at being consistent if I need to make use of something I am paying for. (Nothing like being motivated by economics!) It is too easy to skip a day or a week if you are doing a home routine unless you are more disciplined than the average person. I tell my patients that if they do a work out 3x/week for 3 months consistently, it will make major changes in their mental and physical well being. If you can make it to this point the benefits you feel will be a strong incentive to keep going. A study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which a group of women (ages 50-70) were followed for one year doing a 45 minute resistive wt. training class twice/week. After one year the women emerged physiologically younger by 15-20 years than when they began (measured through blood chemistry etc.) Similar studies with men have shown the same results.
Everyone has heard of the endorphin high. Endorphins (or more appropriately called Endomorphines are endogenous biochemical compounds produced by the pituitary and hypothalamus part of your brain and resemble opiates in their ability to reduce pain and give a sense of well being. There are a number of things that can stimulate the production of these molecules but people often associate them with aerobic exercise. I think aerobic exercise (something that gets your pulse up to 110-120 beats/min for 20 min continuously) is an essential part of any work out. In addition to the endorphin effect, the increased oxygen and blood circulation provides increased nutrition to the tissue as well as a cleansing effect through increased lymphatic circulation. It is also a great way to manage stress and depression.
In addition, exercise (and especially wt. training) stimulates the production of HGH (human growth hormone-the youth hormone) up to 400%. It is said that HGH is one of the most valued hormones for slowing the aging process. (Just think, a little weight training and you could be eternally young!)
–First and foremost, don’t try to force yourself to do something you hate, you will surely set yourself up for failure.
–Consistency is more important than intensity. Start off slow; give your body (ie. muscles) time to adjust to the stress of exercise. Always, always, always, make stretching part of your routine. Overly tight muscles can lead to inflammation and joint pain with the stress of exercise. (Of course you can always call me if this happens!) With wt lifting, use a wt that feels easy on the first two sets of 10 reps and starts to get a little heavy in the third set. Increase very slowly in 5-10 lb increments. (It would not be unusual to stay at the same wt for several weeks.) It really takes very little wt. resistance to tone a muscle. Again, consistency is more important! If you have never worked with wt. machines, I recommend using a personal trainer for a couple sessions to learn good techniques. If you are not into the gym scene but would like to work with a trainer, contact me and I will give you the names of a two excellent fitness experts who work with clients one on one in Portland.
–I recommend 3 days/week minimum for at least an hour (with hopefully 20 min. of that being a cardio exercise) Try not to exercise 2 days in a row or if you do, exercise different parts of the body. Your body needs a down day to recover. Muscles build strength and size as a response to the stress of exercise but they need that down day to make this happen.
–Be realistic about your goals. Not everyone has the body to be a runner. It is extremely important to know what your body will handle without freaking out. If you have had a history of back problems I recommend staying away from high impact exercises such as running, tennis, basketball etc. My favorite for low impact exercise is biking (and stay off recumbent bikes; they are stressful for the low back in most cases.) It might be best to consult with your Chiropractor before starting a new exercise program. (I know of a good one if you need a referral.)
-Last but not least, put exercise at the top of your priority list! There are countless studies that prove the health benefits of exercise and as I have always said, your health should be your most prized possession. If you have any doubts, just ask someone with a chronic illness what they would give to be healthy again.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Roy Murrell, DC 200 NE 20th Avenue, Suite 140 Portland Oregon 97232 - disclaimer - 971-312-9497