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Is Your Workout Long on Fitness but Short on Health?

October 18, 2013
  • Do your workouts always include reaching for Advil soon after?
  • Are you super strong from muscle-building workouts but balancing on one (bare)foot is hard to do?
  • Are you an indoor cycling enthusiast with strong legs but your toes won’t wiggle or spread apart?
  • Do you workout often but your alignment always seems off?
  • Do you love taking cardio dance classes but suffer from a bit of urine leakage while doing so?

Are any of these you? If so, your body may still not be getting what it needs for optimal health, regardless of your fitness level. 

Here’s what every human body needs for optimal health:

You need a healthy and communicative relationship between all of your muscles and your brain. For your muscles and brain to have this special relationship, ALL muscles need to move frequently. And by all muscles I mean ALL muscles. Yes, even that muscle that moves your baby toe! Frequent movement also keeps all of your tissues happy with more blood flow and more waste removal, two important factors in healthy tissue regeneration.

brain to muscle talk

In addition to movement, minding your joint alignment can help enhance your muscle/brain connection by allowing optimal muscle resting lengths and yield.

Muscle yield pertains to the ability of your muscle fibers to stretch and to contact. Muscle resting length is like a home base position where the muscle isn’t stretching or contracting. (Don’t let “resting” fool you. A healthy muscle should always be awake and in communication with the brain, even when it’s not moving.)

This muscle yield and optimal resting length for all muscles enhances the brain/muscle connection by making the connection speedier, allowing for a faster acting muscular response. With faster response from our muscles, our body is more stable. It’s also better equipped to keep a simple trip of the foot from turning into a severe fall and sprained ankle, or a sneeze into a leaky situation. And, given a choice, wouldn’t we all choose for our brain/muscle connection to have the hi-speed broadband instead of just dial-up?

broadband or dial up

And finally, you need a 1:1 strength to weight ratio. When applied to the lower body, 1:1 strength to weight ratio means you are able to support your body weight on one foot without disturbing your body’s structural integrity.

Since there is a moment in proper gait that the body is supported on one foot, you really want to be able to do this!!! Without the ability to stabilize and support your body while on one foot, every step you take is causing micro-damage to your spine, hips, and knees. If allowed to continue with every step for years, this micro-damage will add up and be macro-damage.

This 1:1 strength to weight ratio also means being able to do a full squat with the least amount of damage to your spine and knees.

So why are many of us missing these elements of health?

Mostly, it is our modern, sedentary lifestyle. Once upon a time, we had all these things naturally because movement was more a part of daily life. Now, movement, alignment, muscle yield, speedy muscle/brain connection, and balanced strength need to be thought about and purposely maintained. If your body goes under-maintained for a period of time, dysfunction sets in.

The “dysfunction” that creeps in is the loss of certain motor skills, and the loss of these motor skills will affect your skeletal control, coordination, balance, and alignment. And the loss of THOSE skills can lead to issues such as degenerative joints, stress incontinence, receding balance, and even circulation and breathing issues.

But how can someone be both fit and afflicted with loss of motor skills and the resultant health issues?

Simply put, devoting an hour to intense exercise twice a week or even daily isn’t enough to keep the muscle/brain connection alive and well. In addition, intense bouts of exercise can actually reinforce any dysfunction you have already.

If you’ve already lost some of your motor skills, intense exercise will make your stronger areas stronger while your weaker areas continue to get weaker. This can lead to more alignment issues and overuse disorders.

In addition, some popular workouts like indoor spinning focus on repetitive motion using just a fraction of all 600+ of your muscles.

Other types of workouts can emphasize motor patterns that are at odds with the natural, reflex-driven movement that leads to better health. Power lifting, playing sports, and dancing all have specific motor patterns and techniques that help enhance the performance of these activities. However, applying performance techniques and motor patterns to your everyday skills like alignment, breathing, and walking can have ill effects. And less than optimal alignment, breathing, and gait over many years leads to the issues we usually blame on getting older, like arthritic knees and hips, stress incontinence, and osteoporosis.

The good news is there is a way to increase our health and longevity by decreasing the daily micro-damage that accumulates into larger and more complex health issues. Education, mindful alignment, and frequent, full body and natural movement can make you healthier!

Here are the first steps to adding more health into your health and fitness plan:

  • Continue reading this blog. There’s more alignment and movement talk to come.
  • Avoid staying in one position for too long, especially the position that involves a chair! Consider using a standing/tread desk, scheduling walking meetings and phone calls, and gentle stretches on the floor while watching television. Keep moving!
  • Walk. Walk everywhere. Walking is awesome for most anyone. There’s no exact number, but the consensus goal for optimal health is somewhere between 9,000 and 15,000 steps a day. Many of us are doing only 3,000-5,000 steps a day. So, do what you can. Every step counts!
  • Find an exercise class that is low in intensity but high in quality movement, body awareness, balance skills, and alignment practice. I am partial to Restorative Exercise™ classes. However, certain styles of yoga, Pilates, and dance can have restorative and therapeutic qualities.
  • Make intense exercise the dessert portion of your movement plan, not the only course!

photo credits:

Catherine Carey of http://www.neuro.questionsthatmatter.info

Ona Linda Johnson of http://www.onamatopoeia.wordpress.com

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