Ongoing health is about regular challenges making you strong enough to resist the pressures you face and having fast enough recovery to prevent ongoing problems.
That’s what I’ve learnt from studying the role of activity in our lives. The lesson is ‘Be busy’. In particular be active. Get the most out of your life by getting the most out of your body. It sounds obvious but it can be surprisingly complex.
In a world where our time is dominated by inactivity we find our bodies are no longer strong enough to do what they used to. This is leading to problems, some serious.
We’re now entering an age where we no longer need to be active to live. Instead we’re realising we want to be active. For health, for happiness and far more. We’re realising it’s our natural state. Atleast I see the seeds of this desire. From the 2012 Olympics to the increasing government appreciation of the benefits of activity.
Can exercise really do so much?
During my sports science degree I took a module covering the impact of exercise on serious diseases like Diabetes, heart disease and Osteoporosis. What I learnt is that being active is a very powerful and very cheap preventative tool and even cure for these diseases and much more.
It really did seem too good to be true. So I’ve spent the last decade since, researching. Finding more depth and essentially trying to disprove it. If it really is true then it will withstand the test. Now I’m confident of what I was told because I can’t fault it. We are hunters and gatherers. We’re built to move. If we don’t then problems occur. Sometimes instantly but generally much later.
The reason why is incredibly complex. I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I’ve held back for so long. Now I realise I’ll never completely know. So I’m just reporting tales from my journey. Sharing my notes. You make your own decision.
Inactivity is new
One of the biggest reasons for us generally overlooking activity as a core facet of health is that it’s only very recently that people in general lacked a diet of exercise.
For millennia man has had to move to live. Only the very richest folk could get through life without toil. Kings and queens and such were the only humans with the kinds of diseases we now face in western society. They were rich enough that they didn’t have to lift a finger. They also had food on tap. Everyone else had to work hard everyday. Famines were common. Many illnesses were simply down to poor nutrition.
Only in the last 50-100 years has that trend reversed. For westerners food is now plenty and cheap yet activity has become scarce. Not only is there little encouragement to exercise. The concept of recuperation for most is about sitting in front of the tv with a glass of wine or a beer after a long hard day at work. Or lying on a beach somewhere.
Sporty people like me who love to run are now in the minority. Mainly because, as the daily diet of exercise has diminished people in general have got weaker. So their ability to do and enjoy activity has also declined.
For most their long trek to work now consists of a car or train journey. Lots of waiting but little movement. Stairs can be avoided. You don’t get the shopping it comes to you.
My point is that food has been the problem for so long that it’s no surprise that we’re taking a long time to realise that it’s no longer the problem it once was. That lack of activity is now replacing food as the main cause of problems and ill health.
Simplicity from complexity
The sheer complexity of this debate is what really holds it up. That’s why I’m not going into specifics right now. My focus is on sharing knowledge but there’s so much to share and discuss that it will take a long, long time.
A good place to start though seems to be to simplify things to make them easier to work with and discuss. So first I’ll explain how disease is really just another form of injury. Then consider how preventing injuries is about getting your cells to work the way they should. You do this of course through regularly activity. Providing a constant challenge to your body reminding it to keep strong and work properly.In the end it’s very simple. Constant pressure has shaped us. Made us such a strong species. So it is that constant pressure is what we need to maintain health and get the most out of life.
Disease is an injury
All injuries seem to have things in common. One is that they come from using the underlying structures and processes improperly. Disease redirects the use of some cells for example. Often they’re just used too hard. The impact of disease is that redirecting some cells puts stresses on other systems, overloading and then injuring them. Most injuries just occur because we use our bodies incorrectly. We push something too hard. Some times it is tiny overloads over time that aren’t properly repaired. Other times it’s just individual shocks.
The common element is shock and the ability to handle it.
Overuse injuries are from either insufficient time for recovery, slow recovery or both. These require improvements in the recovery process. Giving yourself enough time and improving the systems recovery speed.
Sprains and other discrete injuries are from much higher forces than usual. Causing big shocks to the related system. These often come from trying too hard. Getting power through force instead of technique. With my serve and other shots I force it too much. I’m fixing it by going back to technique, feel, creating and taking time. So I am more aware and pushing less.
The same happened with my ankle and my wrist. I only get injured when I’m pushing and rushing. When I’m relaxed I don’t generally get injured.
So these are two common principles behind both preventing injury and improving your game. The funny thing is. It appears to me that peak performance and injury prevention are the same thing. What you do to achieve peak performance. Generally helps prevent injury.
I’m beginning to see serious health issues such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, Diabetes and lots of other illnesses as injuries with similarities to sprains and other more obvious injuries. These are generally injuries to our cells that are much harder to spot than sprains and strains because they injure individual cells and organs often deep within us. They also generally take a long time to develop symptoms we can notice. Nonetheless they are still injuries or the result of injury.
The point is that, like sprains and strains there are a lot of simple things we can do to prevent and cure these injuries and ultimately the illnesses themselves.
That is what I’m exploring through this blog. Simple fun ways to compete in life and live every day to its fullest. We can make ourselves strong, healthy and happy by competing for and achieving our dreams all the while learning about who we are .
Everyday we are competing. We don’t always realise it but this is how our cells and thus our bodies are designed. As Darwin explained. It’s not about being the best but being ready to adapt to the current demands that matters. So every day our cells listen to the current demands and adapt. The trouble is that we’ve made our lives so comfortable that our cells no longer get the demands that they’re designed for. We just don’t have to work as hard as we used to. So Instead they fall into disarray and disrepair. They get weak through lack of training and start getting injured.
The fix is quite straightforward. Give them a challenge. Get them back in training. That’s actually where it gets challenging these days. We’ve removed the need for physical challenges. In fact we’ve put a ton of obstacles in the way. Most people think being healthy means being boring. I don’t blame them. That’s just how it’s presented. Many others think it’s too hard, impractical, expensive, you name it. Again, I don’t blame them. My point is that if you tailor it to yourself then it will be fun and something you want to do. Something that adds to your life instead of taking from it.
Self service cells
It can help to view the body cells as self service organisms. They only do what’s right for them. To get them to do what’s right for the body they need to be given a reason to do it. Lets use sugar storage (The problem of diabetes) as an example. Sugar is like petrol. A fuel that provides energy but is dangerous when not properly stored. Sugar should be stored in cells instead of roaming unchecked throughout the body. Fixing diabetes is about getting the cells to want to store sugar. If we aren’t active they have no need to store it. So being active makes them want a store of sugar. Either for use right away or in preparation for the next time you are active.
This goes to their evolutionary roots. I believe that most cells were originally their own entities that found benefit by being part of a human. So the cells have become accustomed to the body sending them the right signals. More recently we’ve stopped doing this and it’s led to trouble.
Bone cells work on the same principle. Experiments have shown that only feeding Calcium isn’t enough to get strong bones. You must be active too, to create a demand within the bone cells themselves to get strong enough to withstand the forces of activity.
So, to get the cell to do what you need, you need to think about why it would want to do it.
Exercise simply challenges cells in core ways. Improving their ability to deal with nutrition: sugar, salt, water etc. That’s why it’s so good for us. The challenge forces better recovery so it’s restorative.
The difference I’m describing is about thinking of the body as a self service environment for its cells. They shouldn’t depend on the central system for direction. You get each cell to fight for itself. You learn how to encourage correct balance. How to talk to your cells in a language they understand.
So activity is about empowering your cells to service themselves. Fulfilling their needs, and thus the bodies needs, better. At the same time empowering them to work better as a team. Removing blocks and improving efficiency
Regular activity provides constant pressure. Essentially the pressure you face when you are active prepares you for the unseen daily pressures that cause cell injury and death. We evolved to move. To hunt and gather. We don’t do that anymore and it’s hurting us sometimes very severely.
We don’t realise how much fun it can be so we don’t put it back in our lives. That needs to change. Everyone likes to move. We just haven’t all found what we like yet.
So you see that being active makes you strong enough to overcome the daily injuries to your cells. That means you’re also strong enough to deal with the challenges that entertainment throws at you.
You deal with fat better so you can enjoy more of the flavour and texture it provides. You control blood sugar salts and water better so you can eat what you want when you want. You can chose the fun foods more often.
So your body is built to require challenges to keep it running properly. Without challenges there is nothing to keep the internal mechanisms from getting out of sync and failing. However nature has made us so resilient. That’s the reason it’s taking so long for us to realise we need a proper diet of activity. Without proper maintenance we can still function for years or decades before we fail. So we don’t realise until it’s far too late.
I’m spending these last few months thinking about recovering from injury. I’ve realised that it’s core to my long term dream. The current support for injury prevention and treatment is out of date. Like the music industry in the 90s. You wanted new music. You had to physically go out and buy it. Anything not mainstream was hard to get. You had to accept what you were given. The recording studios and labels determined content. You just had to make do and in general it cost a lot more.
The music industry is very different now. It’s much more convenient, cheaper and there is a lot more choice. I have more influence over what I hear and it’s much more practical.
I want the same for injury treatment. I’m realising that is a fundamental part of what I want to improve. I experience common injuries like sprains and strains and should be able to consult an online therapist and search through lots of advice, analysis and tools until I find what suits me. The more I pay the better it fits me and the more specialised help I get but we’re talking pounds and pennies. Not the £400 + it currently costs for 10 sessions with a physiotherapist to treat something as basic as a sprained ankle.
The kind of model I’m looking at already exists in tennis instruction. Will Hamilton of Fuzzy Yellow Balls and Ian Westermann of Essential Tennis are just two of many online coaches offering world class instruction at very affordable prices delivered straight to you whatever tools you have and wherever you are. They help you deal with basic straightforward aspects of your tennis game for free. As you progress and need more personalised instruction you buy their products. You can even pay for individual or group coaching.
Why isn’t this available in injury treatment. I can’t say. If it is then someone please point me to it. I’ve found some basic services but nothing rivalling what I’ve found for Tennis. The concept I’m really interested in is a Virtual Training Centre. Including coaching on all aspects of injuries both prevention and cure.
In summary humans are incredibly resilient. That makes them incredibly complex. Food and good nutrition is no longer the challenge it once was. Our diet of activity has become a major concern and challenge. We’ve become so rich we no longer need to exercise. So our bodies are no longer used in the way they’re built to be used. Leading to injuries and disease.
So instead of needing exercise we can look for ways to want to be active. To dance, to walk, to garden to compete. My experience is that everyone likes to be active. They really enjoy it. Though they haven’t always found what’s right for them. So many people tell me they don’t like to be active then list lots of active things as their passtimes. Gardening, shopping etc. The point of this article was to provide a different angle on the benefits of being active. The rest of the blog is about how to make it fun.In the end you have a choice. Get busy living. Exploring fun ways to move and all the benefits you get. Or get busy dying!!! A harsh statement I know but the fact is that if you don’t move life slowly gets less fun. You will slowly watch yourself weaken until just the normal activity of daily life becomes too much.
Thanks for listening.