No one says it better than Dick Van Dyke in his new book Keep Moving. The secret to maintaining lasting agility lies in joyful movement.
Van Dyke turns a very vibrant 90 years old this year, and he continues to not only hit the gym every day, but to dance every chance he gets -- not for the exercise, but simply because he enjoys it! His instructive example is not only for those in their Golden Years; everyone can embrace his advice no matter what age.
There is no right way to do anything unless it feels right to you. Just because you aren’t following someone else’s idea of the five steps to success or the ten ways to look and feel younger or the eight days to a stress-free life doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong.
Mitigating Pain and Keeping the Body Agile
We all have our own path and we need to make peace with it. Once we do, we will find balance in our body and mind. Maybe we’ll only get a glimpse of balance, but striving for it is what life is all about. Any seasoned athlete will tell you that if you fail, fall or miss the mark, you get up, dust yourself off and try it again. That’s the only way to move forward, so you might as well do it armed with good information.
Movement is an important part of mitigating everyday pain and keeping the body agile. Consider these important reasons why regular exercise -- or dancing every chance you get -- is beneficial for the body over the long-term.
1. Use it or lose it still rings true.
In rehabilitation and sports training we refer to the "SAID principle." It stands for Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands, and it's as straightforward as it sounds. SAID reflects the "use it or lose it" concept and the scientifically proven theory that the human body responds to any stressors imposed on it. So, "use it" and you'll gain -- a lot more than just strength.
The response to any kind of stress you put on the body is adaptive, meaning whichever way you work the body will increase its tolerance to that stressor in the future, through strength and flexibility. The SAID principle is trade mumbo jumbo to tell you what you've heard for years: you have to get and keep moving.
2. Movement connects brain and body.
Because the human body is truly engineered for motion, not fulfilling that potential is like allowing a car to sit in the garage and rust away. It won't run well after the corrosion sets in. If you get your engine running regularly it will stay lubricated and run more smoothly for much longer.
For a human body, however, it's not just about the mechanics getting "gummed up" with inactivity; it's about our complex computer system of nerve signals and responses. Functional movement is coordinated by the brain through its interpretation of feedback from our interactions with our surroundings. The very first thing we lose when we stop moving is exactly that connection between body and brain. The message between brain and body gets jumbled and lazy.
3. Muscle strength has a shelf life.
I often hear patients say how they struggle getting back to regular exercise after a lull in their routine. They feel that they've lost any gains they previously made. That sense of regression happens more quickly as we age -- not because we're necessarily more decrepit, but because our wiring is more easily turned off (as described in reason #2). This can make us feel like we've lost strength and fitness we haven't actually lost. Gains in strength are real and easily demonstrable. Perceived loss in strength is not always "real."
Research shows that measurable muscular strength doesn't start to decrease until after 3-4 weeks of inactivity. But many people report feeling much weaker when they go back after just a few weeks or a month off of their gym routine. Remember, it's much easier to wake up the neural connections than to build muscles mass from scratch, so don't lose heart when you fall out of your routine.
4. Ease back in after an injury.
When you've experienced pain and need to change your physical demands because of it, remember that you have 3-4 weeks before you lose the benefits from your regular workouts. Be gentle with yourself and know that when you get back to your exercise routine, you'll still have a measure of the foundation you built. You'll just need to wake it up.
A significant part of recovery from injuries has to do with reminding the brain about safe positioning and sequences in movement. This is why any early activity undertaken after pain hits can be so valuable in determining the course of the pain, degree of dysfunction and speed of recovery. Adopting a simple understanding of how to respect and accommodate pain takes us out of the high-alert state that overwhelms the body when there's a sudden onset of everyday pain. Ease into exercise with neutral spine positioning or low-impact movement to reinforce the brain's connection.
Despite your best efforts, you may experience the return of pain at some point in your life. You may have the same pain several times over. Hopefully each time you feel that pain now, you can say, “Hello old friend. You used to scare me but now I know you.” Go ahead, and calmly start over. There’s no shame in admitting to yourself that you let things slide because you felt good again for awhile. That’s human nature. You have the tools. Remain calm. Be kind to yourself and just begin again.
“Shoshin” is a Japanese concept popularly defined by Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen master, that translates as “beginner’s mind” and refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. [Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, S. Suzuki] So, when you go back to the start, see if you can find that beginner’s mind. Let yourself be open and eager. Above all else, make sure to be kind to yourself while you do.
©2015 by Ya-Ling J. Liou, D.C.
About the Author
Ya-Ling J. Liou, D.C. is a chiropractic physician who began her professional work in 1994 after completing her coursework and clinical internship with New York Chiropractic College. Ongoing continuing education has been in the areas of chiropractic rehabilitation, nutrition and soft tissue techniques such as craniosacral therapy and myofascial release. Her background includes study in the theories of Applied Kinesiology, Activator Methods, and certification in Gonstead technique. Dr. Liou has been a faculty member at Ashmead College (formerly Seattle Massage School and newly Everest College) where she taught Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology. She is currently an adjunct faculty member with Bastyr University's Physical Medicine Department. Learn more at returntohealth.org.