Recently while hiking one of our beautiful trails here in San Luis Obispo, it came to me how good it feels to live in my body, to feel alive and active and part of nature all at the same time. I thought about all the people I try to inspire to connect with their physical bodies so that they may feel better, resolve pain in the muscles or joints, increase their energy and shift their mind to a place of creativity and happiness.
I thought of all the people I’ve worked with over the years and how so many have asked for a magic pill, supplement or secret on how to lose weight, have energy and feel good. How much would you be willing to spend for that pill? What would you do to get it? What priority would you give to obtaining that pill? Many people would give a lot for the promise of energy, vitality and health. But like so many patients have told me after they have lost 30, 80 or more than 100 pounds, there is no secret to losing weight or staying healthy. The age old wisdom we have heard throughout our lives holds true – it’s what you eat, whether or not you move your body and your mental attitude that have the most significant and long lasting impact on health and wellbeing.
The more years I spend in practice and learn from the fabulous patients I have an opportunity to work with, the more I learn that health is really about the basics.
I love working with all the seniors I have worked with over the years. They have taught me so much about what it takes to carry on living. They exemplify what skills and habits are needed to go forward and continue on even when life dishes up the unexpected. The unexpected will always arise, and we have the opportunity to choose how we want to deal with what life brings our way.
For the women and men in their 80’s and 90’s that I have the joy of working with, I see that the food choices they make, lifestyle habits they have and amount of activity they do and have done over their lifetimes shows in how they age. Those who are active continue to be able to be active. Even when the intensity of activity or type of activity have to change due to a changing body – the intention of keeping moving in whatever way perpetuates healing, energy and a positive attitude. After so many years, the body does change significantly, (it is changing all the time), and with these changes, we have to learn to adapt and find our new ways of living and being active in life.
Staying active brings increased oxygen into the body which feeds the cells. In our modern age we still have not found any alternative fuel for the cells in the body; they still need oxygen. Not surprisingly, new research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia finds that people who exercise regularly are at a decreased risk for these cognitive changes and deterioration. The brain is a major consumer of oxygen so the more oxygen we pump in through regular exercise, the better the brain is fed and then able to regenerate and maintain neurological function.
The 1980’s really focused on the endorphin release that occurs with aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. This is exercise where we move with more effort, break a sweat and get the heart rate up. As the heart is challenged by cardiovascular exercise (biking, hiking, running, swimming, brisk walking, faster tempo dancing, etc.) it is strengthened and not only delivers more oxygen into the system during the exercise but also oxygenates the blood and organs more fully post exercise. All day long we reap the benefits of a workout.
So aerobic or cardiovascular exercise makes the heart works more effectively, more successfully keeps the blood pressure in the normal range; helps the brain work better and maintain proper neurological function, but it also makes us feel great through the release of endorphins, the natural high. And there are no negative consequences to this natural high except spontaneously smiling more and the risk of breaking into song for no apparent reason! The research on mood and exercise, especially in regards to depression, is astounding. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that exercise improves mood, decreases PMS and improves sleep. So why aren’t we all doing it? I don’t’ know. I ask myself this question all the time.
Last week I shared with my son that I have never regretted working out. I never did yoga, went for a hike, walked, rode my bike, went to the gym and then regretted it. I have however stayed in bed for an extra 30 or 45 minutes, missed my time to work out and regretted it multiple times throughout the day. I know this and sometimes I’m still tempted to stay in that comfortable bed just a little longer….but after so many years I also know that working out always feels good if not during the workout then later on during the day. My energy is better, my mood is uplifted, my mind is clearer, I’m more at peace and I can concentrate more effectively. Why would I not take the time and make the commitment to exercise?
I haven’t always lived in my body. As a youth I was pretty detached from my body, uncoordinated and had no confidence when it came to sports or physical activity. I loved to dance and swim but that was about it. I envied my classmates who ran and played sports and made it look effortless. I could not imagine what that would feel like. Today I have such a different relationship with my body. I love living in my body, feeling the energy of movement, the life force as it flows through the cells. It is such a gift to feel alive in the body. We are not just our minds. We are not just our emotions. We are not just our bodies. We are ALL of it and more. When the different aspect of ourselves work together, they have a synergistic effect and all systems have enhanced function when they work as a team. The body cannot be healthy in front of a computer all day, never taking the opportunity to flex and contract the major muscles groups that hold us up and allow us to walk and sit up, turn, bend. The brain does not work as well when there is pain in the body from lack of movement. Tension in the body which normally builds up without physical activity detracts from our mental performance and puts stress on our emotional system. If you want your brain to work better, work out your body!
I have talked to many people now over the course of my 14 year practice who have come to love exercise. Some, especially women in their 50’s and 60’s, would never have believed they could grow to like exercise much less love it and have fun doing it. It is wonderful to see a person discover the excitement and joy in movement. It does not matter what that movement is – whatever calls to you and peaks your interest. Whatever it is – explore it. Then look back and see what changes you can witness in your life.
I remember when I used to jog and I hated the first 10-15 minutes. Oh, I felt terrible, my muscles were tight and sore, I felt short of breath, sometimes I had a headache, ,my body felt like lead and nothing about the experience felt good much less fun! But after a while I learned that once those first 10-15 minutes passed, I would start to feel good. My muscles would warm up, feel lighter and work better. My head would begin to clear and my breath would find its rhythm. I would begin to feel more relaxed and then I could actually enjoy it – at least somewhat. But what I also learned was that after I ran, I felt good all day. Even if the run itself never reached the point of feeling good that day, I always felt better afterwards, the feeling would last all day and that feeling could not be achieved by anything other than exercise.
These days I do activities that I truly love and it is easy to find a myriad of ways to move in our beautiful county – hiking, walking, swimming, kayaking, surfing, dancing, martial arts, gym workouts, yoga, Tai Chi, biking, golfing, tennis, ….should I go on? What better way than to actively enjoy where we live than to explore it and move around while discovering the gems of this great area.
When I hear the excuses people give me about not moving their bodies, I think of all the differently abled people here on the Central Coast and in the world. I think of how inspired and touched I feel when I see people with artificial legs running in our local fun runs and races, people who travel to our county from all over California and from other states to surf with amputated limbs. I see young men swimming without legs, I see wheelchair racers, I see people whose courage, stamina and conviction humble me and help me want to be a better person and appreciate all that I have and all that I can be. I see people with multiple sclerosis that put effort everyday into keeping their legs and arms strong so they can continue to move. I see seniors who with or without hip replacements and knee replacements keep golfing and bowling and playing tennis even with pain and arthritis. They just keep going.
Each of us can find the inspiration we need to seize life and allow that life force to course through our bodies. We may do it in different ways and yet we can all find ways to move our bodies, be active and be in the flow of life. We have these amazing homes we call our bodies. We are given one for this lifetime. One body to care for and in return it so incredibly cares for us and carries us around in this life. May you enjoy yours!