A Body in Motion Tends to Stay in Motion
A few weeks ago a physician friend and I were enjoying the warming weather with our horses on a snow-covered trail in the woods of Canaan. I mentioned some angst about upcoming changes in my life as I begin to re-envision my practice in light of an empty nest at home. She couldn’t help but bring in her Chinese Medicine training and suggested that my moods may be impacted by the seasons; “Spring, after all,” she explained “is a season of restlessness.”
Since our conversation I have been thinking a lot about movement. Restlessness is, in its most basic sense, the inability to be still, and movement is a necessity of life. Our bodies, even when at rest, are in constant motion – our heart always beating, lungs always bringing in oxygenated air and moving out carbon dioxide, our livers and kidneys constantly filtering out toxins. Our hormones are in a never-ending cycle of communication with one another as our bodies move seamlessly from rest to activity and back again. There is never complete stillness in our physiology.
The elective movement of our bodies – walking, standing, bending, stretching, dancing, swimming, etc. – is also a critical element of health. Studies have shown that prolonged sitting has significantly negative effects on insulin sensitivity and as most people can attest to, diet alone is never adequate for maintenance of ideal body composition.
Seasonally, I know that a lot of my patients take the winters “off” of their regular movement routines. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard “I walk every day, but through the winter it was so dark and icy I just haven’t been consistent in the past few months.” I do know, however, that if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard those words I’d be able to retire in luxury! I get it, I love to hike, swim and play outdoors when the weather cooperates, but when it’s cold and damp I’d rather curl up with a good novel in front of the fire. If you’re one of those who is able to stay active through the winter, more power to you. But if you’re like me, with a tendency to hibernate through the cold months, this is the time to tap into that restlessness and get your body moving. Regular activity helps to lubricate the joints and improves the pain associated with osteoarthritis. The impact of exercise on our bones encourages bone remodeling and protects against osteoporosis. Exercise increases our metabolism and enhances our body’s capacity to manage oxidative stress. Movement helps to build and maintain lean body mass which in turn helps to support our insulin sensitivity. Loss of fat mass through exercise helps to reduce inflammation. There are many reasons to get or remain active.
There are also challenges with living an active lifestyle. Intense exercise, in the form of training can increase our stress response and we require more rest and better nutrition to recover from an aggressive exercise regimen. Carrying excess weight can stress the joints, and patterns of muscle tension from poor posture, prior injuries or emotional stress can pull joints out of alignment leading to dysfunction and injury. For those who feel that physical activity is doing more harm than good, I encourage you to seek the help of a professional – attention to body mechanics, patterns of use, and repetitive movements can help change habits that are leading to dysfunction. Also, attention to diet, adequate rest and appropriate recovery from physical activity can help to reduce discomfort and enhance mobility. Learning how to move with grace and ease will go a long way to keep you healthy and active into your later years.
On April 30th, a morning symposium for women, “Finding Balance in an Ever Changing Body” , will be held at the Richard Black Center in Hanover, with a focus on education about the impacts of aging on the female body, and strategies to maintain and improve function. Among the speakers are some whose careers have revolved around helping women find healthy movement patterns. I look forward to joining the other presenters as we delve into the nuts and bolts of moving through life with grace.
Wishing you all a happy and active spring!
Robyn W. Jacobs, MD