Most runners intuitively know movement is necessary for a healthy body — nearly as necessary as air. But did you know it’s important for developing and maintaining a healthy brain, too?
That’s because attached to our wiggling toes, bending knees, rotating spine and all moving muscles are nerve endings sending up to the brain billions of bits of binary information from moment to moment. And the brain loves it, thrives on it, demands it. Otherwise, it starts to fade into the sunset.
This is one reason to not only keep moving, but to maintain the best lifestyle possible, including the foods we eat, so both brain and body have all the ingredients needed to live optimally, and without pain.
Get a Move On
Movement comes in many forms, and it’s important to do as many different movements as possible. Some people do them throughout the day, much like our ancestors who created our genetic fitness code by walking and slow running, with an occasional sprint, jump and climb, along with lifting and dragging things like logs, stones and animals.
Today, many people instead follow exercise schedules — an hour run before breakfast, or a lunchtime gym workout — performing their chosen sport(s). Some make it more precise while training for competition, even incorporating three or more different activities — cross-training at its best.
Because the human body is built largely for endurance, we need to develop the aerobic system, which not only builds the ability to go longer distances without fatigue, but also more muscle strength and increased aerobic speed (such as being able to run faster at the same low-intensity heart rate). This can be accomplished many ways, even better with increased variety, including through a structured training schedule.
An important question about exercise routines today is whether some of those working out diligently in a structured schedule are getting enough movement variety throughout the course of the rest of the day, despite building endurance, strength and speed through training. An hour or two workout doesn’t necessarily rule out a mobility problem when the rest of the day is too inactive. Sitting for meetings, meals, messaging, commuting, Skyping, and so much more, builds an accumulation of movement deficit. A sitting position can especially impair the body and brain.
The remedy, of course, is to get up and move more — we have the physical ability, the time and a number of good reasons to move.
If you spend time at a desk, get up and move around. Better yet, build a standing workstation. Walk during office time when you don’t need to be in one place. Wander outdoors for a break, especially in the sun. Add movement to your commute by parking farther away from the doorway or walking around the block. Pace back and forth during phone calls and messaging, and come up with other creative brain-stimulating ideas you can think up based on your daily habits.
With more movement comes improved endurance. The aerobic system is the basis for great endurance, with a bonus: We burn more stored body fat, circulate blood and lymph fluid better, improve immunity and all other systems throughout the body, and also feed fast-twitch power muscles even while at rest, maintaining their health so they can perform when called upon. Pacing while on the phone, instead of sitting, for example, may help to quickly develop more slow-twitch aerobic muscle fibers to burn additional fat, support musculoskeletal structure and feed the brain.
Gaining and maintaining strength does not require pumping iron three times a week or even going to the gym. We just have to maintain our strength as indicated by our ability to lift heavier objects or jump more than 10 or 12 inches (an indicator of lower body strength). Or if we’ve let go of our strength, it’s important to get it back. Strength is essential for improved fitness, and better health, and for the brain. It need not mean developing big bulging muscles, just more strength. In addition, strength, which relies on endurance for more blood supply and nutrients, contributes to speed.
Speed is an important component to health and fitness, too, and quickness is strongly associated with reduced mortality.
Unlike movement, endurance, and strength, which affect so much of the quality of our waking hours, and even sleep to some degree, we need speed on call for when we need it. The right balance of movement, endurance, and strength allows us to move fast and safely, and without the common unwanted consequences.
Movement implores more movement. Movement is mastery. Keeping ourselves moving often is a prime directive for a healthy and fit body and brain. The movement, endurance, strength and speed continuum is not just an important concept of balance, of health and fitness, or of wellness, it’s really the essence of being a healthy human animal.
More of Dr. Maffetone’s health and fitness information is available at www.philmaffetone.com.