Movement is a Vital Nutrient
Most of us have heard and understand about nutrients being essential to health and function. It is well-known that a lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, a deficiency of B12 can lead to anemia, lack of B1 causes Beriberi, and a deficiency of B3 (niacin) causes pellagra. Suffice it to say that the body requires nutrients for repair, and as ingredients for its most basic functions. Something that people do not understand as well is that movement is as vital as these biochemical factors in maintaining health; it is like a vital nutrient.
Where Do I Start?
There is a common, and agreed upon, misconception that as we age, we move less. I would suggest, and I am not alone in doing so, that the opposite is actually true; as we move less, we age more. Virtually every process in the human body is aided by movement, of any sort, but especially by regular exercise. Strength and resistance training maintains muscle mass and allows us to perform life activities that really define youthfulness. If you can climb stairs, lift something heavy, push a load, jump onto something, step up, and lift your own body weight (to mention just a few things), then you can be considered to be “youthful” in spite of advancing age. You can do things that younger people do, and which defines them and their age.
Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs, increases circulation to every organ, tissue, and cell in your body, stimulates the production of hormones that promote growth and repair, reduces stress, improves sleep, and overall maintains vitality.
Flexibility exercises such as simple stretching and more structured programs like yoga, also increase circulation and allow you to do things which “older people” generally cannot do. As an example, if you put your shoes and socks on the floor next to you and you are standing there in bare feet, you should be able to balance on 1 foot, reach down and pick up a sock, put it on while still balancing, reach down and pick up a shoe and put it on, all while still balancing. Now repeat, standing on the other leg. This is what I would call a “youthfulness” test. It’s pretty challenging, but if you can pass it, or develop required flexibility and balance through practice, then you are behaving like a young person and expanding your capabilities.
When you move your body, even if it is just walking to the mailbox, you are demanding of it that it balance, coordinate movements, and continually regulate the symphony of muscle and joint movement. The perception and nerve function that allows one to accomplish these simple tasks is known as “proprioception”. Proprioception is defined as the ability to perceive ones position and movement in space. This is a vital perception, so much so that 50% of the spinal cord is devoted to this one type of information. When you increase this” positive messaging” into the brain it reduces the stress response and, among many other things, increases melatonin production for better sleep, serotonin production for feelings of well-being and reduction of anxiety and depression, increases muscle mass, stimulates immune function, reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, etc. If you haven’t already gotten the message, I can tell you that moving your body has such wide and far-reaching benefits that it is difficult to overestimate the importance of movement.
Force yourself to do a little something every day, even if you are in pain. Doing so will reduce your pain and allow you to build more movement gradually into your life. Learn new activities such as yoga, Pilates, water aerobics, weightlifting, tennis, pickle ball, really anything that gets you moving, and especially if it gets you huffing, puffing and sweating a little bit. Do a little stretching every day. It is important, when you are stretching, to make sure that you spend enough time on each stretch to allow the muscles to relax into their new length. Do resistance training 2 to 3 times a week to build muscle and preserve your ability to do the activities that define youthfulness. If you do these things, any of these things, you will be doing something wonderful for your body and you will, in every respect, act and function younger as you age. Splurge on it!