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  • Writer's pictureDr. Doug Pooley

Health, what if we got it all wrong?

I believe and the research is confirming that a major key to health maintenance is found in mobility. Studies being conducted all across the scientific community are confirming the importance of understanding how a sedentary lifestyle is as a predictor of eventual disease and disability. Although all are important, mobility trumps good genes, proper nutrition, stress management and certainly drugs as a marker for longevity. Over tens of thousands of years, the human body has evolved to our current magnificent movement machine and it did so simply to survive. Early man was for the most part nomadic and in order to feed himself and his family needed to seasonally migrate to where the food was or where it was moving to in the form of game.

Let’s take a step back even further and look at the make-up of the human body. A full 80% of our body is made up of the “neuro-musculo-skeletal” system (nerves, muscles and bones). This is our transport system by which and through which we survive. It is a complex blending of tissues designed for the sole purpose of moving us towards food, away from danger and providing sensory input to the commander...the brain. Although by no means the fastest animal on the planet, through evolution we have mastered the art of movement and in doing so provided a complex vehicle for the continued growth and development of our intellect. This is where we live and the effectiveness of this machine is a direct reflection of our happiness and quality of life. It’s not rocket science, both mental and physical health, are reflections of how effectively and comfortably we get around. So why, beyond pain control, do we devote so little attention and resources to the maintenance of this our living and breathing house? It makes no sense. In western society, science can pretty much measure the statistical correlation between disease and the loss of mobility. We are taught at a very young age the benefit of periodic medical and dental check-ups. It makes sense. Yet, we devote no effort to assure that our physical body is functioning in a way to promote and maintain optimum health potential.

Through genetics, postural alteration, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and the periodic bumps and bruises of life, small alterations can occur creating biomechanical imbalances and micro-trauma to joints and supporting tissues. Over time the cumulative effects of these insults create functional alterations in movement that contribute to the development of degenerative change, pain and the ultimate breakdown of the machine. This is not conjecture, it is mistakenly referred to as aging, and for most of us it happens way too soon.

According to information published by the Center For Disease Control in the United States; “Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in America. Of the 53 million adults with a doctor diagnosis of arthritis, more than 22 million say arthritis causes them to have trouble with their usual activities.” Add to this the fact that about ½ of all American adults, 117 million people have one or more chronic health conditions,” and the magnitude of the concern becomes self-evident.

Let’s change gears a bit to more aptly flesh out the picture of health. Due to previous lack of knowledge to support the above postulations on the real measure of vitality, health for the most part has been measured by the efficiency of organ function. There are numerous and costly tests designed to determine the effectiveness of most organ function and with them a plethora of medications developed to help support the damaged system and restore health. It is interesting when you take into consideration the fact that the body has its own pharmacy, the building blocks of which are contained for the most part within lean muscle mass, the by-product of a fit and mobile lifestyle. The proof of this is quite simply found in the fact that without exception, all of the major diseases known to man can be positively impacted by consistent physical activity. Again, according to the “CDC”, in 2010, more than half (52%) of all adults over the age of 18 did not meet the recommended levels of exercise or physical activity. In addition 76% did not meet the recommendation for muscle-strengthening activity.” It gets real interesting when you factor in that 84% of all health care spending was devoted to the 50% with one or more chronic disease.

It’s a fact, the more fit we become, the better the body functions and the less susceptible we become to the advent of disease. In fact, from a purely practical standpoint, the purpose of most of the internal organs is to feed the machine and remove waste. Otherwise, function is for the most part, dedicated to growing the machine and enacting proper repair.  So why are so many of our health care resources directed towards internal organ function when one of the major keys to health maintenance has been so badly neglected the neuro-musculo-skeletal system.  It is this combination of control, function and stabilization that is responsible for all physical movement, the largest and most important  of the organs...the physical body.                                                                                                                                                                                    

The physical body has magnificent resiliency and recuperative capacity, but requires maintenance not unlike any other complex machine. It is able to adapt to change, run on a variety of fuels, effectively repair itself, but it is not indestructible. Once deterioration starts to occur in a joint or muscle and is left unmanaged, eventually a cascade effect occurs affecting the function and stability of other related joint complexes. This in turn alters the efficiency of mobility and the machine slows down.  As we become more sedentary the effectiveness and efficiency of our supportive systems is compromised. We lack vigour which impacts circulatory function and now the more delicate components of the machine, the internal organs become sluggish, become taxed by relative the inefficiency of the system as a whole and this in turn  leads to “dis-ease”, defined by Webster’s as “an impairment of the normal state of the living animal, or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions”. Not unlike a finely tuned race car, the human body is designed to perform with maximum efficiency when properly fuelled, tuned and run regularly.

I would suggest that as devastating as smoking is to health, a sedentary lifestyle is every bit as catastrophic to health and quality of life. According to recent study, muscle atrophy can actually start to occur in as little as two weeks of relative inactivity.  It is estimated that currently 45% of elderly North Americans suffer from sarcopenia which is the progressive breakdown of skeletal muscle at a cost of $18 billion over the past 14 years alone.  
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