fitness

Is Exercise Causing You to Move Less? Part 1

4341141005_78a2ff8524_zWen-Bin Chou, a psychologist and researcher at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan has demonstrated that taking multivitamins causes people to be less healthy due to an ironic effect of dietary supplementation. It turns out that people who believe they are taking a multivitamin subconsciously believe that it gives them some degree of invulnerability, which leads them to make less healthy choices throughout the day. So if they took a multivitamin in the morning, and at lunch are faced with the choice between two trips to the all-you-can-eat burrito buffet vs. a salad and some wild salmon, they'll go for the buffet due to an unconscious belief that they've covered their bases with the multivitamin. Of course we all know a multivitamin is not the same as eating real, whole food- and a recent article in Outside Magazine questions whether they are at all helpful or even harmful- yet the subconscious belief in being bulletproof seems to clearly exist anyway.

Here's how it went down: In two experiments all the participants were given a placebo pill, some were told it was a multivitamin. Those who believed they had taken the multivitamin engaged in less healthful and more hedonistic activities on a regular basis like eating larger quantities of less nutritional food. It's called The Licensing Effect. As in, they believe that their positive choice or behavior (taking the multivitamin) gives them license to then engage in less healthy behaviors ongoing.

So why am I writing about this when I've never written about dietary supplementation in my life? Because I believe it applies to movement as well. So let's substitute "multivitamin" with "trip to the gym" and "eating less nutritional food" with "moving less".

Re-written the licensing effect applied to movement would then read something like: "Those who had gone to the gym engaged in less healthful and more sedentary activities on a regular basis."

We spend our days sitting our butts in chairs, staring at screens and moving in extremely small ranges of motion. I believe this happens for three reasons:

  1. We don't distinguish between movement and exercise.
  2. We don't understand the benefit of movement (not exercise).
  3. We believe that exercise absolves us of not moving for most of our lives.

So let's talk about it:

We don't distinguish between movement and exercise:

  • In a culture that so values stasis (my son goes to public school and even though I adore his teacher, school in this country is basically one big "sit still" training ground) we have handily earmarked "exercise" as "the time we have allotted to move".
  • This stems from what I think is a subconscious belief that there is an "on" and "off" switch to our bodies receiving input from movement. For example: "I'm out for a run! You can pay attention now body..." and then, "I'm sitting in my office chair for 8 hours, you are in the off position now body, no need to pay attention to this..."
  • As I alluded to in that last point, while exercise is one kind of movement, movement is a much broader category which includes standing, walking, breathing, chewing, reaching, shifting, etc. All the movements- large and micro- that you make moment to moment. I thought Katy Bowman (goddess of educating what movement actually is...) did a great job differentiating between movement and exercise in the interview I did with her when she pointed out a baby breastfeeding as movement- and how we would never describe that as a baby "getting his exercise".

We don't understand the benefit of movement (not exercise)

  • I wrote "not exercise" in parentheses because I think we have all been thoroughly indoctrinated into the benefits of exercise. So we'll just leave that as is.
  • Then the question is, if one is exercising, why does movement throughout the day matter too? And the answer is: because we are alive. This means that everything you are doing (or not doing) movement-wise is being registered by your body as input. It doesn't discriminate via the magical on/off switch of paying attention. And that input is what is being put to use on a cellular level to build you up or tear you down.
  • An example: if you, like most, sit for somewhere in the range of 10 hours a day (that's conservative), your body registers a number of things from that and then does its best to help you make that shape more. So your body is thinking, "Okey doke, hamstrings always contracted, check, we'll keep those short. Sitting on sacrum, check, let's smoosh out those vertebral discs to make that shape, compress the respiratory diaphragm, slacken the pelvic floor, and basically create thickenings throughout the spine and thorax which holds you in a C-curve..." This is an extremely tiny slice of what is going on when you hold one shape for a long time.
  • The example above is of what happens structurally; As in, you become the shapes you make most of the time. However, there are also other significant health risks to stasis. Recent data shows that it contributes to mortality from all causes. Yep, heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc. One study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that every hour spent sitting shortens lifespan more significantly than every cigarette smoked. And Dr. Levine, an inactivity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, describes sitting as "a lethal activity".

We believe that exercising absolves us of not moving for most of our lives:

  • Unfortunately, even if you workout almost daily and are therefore considered "fit", a workout amounts to a grand total, usually, of somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes of exercising in any given 24 hour period, best case scenario.
  • And since we have discussed that our bodies don't have an off switch which causes them to not pay attention while we are inactive, hopefully it is clear that this is a game of frequency. Not of intensity. I don't care how hard you rock it at the gym at the end of the day. Work out til you puke and blackout (no, really, don't) but it won't erase all the static activity of the day. In fact, going from long periods of stasis to incredibly demanding workouts is a risk for a multitude of injuries, but that's fodder for another post.
  • Our bodies want us to still be hunter gatherers. Oh our physiology longs for the days when a wide variety of movements were required of our bodies all day long as we hunted and gathered for our food! But today we put food on the table- for the most part- by typing away at these computers all day long. And our bodies are confused. Where are the missing movement ranges? Where did the frequency go? While you don't need to abandon contemporary culture and go live in a tree, it helps to acknowledge that you are still wired to thrive with the demands that a hunter gatherer would have had.

Depressed? Oof when I mention this stuff in my classes or in my practice I kind of see the light go out of people's eyes. Which sucks. I believe the thought cycle goes something like, "Well my life depends on sitting most of the day, so I guess I'm hopeless. I will have terrible chronic pain, joint dysfunction, and die from this 'lethal activity' that is required by my job."

Ready? Deeeeeeep breath. There is hope.

The movement part is easy, albeit with a small adaptation period, and you may have to occasionally fight (or even just nudge) The Man. That's it. And we'll get into how to do both in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned!

photo by skittledog

Sue Hitzmann Interview

interviews-small

SueHitzmann_IMG_1511 (1)I recently had the great pleasure of having a fascia nerd chat with the founder of the MELT Method, Sue Hitzmann. Sue is incredibly well informed and has created a thoughtful and remarkably useful system out of studying the emerging research on fascia, and her dedication to helping people out of pain. You can read the FFF review of it here.

We got into a lot of fascinating topics including how to slow the aging process, what the root of chronic pain actually is, and how you can't exercise your way to a strong "core". There is so much more! Say glycosaminoglycans 5 times fast! (I bet Sue can... ) Anyway, on the the interview. Also check out the time log below if you're hoping to skim it or just to see some of the many other things we chatted about:

:35 I explain my erroneous view that I thought Sue was “the foam roller lady” and how MELT is in fact a much different thing.

 2:53 Sue talks about the common misconceptions of what fascia is as a system.

3:38 How can a fluid system be a stability system? How does fluid make something stable?

4:58 Sue talks research on fascia and dehydration. Compression (as in sitting for long periods of time) and repetitive motions create strain that makes it harder to keep your body stable and increases stress and strain in the whole system.

 5:41 The dehydration issue is not just about drinking more water. If you’re a frequent urinator, you may have poor cellular absorption.

6:39 Sue talks about the importance of looking at fascia on the micro  level of nutrient absorption, cellular stability, and neurological information going through your body, rather than just the macro level of posture and performance and muscles.

7:22 Q: What’s special about MELT that you can access it on that micro level and not just the macro level?

8:00 You can adapt connective tissue very quickly in a light touch way. Monumental global changes can be made in people’s bodies with that light touch.

9:03 Sue talks about the shift in her own private practice after years of more strong touch practices, as she learned about the properties of the cells of connective tissue.

 10:38 The trouble with actual foam rollers. Why you don’t want to actually “iron yourself like a shirt” and why you can’t “pop a bubble of pain”. When you have connective tissue dehydration it is going to increase the sensitivity of your nerve endings.

12:55 How MELT can help such a broad spectrum of people- from someone who is 90, to someone with chronic pain, to a performance athlete, or children who are managing ADHD, or even stress issues.

13:31 Q: How does the aging process (and cellulite too!) get impacted by MELT?

14:55 The dirty little secret is that 85% of fitness people are in pain.

17:20 We take for granted that we can pull on our skin and it goes back to where it was. What allows that to happen is the deeper layers of connective tissue that provide the support for every aspect of your body, which includes our skin staying taught. It’s the flexible scaffolding, and it is completely continuous. From skin to bones you can follow one piece of collagen and see it pierce through every structure down to the bone.

18:40 Microvacuoles work and adapt to our movements but only when hydrated. So when you sit for long periods of time, you are pooling the connective tissue in a specific way.

20:28 Fibroblasts are reactive cells. When you compress them for short periods of time and then let it go (as with MELT), it fills the system back up and brings fluid back to those microvacuoles. It is a restorative system, and it doesn’t take a lot of compression, time, or effort.

21:39 Connective tissue dehydration is the cause of pain.

23:00 What is the NeuroCore? The word “core” is really trendy and therefore misunderstood these days.

23:36 Instead of just strengthening all your core muscles, you can be supported. What actually keeps you stable is the neuro-fascial system. The connective tissue is the environment that your sensory nerve endings live in, so if the environment is not stable, your nervous system is going to have to work harder and harder to relay this information to the brain to get an adequate response.

25:59 If you ask someone in fitness, “What is the core?” they’re going to define it as a muscle system that stabilizes the spine, but they can’t answer the question, “how does it work” beyond defining the muscularity of it. We’re trying to define a “core” in the musculoskeletal model, but it’s a dual neuro-fascial stabilizing system that works involuntarily, i.e. you can’t strengthen it via exercise.

27:40 Sue describes how she and Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy dissected a cadaver layer by layer to find the NeuroCore, and demos what they found.

29:55 Sue weighs in on the debate about if the psoas muscle is actually a hip flexor. It’s actually the communicator between your head and feet. It’s where in embryology we see the cells divide to create the compartments of the human body.

30:40 The “core” is not the muscles. That is the least important element of how the system stays responsive, flexible, and adaptable. Many of us we are so dehydrated in the connective tissue that we cannot hold stable. We become less and less efficient. and our bodies can’t compensate anymore, then we get muscle imbalance, joint pain, etc. But these are symptoms of the NeuroCore not functioning.

34:10 How if you do the 10 min rebalance sequence to access the NeuroCore before doing core exercises, you would actually strengthen your body more in a much more efficient way and would get more benefit from any exercise.

36:40 Your brain doesn’t see muscle. As far as your brain is concerned you have one muscle with 700 compartments.

37:45 We take for granted that as long as we’re moving, we’re moving efficiently, but the connective tissue is the stability architecture and your nervous system relies on that architecture to send information through the body.

38:50 Sue’s goal for people is to understand that the autonomic nervous system needs our care, and if you go to the environment that it lives in, the connective tissue, you’ll make a bigger change. And it is so simple to do.

40:31 Sue’s recent MELT tour of middle America. The general population assumes that if you’re having a problem, you go see your doctor and get a pill. But with chronic pain, the medication is not helping them.

42:18 There are 100 million people in chronic pain, so there is some piece of education missing. Our pharmaceutical industry is the leader of how people are taken care of, so Sue’s hope is to expose  the general population to the fact that we’re out here (bodyworkers and this work in general).

45:20 MELT is giving people the tools of tapping into the connective tissue and the nervous system in order to give them a baseline skill set to use at home. Pain does not need to be a day to day event!