The Power of Physical Activity

Here are some words to live by:

“All parts of the body, if used in moderation and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy and well developed and age slowly; but if they are unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly”.

(Kokkinos & Myers 2010)

Want to know who said them?  It was the famous 5th century Greek physician Hippocrates (remember the “Hippocratic Oath”?) The quote suggests that we need to keep using “all parts of the body” the way they are designed to be used if we want to maintain good health as we age.  In our sedentary modern times we can’t take this use for granted.  We need to make a concerted effort to use those muscles that have become “unused and left idle”.
Studies have consistently shown that physical activity can improve our health at any age.  And it is never too late to start or to benefit. Just a few of the common ailments that can be improved with regular exercise include:  high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.  There’s more good news.  A recent study by Dr. Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin suggests that mind-body practices like yoga and Pilates can help reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infections such as flu.  The changing of the clocks often signals the beginning of the end of winter, but the flu season is late this year.  Cases are just now beginning to appear.  So it’s not too late to protect yourself.  Consistent classes can be the perfect partner for your flu shot.
But wait – there’s more!  Turns out that research conducted at the Mayo Clinic has found that deep breathing may help with hot flashes. Those of you who practice yoga know that deep breathing is an important component in our practice. Breathing with movement is also a major part of Pilates.  So classes offer an opportunity to learn some breathing techniques that might help. The number of problems addressed just keeps growing.
The strength, flexibility and balance that we work on in both yoga and Pilates help to prevent falls while keeping muscles mobile and bones aligned and strong.  The mind-body connection can also help reduce or lessen the severity of injuries if they occur. Regular practice of yoga and Pilates can also help to reduce the stress, anxiety and negative emotions that can impact our ability to resist disease.
Bottom line?  There doesn’t seem to be any down-side to coming to a class.  Every move can be adapted to your individual level of ability.  So whatever your age, capacity, or level of inactivity you can benefit.  As I frequently say, we call it practice for a reason.  The goal is not perfection (whatever that means) it is simply to find a level of practice that works for you and that you can maintain on a consistent basis. Then you can experience the full array of benefits that continue to be documented through ongoing research.

Revisiting “Can’t”

Some feedback I received regarding last week’s blog post has caused me to revisit the subject and reflect on self-perception vs. actual physical limitations.  Despite my objection to the word “can’t”, I do understand that there are times and circumstances that can prevent or alter abilities.  Sometimes these alterations are temporary.  Perhaps limitations arise due to illness or injury. These instances may represent only a brief set-back that calls for temporary suspension of familiar activities. After a period of healing we expect to resume activities at the same level as before the problem occurred.

Reality, however, doesn’t always meet expections.  Recovery can drag on interminably or, worse, start to feel permanent. This can be a huge source of frustration.  But it can also be liberating. After all, if you let go of expectations and outcomes there is no standard that you have to live up to.  You simply are what you are and you do what you can do at any given moment. This doesn’t mean giving up or not trying to improve.  It also does not mean that you should not challenge yourself on occasion. You also want to avoid letting fear of recurrence paralyze your efforts.  But it does mean that you might have to accept that whatever it is you think you should be able to do, this may not be the right moment.

So instead of saying “can’t” how about changing it to “not today” or “not right now”.  Or you might change your perspective and give yourself permission to do something differently that you used to.  You could say “not this way”.  Then you may find that this “new” way is actually not so bad.  In fact, you may even like it. As an example, as many of you know I used to run long distances.  I loved running, but in recent years have found that it no longer works for me.  So now I walk and hike. Amazingly, I’ve found that I love walking. So what seemed like an a huge loss has actually turned out to be not so terrible after all.  There is also a difference between choosing not to do something a certain way and avoiding it because of fear or lack of self-confidence.

According to my favorite mystical astrologer/philospher, Caroline Casey, whose “Visionary Activist” radio show is worth checking out, whenever you are tempted to invoke the words “always” (as in “things will always be like this”) or “never” (as in “I will never get better”) consider modifying that impulse with the phrase “until now!”  Everything is always changing all around us.  As I said in last week’s post, you never know when you will have an “aha!” moment and suddenly something elusive actually happens. The trick is to let go of expectations and just go with the flow.  It’s pointless to fight reality.  You just can’t win.  But reality is constantly changing.  What seems so difficult now could be totally different tomorrow.  And as I have so often said throughout this blog, it is so much better to focus on what you CAN do rather than what you think you can’t.  Letting go of expectations just might relax you enough to make a positive change possible.

There is no need to think of yourself as a victim.  Whatever it is that you’re going through, you haven’t been singled out. Voltaire said, “We are all formed of frailty and error.  Let us all reciprocally pardon each other’s folly.”  I would extend that sentiment to pardoning ourselves.