Move it or lose it — it all starts with your brain.
As we all know, variety is the spice of life. This is especially important when it comes to eating healthy food and enjoying physical activity. It’s how humans build better brains and bodies from the top down.
The great singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s famous 1966 lyric, “if we’re not busy being born we’re busy dying” is a remarkably simple mantra we can adopt for retaining great brain function throughout our entire lives. Of course, this means giving this squishy, fatty organ of ours a lot to do, which will in turn spark it to soak up more information, especially when it’s new stuff. This includes learning, feeling, seeing, hearing, and smelling various inputs, along with other sensations that liven up our neurons. One the many busy things we can do for a healthier brain is movement.
Movement is obviously important for the body — nearly as necessary as air. 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.
Of course, if the body’s information superhighway is sending sensations of pain and imbalance, the brain loves this much less, and is even pained by it through a process called stress. 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. 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.
This is part of endurance, an integral part of being human. We’ve done it for millions of years and need to continue it until we’re dust. It’s very basic.
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. My Strength Training articles are here if you need help.
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. Vital.
Speed is an important component to health and fitness too, and quickness is strongly associated with 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. If we’re late for a plane flight, a healthy, fit brain and body will ensure we get to the gate on time. Survival.
All of this physical activity, of course, is dependent upon good nutrition. Dumping sand on your engine is not going to result in smooth running or other movements. So avoid junk food to attain the best movement possible.