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Posts Tagged ‘self-care’

(Consult your primary care provider to ensure you are healthy enough to attempt the following exercises)

While humans developed there was no need for an exercise routine or proper dietary guidelines. The lives of hunter-gathers consisted of copious walking, running, squatting, lifting, hurling, and bashing. Simply being alive was our active gym membership. Diet was much easier too as there were essentially no options, food was there or it wasn’t, and it always made sense to gorge oneself on fruit and nuts to store energy for the lean times, which were assured to arrive. People’s health fluctuated with the availability of food which was dependent upon the seasons and competition. If childhood was survived, people could live a long time with healthy bodies. Pestilence didn’t arrive until people clustered in cities before sanitation, and even after sanitation’s implementation, hordes of people meant hordes of rats, which carried with them hordes of fleas, which were the vector for the black death.

Now, thanks to the evolution of science and medicine, pestilence is kept at bay by sanitation, sewers, and ‘cillans (pene-, amoxi-, etc.). However, there is a new scourge for humanity that arose out of the natural progression of the urban center: industrialization. There are three tails to this scourge: sedentary days, processed food, and chronic stress. The tails of this scourge manifest in heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression, to name just a few.  A secondary fourth tail of the scourge is the modern industrialists’ attempt to treat/profit from the three primary tails, over-medication. There is a pharmaceutical response to any modern illness popular enough to turn a profit, and some are true life-savers, while others are causing great harm through improper implementation, which is endemic in this writer’s humble opinion.

There have been a comical number of attempts to ease the horrors of the scourge of industrialization. Some of them were well-meaning and copiously researched while others were in it to make a quick buck fad surfing the dietary, health, and exercise worlds. Part of the difficulty in devising a successful strategy to combat industrialization’s deleterious effects is that modern humans for the most part are unable to garner a perspective other than the two offered by industrialization, namely that of the developed world, and the developing world, which is as different from hunter-gathering as is the fully industrial world. For both are sustained by large-scale agriculture and feature crowded living conditions. For our purposes, we will address the scourge of the developed industrialized world, for the developing world’s solutions rely more on social and political progression, and less on empowering the individual with knowledge of how to navigate these crazy shoals.

We shall first examine the sedentary lifestyle. It may be helpful to examine the word itself, the root of which is “sedan”. This does not refer to a class of automobile, but to a chair carried on two poles by burly porters in scanty dress. We are familiar with these devices mostly through the movies, which usually feature three archetypal passengers: the seductive concubine, a wealthy and powerful merchant or governor, and the acerbic glutton (who we all hope is upended in the mud by the end of the third act). The sedan was a symbol of status for the select few who could afford servants or slaves to carry them around on their most urgent business. These days, we all indulge in the luxury of the sedan be it in the form of cars, elevators/escalators, or mobility scooters. We are no longer walking for ourselves when we are in transit, but rely on devices of conveyance. Furthermore, our workforce has migrated from the fields into offices and factories. Even most of the farming today is done from within an air conditioned tractor, save for harvesting fruits and berries, which still require people to work with their hands.

The human (i.e. homosapien) body spent well over two hundred thousand years walking and running itself from place to place. It has been naturally selected to favor strong legs and an upright posture. The body uses food and stores energy within the paradigm of foot mobility. When we remove walking, etc. from our lives, our bodies are not functioning in the way in which they have evolved for eons. This leads to an atrophy of muscles, which causes an imbalance in kinesthetics, which results in pain and eventually arthritis. The cardiovascular system suffers from a lack of exercise, for it developed to meet the strenuous demands of running down game and crushing its skull with a big stick or bone–hardly opening the door and pulling a box out of the frozen section. Blood sugar regulation suffers from a lack of exercise, which throws the endocrine system out of balance, which affects metabolism, fertility, mood, digestion, energy, and adipose levels. Adipose secretes estrogen, which is not a problem in and of itself, but with obesity comes endocrine disruption, in the form of too much estrogen, which also leads to the previous list of health issues, because the endocrine system is supposed to be balanced, and when one hormone is over-represented, all levels are thrown off. Furthermore, elevated estrogen levels are associated with several types of nasty cancers, breast cancer especially.

Given the very nature of the sedentary lifestyle, there is only one remedy: movement. Get out of your sedan, as it were, and move thyself. This problem gave rise to the industrialist’s notion of exercise in the form of specific activities that required their own set of clothing and equipment, for the industrialist knows only how to produce exercise as a product/activity, they cannot incorporate it into all activities the way hunter-gather did, for the industrialist needs their factory, the very engine of industry, and factories require sitting or standing still for no less than eight hours a day, five days a week.

The industrialist is a creature of technology, by definition, and therefore is drawn to fancy equipment to facilitate exercise. This is not a problem in and of itself, but fancy equipment takes up space, is not portable, and is expensive. As such, the industrialist is forced to attend the communal gym to access the fancy equipment, unless they are fortunate enough to be in possession of a home gym. This is only a problem in that not all factories and offices have communal gyms for the use of their industrialists. This means the industrialist must head to another location for the production of a sweat and a pump. This renders all but the most committed industrialists going to the communal gym only a few times a week. This is not enough for a body that evolved over eons to move for all aspects of life: gathering the food, digesting the food, regulating blood glucose levels, exchanging stimulating hormones for sedating hormones, regulating gonadal hormones (for reproduction and sex traits) , and all of the rest of the jazz that is a living organism. Going to the communal gym is great and fine, but three or four moderately strenuous workouts a week is not something most people can maintain.

Exercise must take place every day if one is not a physical laborer for their profession; not even being a parent of a toddler provides the right type of exercise to be healthy, especially in the stress-reduction capacity. Daily exercise should have three components: ambulation of any type or speed, stretching, and resistance. The total time spent exercising need not be more than forty minutes, and it doesn’t need to be consecutive either. Having a routine, such as stretching and push ups after getting out of bed and a nice walk after dinner, makes it much easier to maintain the exercise regime. The human brain is a compulsive pattern-recognizer/constructor. It is easier to modify our behavior when we do something daily in short chunks so as not to be overwhelmed or tempted to skip a session under the promise of working out twice as hard next Tuesday. Furthermore, a daily exercise routine is a discipline, and discipline is essential for self-cultivation. Whether you are a seductive concubine, a person of wealth and power, or an acerbic glutton, you will have more accomplishments and more satisfaction from your pursuits if you cultivate your person along the way. An uncultivated human lacks potency to realize their dreams, which is a terribly sad fate to befall something as wondrous as a human being (even an industrialist!).

Surely, you doth protest your hatred for pushups. Don’t worry, your humble author is not advocating the kinds of pushups you were forced to do by the gym teacher, by Coach, or by Sarge. The noble pushup has been adulterated and maligned by these archetypal sweaty, paunchy, shouters. The pushup is probably the oldest exercise (for running was just done as a part of the procuring of, or preventing the becoming of, food), and it is still the best, when done properly of course. A proper pushup is a dynamic plank, which means the belly and hips never drop down at the bottom, nor do they rise up at the top. The feet and legs are involved in a proper pushup, they are not merely the passive fulcrum and lever for the work of the upper body. For when we descend in a proper push up, the heels flex downwards, away from the upper body. This means the angle of the ankle is about 90 degrees at the top, and less than 45 degrees at the bottom.

The intricacy of the angle of the ankle comes in the action of the feet and legs. When we descend, the heels stretch back, and when we ascend, we press down into the balls of the feet to rise up. Therefore, we are doing the easing down and the pushing up with both the top and bottom of the body. The middle of the body stays still, which actually requires the engaging of muscles in order to maintain while the upper and lower body are moving. This also incorporates the entire posterior, from the back of the neck, the upper back, the lumbar, the hips and glutes, the hamstrings, the calves, the bottom of the feet, and the toes. The abdominal muscles must actively stabilize the middle of the body to maintain plank position.

With the obvious involvement of the arms and chest, we can see clearly that a proper pushup is a whole body exercise that uses one’s own body weight for resistance, which is important for bone health and muscle growth. There is quite a lot involved with the proper pushup, which necessitates doing them slowly. To sacrifice the form of the proper pushup is to render it Coach’s pushup, which pales in comparison with regards to health benefits, for it only addresses the upper body and one’s image of ones own masculinity–incomplete and trite!

A proper pushup descends slowly and deliberately with the inhale. This is important, for the chest expands with the inhale, which adds stability to the chest, back, and shoulders, and we need to be stable to do a plank. There is no pause at the bottom, for a proper pushup follows the breath and healthy breathing oscillates seamlessly from inhale to exhale to inhale to exhale, ad infinitum. With the exhale, push from your back, then shoulders, then arms, in a method that is very similar to squeezing someone in a warm hug. It is also slow and deliberate. The ribs contract with the exhale, which acts as the initiation of the push up. Similarly, the ribs expanding with the inhale initiates the descent. Coach’s pushup might call for dropping down and exploding up, which sounds pretty mighty, but to the contrary it cause compartmentalization within the body, and a compartmentalized body is shamefully weak in the face of a connected body.

Start off doing only five proper pushups nice and slowly. Feel each inch as you go down and come back up. Keep your hips and waist straight the whole time. Expand in increments of five until you are doing 30 proper pushups nice and slowly. It’s OK if you start to get a little wobbly at the end, for we improve by pushing ourselves, but at least 80% of your set should be perfect form, which means only the last four in a set of 30 are allowed to be less than perfect. If you lose perfect form before 80%, decrease your number of pushups. After a set of pushups it is imperative to slowly rotate your arms in big circles. Inhale as the arms go up, exhale as they arrive at their apex and descend. Never hold your breath, but seamlessly blend inhale to exhale to inhale, etc. We do this for lactic acid that builds up in the upper body while doing pushups, and it needs to be flushed out. Furthermore, the arm rotation continues to stretch the shoulders and neck. In this manner, one can cure neck pain by doing proper pushups. Do another set of pushups after the arm circles. If you can only do five before you lose form, do three sets of five, each one followed by a set of arm circles.

You’ll notice that this is a cardiovascular workout, too, for the heart rate rises when doing a bunch of push ups. When done mindfully, the proper pushup is like yoga or qigong, which means it counts as meditation–it’s good for mental as well as physical health!

The pushup can literally be done anywhere, even in the aisle of a plane in flight. Sets can be done every hour and a half while at work, or lunch break before eating; the pushup can be fit into even the most insane of schedules.

After a set of pushups, before the arm circles, one can do some yoga, like the downward facing dog, the upward facing dog, cobra, more downward facing dog. When doing these yoga maneuvers, concentrate on activating the whole length of the body, as we did in the proper pushup. Remember, yoga is about form and the internal relationship of muscle groups. It is not a contest to see how flexible you are, this attitude ruins the genius of yoga and renders it as thoughtless, brutish, and as prone to injury as Coach’s pushups. Feel free to do some stretches that Coach taught you, but do them slowly and mindfully, don’t bounce or force your way into a pretzel. Flexibility is either a genetic condition called ligament laxity, or it is developed slowly after many, many consecutive days of stretching. Also, a proper push up, properly done, is a stretch. Try to feel that.

Walking is easy, walking is fun. Your dog needs to walk at least an hour and a half a day (even your pug and bulldog need this much activity). If you like, you can walk mindfully, feeling how the muscles all interact with each other and with your posture and gravity. Or, you can just barrel ahead like a New Yorker on the sidewalk, set to move those legs as quickly as they’ll go before they constitute running. As the people who schlock apparel for exercising say: just do it. Do it in the morning, do it after dinner, do it on your lunch break. Park away from the store, rather than on top of the door. Take the stairs. Just be sure to respect your body and don’t push it beyond what it can handle. If you’ve been a pure industrialist for a while, it may take some time before you can safely take the stairs.

Processed food is a product designed more for profitability than for nutrition. An industrialist who wants to maximize profit doesn’t want food to spoil in transport or on the shelves, so preservatives are added. For thousands of years humans ate food that wasn’t preserved by anything more than sun, salt, and smoke. Simply put, these preservatives disturb the delicate balance of chemicals upon which our vital processes rely. This brings on the problems mentioned way back in the beginning out an endocrine system out of whack. Some Preservatives are outright deleterious to our health, and are far worse for us than just upsetting our ratio of insulin to thyroid stimulating hormone. What is good for the food industrialist’s bottom line is not good for your waistline, and could lead to a cardiac flat line (though a dreadful segue, your humble author isn’t made of stone, and simply couldn’t resist).

The second thing any reasonable food industrialist would do would be to maximize the desirability of their product. This they do by adjusting the ratio of sugars to salts to fats, with an aim to augment the pleasure garnered from eating their product as much as possible. Though it is a food, and not (as of yet) an injectable, sugar activates the same hedonic pathways in the brain as nicotine and heroin. Hedonic comes from hedonism, which is usually accompanied by addiction. Many people are now addicted to sugar, and to the artful combination of sugar, salt, and fat. Industrial food products are intentionally rendered as drug-like a possible to addict their consumers to ensure more consumption. Low-fat foods are no healthier, for their sugar content is raised to compensate for the fat’s reduction. It is all done with mathematical precision and advanced chemistry sets in laboratories.

The only safe way to deal with processed foods is to simply avoid them. This will necessitate planning ahead and preparing food the night before, but to do otherwise is to by an addictive product to maximize someone else’s profit who is pushing your pleasure buttons to make as much money from you as they can while you are poisoned. To do this on a playground instead of a supermarket or restaurant franchise would land the enterprising industrialist in jail for being a pusher. It really is that sinister. It pains your humble author to say this, but follow the advice of Nancy Reagan, and just say no!

Pesticides are another concern for your food, but it isn’t necessary to get everything organic. Some foods absorb a terrific amount of pesticides, and others don’t absorb nearly as much. Foods that are eaten with the peel are better organic, those that are peeled don’t need to be organic. Look up the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen for a list of foods that should only be eaten in organic form, such as potatoes and apples, and those, such as onions and sweet potatoes that don’t need to be organic.

GMOs in food, or GMO food, is a topic your humble author does not wish to address at the time. However, it is important to note that NAFTA countries are allowed to sell GMO food, but many countries in Europe and Asia ban them from their citizens’ markets. Some of this could be protectionism, but most big American food producers will sell the non-GMO versions of their products overseas. Regardless, GMOs represent the Arc d’ Triomphe for industrialist food. Are they man triumphing over nature, or are they bringing us further out of balance? So it is in an understandably unscientific stance that I urge you not to eat Frankenfish or modified corn that causes the digestive systems of insects to explode after eating it.

Stress is solved by exercise and healthy food. Mediation works for some, the mindfulness espoused by Jon Kabat Zinn is particularly useful. Deep breathing is the easiest and cheapest way to deal with stress. Just link the inhalation and exhalation, never hold your breath, and don’t exert more than 70% effort. Use your abdominal muscles the whole time. It is absolutely necessary to take a few classes in tai chi, qigong, yoga, martial arts, or zazen to learn how to deep breath. But remember, it takes a lifetime of daily practice to master simple deep breathing. Get outside and move! You’ll be amazed at how much that helps.

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