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Moving Right To Build A Strong Brain?

Last week, we talked about the importance of movement to your overall wellness. This week, I want to take the conversation to the next level.

If you were at our “Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner” last Thursday night, some of this will be review for you. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think everyone needs to hear this message. It’s an important part of my personal mission as a healthcare professional.

Wellness Is Multifaceted

If you and I haven’t met, here at Fundamental Health Solutions, we really consider ourselves wellness coaches; we teach people to think right, eat right, move right, and live right. We could focus exclusively on one or the other and we would be on par with most of our colleagues around Naples, but we saw something years ago that gave focus and direction to our work: all the areas of your life are inter-related. Enjoying wellness in any part of your life requires wellness in every part of your life, and it starts in your thinking. This is why we hold the monthly “Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners:” so we can influence your thinking about all different types of wellness.

So this week, while we’re going to be focusing on moving right, we’re going to address some important aspects of thinking right.

I Might Be Crazy

Now, I have to throw out this caveat before we dig in: I have been accused of being a little crazy. People call me an extremist. I don’t disagree. I can be extreme about details in your movement. I can be extreme about being diligent to do movements a certain way and a certain number of times. I can be extreme about measuring your movement and and your progress over time. But realize, there is love behind it.

I go a little farther than the next guy because I want to show you what’s possible, and that requires breaking through some old, established mindsets. You may not have been exposed to the methodologies I use. You might have learned (or even taught yourself) movements that are causing problems in your posture, mobility, stability, and motor control. Some of your habits go back to your childhood. It’s hard to undo some things that are done, so I have to go a little farther to cut through wrong thinking and set new patterns. 

(Side note: If you think our adults are in bad shape, you haven’t seen anything yet. As we remove physical education, gymnastics, and calisthenics from our schools, we are setting our children up for a nightmare of health issues because they don’t know how to move in healthy ways. We have huge problems coming.)

It Starts With Fixing What Is Broken

When we work with patients, most of what we are doing is rehabilitative. We are re-working years of bad practices. It doesn’t all happen at once. We have people who expect to have one adjustment and walk out looking like a professional athlete. It doesn’t work like that.

By measuring your movements and prescribing specific exercises to refine those movement patterns, we are building a foundation on which you can later build a strong, flexible body. You might not ever look like the guys on Muscle Beach in California, but that’s also not a good goal to pursue, as I described last week.

So, you might get bored with all the tests and measurements we do, but we’re looking for progress every time we get together:

  • Last month, I couldn’t touch my toes, now I can.
  • A few weeks ago, I couldn’t move without pain, now I can.
  • I couldn’t walk to the mailbox without being out of breath, but now I walk around the block every day.

We don’t tell our patients what to do, but we do challenge them to see if they can do just a little bit more. We want to see progress over time, and that takes patience from us and from you.

Then We Determine Where You Want To Go

It also requires a clear vision for who you want to be and what outcomes you want to have. The clearer you are on your goals, the better decisions you can make. It’s easier to get up at 5:30 and walk or run around your neighborhood if you can see how it will take you where you want to go. It’s easier to say “no” to unhealthy foods if you have a clear vision for your wellness.

I’m not trying to build a cathedral; I’m building an ark. It’s not about getting lots of followers, it’s about helping a few people live their best life: you, then our community, then the region, then the whole nation. I’m not a prophet like Noah, but I can help people think right about their lifestyle choices and enjoy better outcomes and longer life.

Someday, I hope to have a room full of centenarians who are enjoying and maintaining good health.

Chronic Disease Hurts Everyone

The last report I heard, around 60% of the American adult population has at least one chronic disease. That translates to one trillion dollars in healthcare costs per year. And it’s not like other debt: it has to be paid next year with interest. It’s a national security and financial stability problem.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is almost all of the risk factors are within our control; simple lifestyle choices.

Wellness Starts In The Mind

The process of transformation is not easy; it has to start with a clear decision based on a clear vision or you will quit early.

Les Brown said this and I love sharing it with people:

“If you want a thing bad enough to go out and fight for it,

To work day and night for it, to give up your time, your peace, and your sleep for it,

If all that you dream and scheme is about it, and life seems useless and worthless without it,

If you’ll gladly sweat for it and fret for it and plan for it and lose all your terror about position for it,

If you’ll simply go after that thing that you want with all of your capacity, strength and sagacity, faith, hope, and confidence, and stern pertinacity,

If neither cold poverty, famine, nor gout, sickness or pain of body or brain can keep you away from that thing that you want, if dogged and grim you beseech and beset it…

…with the help of God you’ll get it.”

Teddy Roosevelt suffered from severe life-threatening asthma as a child. He was sickly and unable to play with other kids. His father built him a gym to get his ribcage to work. He applied himself to consistent exercise routines there for three or four years, just in order to be ready to play with other kids. He went on to become a Rough Rider before going on to be President. The Rough Riders could be compared to our modern Navy SEALs in a lot of ways, especially in their fitness and endurance.

Can we do that?

Movement Is At the Heart of Longevity

The Blue Zones Project identified nine characteristics of communities around the world – people in widely different cultures – who had a higher-than-normal population who lived past 100 years. It covered aspects like eating right, thinking right, enjoying community and faith, but the first one on the list is “Move Naturally,” and it is just as important as a healthy diet.

Move Naturally means moving your body in a healthy way every day. The 100-year-olds in Sardinia are shepherds and it’s not flat like Naples. They are leading their sheep up and down steep mountain inclines. They aren’t building massive muscles, but they have to be fit and strong to do this work. They can’t afford to be hindered by pain and stiffness. They aren’t driving to work. People growing their own food have to be able to do the work. It’s exhausting, but it’s a necessity. They can’t go down to Walmart for survival.

It’s Not The Movement You Think You’re Looking For

I get pushback from people about my “Move Right Monday” videos. Some movements might look silly to outsiders. They are a deviation from what you see in modern fitness centers. These movements weren’t designed to build big muscles. They were developed to help people be lean, tough, and agile well into their Golden Years.

The purpose of the whole Blue Zones process is resilience. I’ve been working with them for about 10 years. We are facing a healthcare crisis, and I want to be one of the survivors who is helping people get to safety. The more we connect and do right things together, the better our chances of surviving well.

In our urgency for convenience, we make ourselves less adaptable and less resilient. We have to turn that around, but it takes a change in our thinking. Instead of looking for more convenient ways to do things, we need to do just a little bit more than we have in the past.

The Power of Neural Plasticity

Humans only have two ways of improving their wellness; you could call these two systems hardware and software. The exercises are give people are designed to facilitate pattern refinement or motor control. Movement isn’t just a muscular manipulation; it works through the brain, and the more you practice a specific move, the more the neurons in your brain build patterns that you can repeat easily. Exercise – in my opinion – should be a process of learning to function properly. When you apply abnormal loads to your frame, your body has to adapt, which may include cranking your shoulders up, bending wrong, with your back unstable. If you repeat the wrong process, your brain will store it and reinforce it. You don’t want that; you want to build habits in the hippocampus that promote good, fluid movement.

Neural plasticity is incredibly important to your whole brain. People who exercise learn better and score higher. At around 30 or 40 years of age, your brain starts to decline because we tend to think we have learned everything we think we have to know. We stopped reading maps because cars drive themselves. We use GPS so we don’t have to pay attention. We have to maintain and grow those connections because they build the infrastructure for healthy thought. We simply have to activate them through movement and exercise.

We All Need To Move…Some More than Others

Kinesthetic learners have a hard time just sitting at a desk all day. That’s why you see kids who can’t sit still – they aren’t designed to. Exercise keeps attention-deficit kids engaged. As the neurons are activated, it improves attention span in the hippocampus. It helps them focus, building decision-making skills. Making better decisions consistently build confidence and reduces the internal pressure to act out. Unfortunately, as our schools and our culture at large remove calisthenics from our daily life, we are literally dumbing ourselves (and our children) down.

Again, the key is not bulking up to look like an underwear model. It’s about building a body with good posture, the ability to move in any direction with agility, and to engage your neural system in a way that stimulates the brain to grow new cells and new connections. Increases circulation.

High-intensity aerobic exercise grows the brain, so you need to move your body in a healthy way every day. There’s more than one type of fitness, and it’s not just aerobic and anaerobic fitness. There’s musculoskeletal fitness; do you have the proper alignment to go faster and do more or do you have to scale it back?

If you have to take tylenol because your hips and knees are so bad, you have to adjust your exercise to what you can do. But you still need to move.

Move To Fight Depression And More

I thought this was fascinating: the average person has about 3.5 bad days per month. If you exercise, that number goes down to two. People who suffer from depression, on average, experience 11 bad days per month. If you can get them to exercise, it goes down to 7.5. That’s better control than by taking medications – just by making better connections in the brain through movement.

Again, to overcome where you’ve been, you have to want it bad enough to go after it.

Headaches go down. Fear goes down because you’re more confident. You carry yourself with more confidence. You enjoy better, more restorative sleep.

Let’s Keep Talking About This

Next week, I want to wrap up this series by looking at some “how-to’s” for improving your movement. I hope you’ll mark your calendar to watch for that article next Wednesday. I release them every Wednesday morning around 5:00 a.m.

In the meantime, have a fantastic week and look for ways to add some meaningful movement to your everyday life. You will be so thankful that you did.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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