Your body was created to move. Does that surprise you? Your muscles, your joints, your nervous system, your fascial system, your immune system, and so on all depend on movement to function with optimal health. Did you know that your bones strengthen according to the stresses placed upon them? Did you know that it doesn’t matter how old you are for this to happen? You can increase the density of your bones at any age. There are many well done studies showing that your bone density increases with weight bearing exercise, even in your nineties! 1
If you have osteoporosis you need to know that your bone density can be increased by weight bearing exercises 2 and proper nutrition (whole food plant-based eating). On the flip side, you can be sedentary for years causing your bones to diminish steadily; especially if you are eating a diet that causes your bones to be weakened by losing calcium. And your bones are not the only things that diminish with lack of use. I am sure that many of you reading this have seen a muscle atrophy. When the cast was removed from the leg or arm, it was visibly smaller than the other side, right? That’s because the muscle wasn’t used. It atrophied (got smaller and weaker) from lack of movement. Here are just some of the benefits of movement:
- Improved circulation and cardiovascular health
- Strong, healthy bones
- Fluid, pain-free joints
- Regular elimination
- Well-functioning immune system
- Healthy weight
- Better mental focus
- Increased learning ability
- Decreased or eliminated depression and anxiety
- Decreased menopausal symptoms
- Helps to overcome addictions
- Helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Of course, these benefits are not exclusive of an optimal diet. Nutrition and exercise work hand in hand, but it is very important to note that nutrition alone does not enable you to have lifelong wellbeing. Exercise/movement is pivotal in enabling you to achieve vibrant health and age well.
It is advisable to check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program; especially if you have been sedentary for some time and/or have chronic disease states in your body. Remember, this information (if acted upon) will help you to bring wellbeing to your body but it may be necessary to seek expert assistance if you are new to something or need more knowledge to accomplish it safely and effectively.
Ok, here is what will help you to age well. Move like you mean it for at least 30-45 minutes 5-6 days a week. This means you need to be working hard enough so that you can still talk, but singing is out of the question and a long conversation is not something you would choose to do either. There is also the whole prolonged sitting issue, but I will get to that shortly.
A man I respect very much with over 50 years of experience training top athletes (Jack Medina, M.A. ~ President, Designs for Fitness) is known to say that the best exercise in the world is the one you will do. You see, the type of exercise you choose is not nearly as important as actually doing it consistently day in and day out. If you decide to start running and you hate running, guess what? You won’t be running for long. If you hate swimming yet you think swimming is the best exercise for you, you won’t be swimming for long.
You must choose a physical movement or activity that interests you, that you actually enjoy doing, and you will do it. I love challenging my muscles with 3 plane work (often using weights), and walking the dirt roads near my home (lots of big hills); yet I would rather stick a needle in my eye than run a mile. I love feeling strong and fit and getting fresh air, but I have no desire to swim 10 laps.
Pick what you like doing and do it! If you don’t know what you like because you have never exercised or you tried something and failed because you hated it, don’t quit. Keep trying things. Your wellbeing and how you age depends upon it. Here is just a partial list of movements/activities that will bring health to your body.
- Weight training
- Martial Arts
- Cross country skiing
Notice I did not list those sports that require lots of standing around like baseball, golf, and so on. There is nothing wrong with these sports; it is just that they do not get you moving enough to have a real wellness effect for your systems. If you love golf, consider it a fun hobby or pastime, not a health regimen. I know there are those that feel carrying their clubs and walking the course is good exercise; yet many people don’t do this.
Movement: The Fountain of Youth?
A study published in Circulation in 9/2001 began in 1966 with a group of 20 year old men. The goal was to learn the effects that 3 weeks of bed rest had on aerobic capacity. The interesting findings occurred 30 years later. They tested the same men again (30 years older) both before and after a 6-month program of moderate exercise: walking, jogging, stationary bike for one hour 4-5 times a week. Prior to the exercise program they found the men had increased weight by ~25%, body fat had doubled, and aerobic capacity had declined by 11%. An interesting fact is the 30 years of aging had actually done less damage than the 3 weeks of bed rest had done back when they were only 20 years old. See what lying around can do to you?
The eye-opening finding was what happened after the 6 months of moderate exercise. These same men actually regained the cardiovascular fitness levels they had as 20 year olds back in 1966! They were able to reverse the effects of aging and increase aerobic capacity by 15% with exercise. Exercise turned back the clock 30 years for these middle-aged men. Exercise was their Fountain of Youth!
Movement and your Muscles
Your muscles were designed to move your body. When they don’t work they weaken and can actually lose the ability to do something as simple as lift your leg up off the bed. I have worked with many patients in this impaired condition due to prolonged hospital stays or long illnesses that necessitated being bed bound. The good news is that muscles strengthen nearly as quickly as they lose strength; especially if they were strong and active prior to illness or injury. My patients who were active prior to a medical event always recovered faster and almost always resumed their previous level of independent living, no matter their age. Sadly, those who had stopped moving decades ago, or never moved much at all, were very likely to end up in a nursing home setting or become completely dependent on family or paid caregivers to meet their daily needs.
Sarcopenia is a Greek term meaning “poverty of flesh” and it is the decrease in lean body mass (muscle) that is often seen with aging. For those consuming more calories than necessary, there will also be a concomitant increase in fat mass. There may be little change in your body weight over the decades, but your body composition will be a much unhealthier ratio of fat to lean muscle. Look at the difference in thigh composition between a twenty year old and an inactive sixty year old. The light color is fat and the dark color is muscle. The circumference is about the same, but who would you say has a healthier ratio of lean muscle to fat? Why does this matter? Here is a partial list of the consequences of sarcopenia:
- Increased risk of physical disability
- Decreased muscle strength
- Increased risk of falls
- Increased risk of mortality
- Increased insulin resistance leading to high risk of Type II Diabetes
- Decreased energy
How do muscles work? Here is a very abbreviated version (it is actually quite complicated) of how muscles work to move you. It all begins with an electrical impulse sent from your brain. Once your muscle receives this signal, it knows to contract. There are two structures that work in cooperation to accomplish this contraction; myosin and actin. Myosin, a thick protein filament, forms cross bridges with actin, a thin protein filament. When myosin pulls actin past itself the sarcomere gets shorter.
This is an all or nothing event. The signal will either occur over the entire muscle fiber leading to a simultaneous shortening or, if the signal falls short, no contraction will occur at all. These contractions are triggered by calcium ions released from your sarcoplasmic reticulum.
When you strength train you are actually increasing the number and size of your muscle fibers. This is a very good thing for so many reasons:
- faster metabolism
- better functional strength
- decreased risk of falls
- efficient insulin function and more.
There are studies showing that people of advanced age who exercise are leaner and stronger than others in their age group. In just six months, strength increased by 50% in the test subjects and this was seen to be maintained during a four month follow up.3 So don’t think it’s too late or you’re too old! Use those muscles! If you are clueless about what to do or how to start, see a physical therapist or a personal trainer to ensure you don’t hurt yourself and your movements are aligned with your goals.
Movement and your Bones
Your bones were also designed to provide strength according to how much you move. If you lie around most of the time and eat a diet rich in animal proteins and dairy your bones can literally decrease density to a dangerously low level over time. This occurs because of the high acid load this diet creates and the lack of load on the structure. Your blood needs to remain in an alkaline state so it uses the calcium from your bones to neutralize your blood pH. The calcium used to neutralize the pH is then excreted in your urine. You literally flush your bones down the toilet! There are more studies than I can count that show this as fact. I have provided a few for you to check out if you wish. 4-6 And osteopenia is not really a diagnosis; it is a term defined by a committee and never intended to be used as a diagnosis requiring medication.
It is important to note that there is a normal amount of bone loss that occurs over time. Your body needs maximum bone density to deal with child-bearing and all the other things you do in your twenties and thirties. This does not mean, however, that your bones are designed to dissolve or fall apart once you reach the magic age of forty or fifty. This is simply not true. There are areas of the world where osteoporosis is not seen at all. These areas do not eat dairy products and have a very low amount of animal protein in their diet. These populations are also physically active into advanced age and physical activity is what you need to keep your bones strong. Weight bearing exercises have shown tremendous benefit for bone health. 7 Bone responds to stress and becomes stronger. You do not have to worry about your bones as you age! Eat to nourish your body and move to promote strong bones! Ok, onto more benefits of movement.
Movement and your Brain
Did you know that movement actually makes you smarter?! There was a revolutionary fitness program that put one U.S. school district of 19,000 high school students first in the world in science. It was Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois. After pioneering their fitness program, eighth graders finished sixth in math and first in the world in science on the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) test. China, Japan, and Singapore have outpaced American kids in these subjects for years until this fitness program was initiated. Check out the book Spark by John J. Ratey, M.D. to learn all about this landmark program begun by a gym teacher who was tired of seeing so many kids with obesity and fitness problems. This man is to be much respected and admired for his passion and drive to make a difference in the lives of our children. He also proved it can be done without medical treatment, drugs, counseling, and so on. It was movement, plain and simple.
How does exercise enhance learning? Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) nourishes the neurons in your brain like fertilizer. Neurons are the cells that make up your brain. BDNF improves their function, encourages their growth, and strengthens and protects them against the natural process of cell death. Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty important stuff? BDNF studies number well over five thousand papers in the research literature because of its presence in the hippocampus (an area of the brain known to be related to memory and learning). I don’t want to overwhelm you with the details of long-term potentiation (LTP), glutamate stores in your axons, synaptic clefts, reconfigures receptors, and synaptic plasticity. The bottom line is that voluntary exercise increases BDNF in the hippocampus.9 Prior to this study, Carl Cotman had completed a long-term aging study which showed three factors in common with those with the least cognitive decline: education, self-efficacy, and exercise. The first two factors were expected, but the third factor was a surprise leading him to study why or how exercise could make a difference in cognitive preservation.
How can exercise actually keep your brain functioning into old age? BDNF is increased when you exercise which then promotes all those good things mentioned above.
Movement and Incontinence
Incontinence is a serious concern for a large percentage of the population, especially those advancing in years. This does not have to be an issue. It is mostly due to lack of movement in weight-bearing. The pelvic floor requires weight-bearing movement in order to function the way it was designed to do. This is why pretty much everyone who becomes wheelchair or bed bound becomes incontinent. There are also other factors that inhibit pelvic floor function such as improperly rehabilitated total hip replacement, etc. In my Exercise Away Incontinence Without Kegels class, I teach how to restore proper pelvic floor function with movement.
The bottom line is to ensure your ankles, hips, and trunk are all working well as they all impact pelvic floor function. You can affect whether or not your future requires disposable underwear.
Movement and Lifespan
Exercising regularly has profound benefits; yet it does not necessarily reverse the effects of prolonged sitting. Exercising an hour a day does not counteract the negative impact of all that sitting. Researchers found that sitting for 11 or more hours a day (think 8 hours of work, eating dinner, watching tv or surfing the net at night) increased risk of death by 40 percent, regardless of other activity levels.10 This risk increased with each added 2 hours of sitting. Many of you are sitting an average of 13 hours a day!
“Sitting for more than three hours a day can shave a person’s life expectancy by two years,” says Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., associate executive director for preventive medicine and healthy aging at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. A study by Cancer Prevention Center in Australia showed that regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise participants did, those who took more breaks from sitting throughout the day had slimmer waists, lower BMI and healthier blood fat and sugar levels than those who sat the most.11
Stand up every 30 minutes, put your hands in the small of your back and lean backwards 10 times. Then perform 10 chair squats and drink some water. Set your cell phone to remind you. For those of you who say you don’t have time; this takes less than 60 seconds. I timed it.
Fact: a one hour workout is only 4% of your day. 30 minutes is only 2% of your day. No excuses
- Calcif Tissue Int. 2011 Feb;88(2):117-29. Epub 2010 Nov 27. Multicomponent training program with weight-bearing exercises elicits favorable bone density, muscle strength, and balance adaptations in older women. Marques EA, Mota J, Machado L, Sousa F, Coelho M, Moreira P, Carvalho J.
- Aging Clin Exp Res. 2010 Apr;22(2):116-22. Epub 2009 Nov 6. Effectiveness of exercise in the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis, knee osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. Iwamoto J, Sato Y, Takeda T, Matsumoto H.
- Arthritis Foundation. 2011 Exercise reverses aging in muscle. Simon Melov, PhD, and Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD
- Barzel US, Massey L. “Excess Dietary Protein Can Adversely Affect Bone.” J Nutr. June 1998 vol. 128 no 6 pp1051-1053
- Wachsman, A and Bernstein DS. “Diet and Osteoporosis.” Lancet May 4, 1968 (1968):958-959
- Margen S, Chu J-Y, Kaufman NA, et al. “Studies in calcium metabolism. I. The calciuretic effect of dietary protein. “ Am J Clin Nutr 27 (1974)L584-589
- Yuan Y, Chen X, Zhang L, Wu J, Guo J, Zou D, Chen B, Sun Z, Shen C, Zou J.Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2015 Nov 30. pii: S0079-6107(15)00228-X. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2015.11.005.
- The roles of exercise in bone remodeling and in prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
- Berchtold, NC., Kesslak, JP. & Cotman, CW. Hippocampal Brain–Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene Regulation by Exercise and the Medial Septum. Journal of Neuroscience Research. 2002, 68:511-521.
- Van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Korda RJ, Banks E, Bauman A. Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):494–500. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174
- Rebecca Seguin, PhD, CSCS, et al. Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in Older Women. AJPM: Volume 46, ISSUE 2, P122-135, February 01, 2014. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.021
Drink 4 ounces of water every ½ hour for 3 days in a row. More if you carry excess weight. Divide the number of ounces you require by 16 and drink that amount every ½ hour. Once accomplished, mark this lesson complete.
Mark this lesson complete once you have a full week of written assessments of your daily energy levels and water intake.
Download a phone app for drinking water and use it to track water consumption consistently for two weeks in order to mark this lesson complete.
Track your water intake and mark this lesson complete once you have drunk 8 ounces of water upon waking every morning for two weeks.
Once you have replaced caffeinated and alcoholic beverages with filtered water for an entire week, mark this lesson complete.
Feel free to mark this task as complete once you have successfully determined your ideal water intake for your weight.
Example: Body weight 200 pounds = 100 ounces of water daily
Water and your Skin
I thought I would start on the outside and work my way into the body as I would guess that you care about how you look. We all do. If you have skin issues, they can be greatly improved by drinking enough water. Yes, that’s right! No matter your skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis, even wrinkles) you will see positive results from drinking more water. Take a sip right now (I just did) and continue reading.
Did you know that your skin is 90% water? Knowing that one simple fact makes it a no brainer to understand how important water is for your skin.
Drinking water in adequate amounts is necessary to flush out toxins from the body via the excretory system. I will discuss water and the kidneys in just a little bit. When you do not have enough water flowing through your body, these toxins can build up in your body and escape through skin pores. This contributes to acne; therefore, when you flush your body internally with enough water, acne breakouts are less likely to occur from toxins released through the skin. The symptoms of eczema and psoriasis can be improved as well. You may even see that proper water intake will help eliminate sunken eyes and circles under the eyes.
Another benefit to your skin from drinking water is to carry nutrients into the cells of the body. Skin cells need nutrients to function properly and efficiently.
Water and your Weight
Believe it or not, not drinking enough water can sabotage your weight management goals. Many problems of weight control can be improved by increasing your water intake. The first thing to consider is that you may be retaining fluid if you are not drinking enough water. When your body is deprived of water (drinking caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you) it holds on fiercely to every tiny drop it does get. You may get slightly swollen and puffy. What you think of as excess weight may not be body fat but retained fluid if you are not drinking enough water!
If you are thinking, I will just take a diuretic to eliminate the excess water; think again. This will just force your body to eliminate what little water there is in your body and your body will then react by storing whatever is available. One of the unfortunate side effects of diuretics is the loss of water in the colon and the constipation it will cause, but that information is for the next section.
Limited water intake can also promote fat deposits. Water is a major part of your blood which transports nutrients and wastes. This means that fats and other toxins may be trapped in your body. Can you say cellulite? Dehydration slows down fat metabolism. If you are storing water due to not drinking enough, your liver is overstressed attempting to detoxify (when the kidneys can’t keep up). This means your liver is distracted from its main job of breaking down fats leading to storage in fat cells.
Try drinking a glass of water about ½ hour BEFORE meals. Don’t drink with meals as it can dilute your digestive juices and make it more difficult to digest your food as well as increase any reflux issues you may have. When you drink water well before meals you will aid digestion as well as decrease hunger and eat less because you will feel fuller and more satisfied. It is reported that drinking just one eight-ounce glass of water prior to a meal reduces the amount you feel like you “need to eat” by about 25%! And if you get midnight hunger pangs, try drinking a glass of water to shut them down! It works!
Reaching a healthy balance of water in vs. water out will improve your weight control goals. You may even see pounds and inches begin to disappear.
Water and your Digestion
Digestion starts with saliva, the basis of which is water. Digestion relies on enzymes that are found in saliva to help break down food and liquid and to dissolve minerals and other nutrients. Proper digestion makes minerals and nutrients more accessible to the body. Water is also necessary to help you digest soluble fiber. With the help of water, this fiber dissolves easily and benefits your bowel health by making well-formed, soft stools that are easy to pass.
As stated above, not enough water intake will lead to constipation. Your digestive system needs water from start to finish for healthy absorption of nutrients and daily elimination of wastes and toxins. Digestion is a key indicator and determinant of good health. In a book titled “The Prolongation of Life”, Russian-born bacteriologist and Nobel Laureate, Ilya Mechnikoff, wrote ‘death begins in the colon.’ Be warned, that book is not for the faint of heart. Studies have shown that 90% of colon cancers are diet-related. Serious as a heart attack, isn’t it? You want healthy digestive processes and elimination every single day of your life! Please know that there is much more to a healthy digestive process than just drinking enough water; however, this is a simple first step toward that goal. Knowing the facts will help you focus on hydrating properly every day.
Your intestines use water to flush out wastes. Water softens stools and helps move the food you have eaten through the digestive tract. Your intestines are an amazing structure with more functions than I have room to write here. Whole books have been written on the digestive system. The goal of the information given here is to help you understand the importance of taking steps necessary to improve your health; not to teach you detailed anatomy and physiology. I had the pleasure of teaching this subject in the past and it was very rewarding to see real understanding of how amazing the human body was designed to be, but that’s for another book, another time.
For now, please drink more water, knowing it will help you improve your digestion and you will reap the benefits that go with healthy absorption of nutrients and regular elimination of wastes.
Water and your Energy Level
Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you feel tired. This problem has been estimated to decrease metabolism by as much as 3%. This may not sound like a big number, but decreasing your metabolism is the last thing you want to do as it affects so many other health issues. Do you drag in the middle of your day? It may be that you are dehydrated.
Another benefit of drinking water is to carry oxygen and nutrients into the cells of the body. In addition to helping nutrients get into the cells where they are needed, the benefit of drinking water in adequate amounts also helps to keep your cells well hydrated so they can function properly and efficiently. At the cell membrane, water generates hydroelectric energy (voltage) which is converted and stored as energy. When your cells function properly and receive the necessary nutrients your energy level benefits wholeheartedly!
If you feel yourself starting to slow down, try drinking a glass of fresh, pure water. It certainly won’t hurt, and you just may get some pep to finish your workday!
Water and your Kidneys
Let me begin with some important information for you if you have existing kidney issues. If your kidney function is decreased and they are unable to eliminate excess water, you may develop something called hyponatremia. It is a condition caused by too little sodium in the bloodstream. This is an electrolyte imbalance that is very serious and requires medical attention. Electrolyte imbalance can cause disorientation as well as many other issues. If you have decreased kidney function, please check with your doctor to determine what amount is safe for you to drink.
On the other hand, if you do not have kidney issues, you are helping your kidneys function better when you are getting enough water in your body every day. Water can actually decrease your chances of developing kidney stones. What’s that you say? How can that be? Read on.
Let’s start with the bladder. I know it may seem like a contradiction since your bladder helps pass fluid from your body; but, to remain healthy, it needs water. Your bladder is a hollow organ made up of elastic muscle fibers, allowing it to expand to hold up to 750ml (~3 cups) of fluid without damage. According to the amount of fluid collected, pressure on the walls of the bladder triggers the need to urinate. Urinary incontinence is a very different issue that won’t be addressed here but I will state that is typically a weak pelvic floor issue and training your body in 3 plane function is the most effective strategy to address it as Kegel’s is mostly useless.
A bladder infection, or urinary tract infection (UTI), caused by bacteria getting into the urine, creates the same urge, but with pain and discomfort during urination. You can avoid this suffering and pain. Drinking healthy amounts of water every day will help to keep your bladder active and bacteria-free. If you are prone to infections, avoiding coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, and alcohol can help because they irritate your bladder and cause a slight amount of bleeding to occur. When bleeding occurs, bacteria may enter the blood vessels.
If a UTI is left untreated or undetected, it can lead to a kidney infection. Lower back pain can actually be a sign of a kidney infection, which leads us to your kidneys…
Your kidneys main function is to rid your body of waste materials. If your kidneys did not function for just two days, you would end up with metabolic poisoning; a condition incompatible with life! You want your kidneys to be as healthy as possible.
Now back to how water can help decrease your chance of kidney stones. Bacteria and protein can build up which causes crystals to form. There are other risk factors I won’t go into here but know water intake matters in this area. Kidney stones are extremely painful to pass. If you have ever had them or know someone who has, you know what I am talking about. Studies have shown that dehydration increases your chances of having these painful stones and drinking plenty of water may very well prevent their formation. Again, avoid caffeine and alcohol as they contribute to dehydration. The key to healthy kidneys is prevention and drinking enough water is the easiest, most powerful thing you can do.
Water and your Liver
Water is largely responsible for the fluid content of your blood. Since your liver filters your blood, its viscosity impacts the liver’s ability to detoxify. Your blood’s thickness is directly related to how much water you drink on a daily basis. If you do not drink enough water, your blood will thicken, and it will be more difficult to filter. This decreases your body’s ability to detoxify. That is not a good thing! Use the color of your urine as your guide. It needs to be very pale yellow or clear and nearly odorless. If not, your body needs more water.
Water and your Brain
Did you know that brain tissue is 85% water?! The level of energy generated in your brain is actually decreased when dehydrated. The list of mental issues that dehydration can contribute to is depression, confusion, decreased focus, and short term memory loss. Your brain depends on healthy levels of hydration to function at its best. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate, and when you lack enough water, that balance is disrupted. Your brain cells lose efficiency.
Years of research have found that when you’re parched, you have more difficulty keeping your attention focused. Dehydration can impair your short-term memory function and your long-term memory recall. Your ability to perform mental arithmetic, like calculating whether or not you have time for 10 more minutes on your exercise bike without ending up late for work, is compromised when your water levels are low.
When you sleep, whether it is six or eight hours, you have gone without water for the longest period of your day. You should know that you expel moisture with every breath you exhale, even during sleep. This means you will greatly enhance your brainpower first thing in the morning by drinking a glass of water upon waking.