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  • J Felix

Movement

I grabbed a 70 pound, 8 by 4 foot sheet of drywall from the bed of the truck. I carried the sheet up the stone steps, wiggled through the front door, dropped into a semi-lunge while holding the sheet so as not to hit the top frame of the French doors, and set it down gently on the living room floor. One down, 9 to go.


I was remodeling my bathroom. After unloading the drywall, there were bags of cement and boxes of tile to carry upstairs.


Unlike sports specific movements like pitching or distance running, real-world movements involve whole body biomechanics. Machines one might find at a gym isolate and train specific muscles usually along the sagittal plane (that is, up and down). We curl up and down, squat up and down, bench up and down. Our day to day movements, however, are usually functional, multi-jointed, and multi-planar. We move up and down, laterally (side to side), and diagonally. We rotate. Sometimes we're off balance. Sometimes we're carrying a load- a baby, a bag of groceries, a bag of fertilizer, a bucket of water. We're bending and squatting and contorting our bodies this way and that.


Our movements are complex. There aren't machines to train the body to stand on the third rung of a ladder, balancing a heavy sheet of drywall over head with one hand while trying to drill it into the ceiling joists with the other. Injuries are common in construction work. Even athletes are prone to injury if an activity calls for movements they aren't conditioned to do.


So, a well rounded exercise regimen trains for flexibility, mobility, functionality, strength, balance, and pliability. My objective is optimal health, not aesthetics. I can take steroids to increase muscle mass, for example. I might look shredded and strong on the outside, but my insides- my liver, kidneys, and other organs- may fail as a result.


Flexibility

Stretching increases range of motion and flexibility. It can help improve performance. Stretching decreases stiffness and lowers chance of injury. Stretching can be dynamic or static. Dynamic stretches are usually used as warm ups. For dynamic stretches, I practice QiGong and Tai Chi exercises.


Dynamic: Qigong


Stretching statically involves stretching a muscle as far as it can go and relaxing into it. I prefer yoga asanas (poses) for static stretches and hold each asana for 30 seconds or more. Yoga, as a discipline, trains body and mind.


When I get to the edge of a stretch and feel I cannot go further, sensory neurons, called intrafusal muscle fibers, send an electrical potential, or signal, from the muscle to the spinal cord. Another signal is sent from the motor neurons within the spinal cord back to the muscles to contract. This safety loop is designed to bring the muscle back into a prescribed range of motion- ensuring I do not overstretch, damage the connective tissue, or overload the muscles. This biological mechanism is protective and helps prevent injury, but also restricts range of motion.


I can redefine and extend those parameters, however, by relaxing into the stretch, breathing calmly into it. If I breathe and relax into the edge, not judging my performance, not comparing myself with others, a population of neurons (von economo neurons) within a brain structure called the insula, integrates information about my somatic (body) experience, evaluates it as "good" or "bad" then routes this information to other parts of the brain. If I lean into an uncomfortable stretch and interpret the discomfort and unpleasantness as "good," I can override it to a degree. This process allows me to lean into discomfort and reinterpret a seemingly unpleasant experience as positive. This is an interoceptive process which I've written about in previous posts.





Mobility

Yoga, Qigong, and tai chi can also be performed as mobility exercises. Mobility exercises train range of motion around the joints. My favorite mobility exercise is dance.


When we dance, we move along multiple planes of motion- side to side (frontal plane) and up and down (sagittal plane). We twist and rotate, spin and pivot along the transverse plane. Moving along multiple planes of motion is better for the body than moving along a single plane. The functional movements of dance strengthen the body's structural fasciae. Fascia refers to connective tissues. These bands hold the body together, connecting muscle to muscle, bone to bone, and muscle to bone. Fascia is elastic and supple. It helps the body absorb and distribute force. When I dance, I move every body part and every joint along multiple planes of motion with mindfulness.


When we dance, all fascial tissue needs to be elastic, resilient and strong enough to accommodate dynamic, multi-directional movement. Fascia adapts when exposed to movements that cover all planes of motion. Training on machines or free weights doesn’t offer the same stimuli to create adaptations in the fascia.


When I'm working out, I don't dance like I'm at da club. Sometimes I practice mild breath holding. Short breath holds simulate the effects of high-altitude training by inducing both a hypoxic (lack of oxygen) and hypercapnic (high carbon dioxide) response. These two effects lower sensitivity to carbon dioxide, increase endurance, reduce the discomfort and fatigue from lactic acid build-up, increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, improve breathing economy, and improve VO2 max (McKeown, 2015).


I also give the vestibular system a workout. Within the inner ear are two organs, the utricle and saccule, which help us maintain balance. They use small stones and a viscous fluid to stimulate hair cells to detect motion and orientation. This is the vestibular system. When I throw myself off balance, I force the vestibular system to re-orient. If we are not intentional, we lose our ability to balance as we age. Balance training sends robust information to the brain about the relationship between the visual world and the vestibular system. It also forces the body to correct. These micro-movements strengthen the kinetic chain from the feet, up the legs, to the core muscles, and the rest of the body. The vestibular system is also wired to the limbic system, which is involved in processing emotion. It could trigger the rush you feel when you're on a roller coaster or in a Tesla rocketing from 0-60 in 2.7 seconds. It triggers the nausea and dizziness you may feel after spinning in circles. Interestingly, children love this sort of play: roller coasters, carousels, spinning. The older we get, however, the less we enjoy these kinds of movements.


When I dance, I'm giving the brain a workout. The brain houses a map of the body's orientation, helping direct movement through space. This awareness of the body's position, force and motion is called proprioception.


Proprioception is mediated by neurons located in the muscles, tendons, and joints called proprioceptors. Different proprioceptors detect distinct kinematic parameters, such as joint position, movement, and load.


Proprioceptive signals are transmitted to the brain where they are integrated with information from the vestibular, visual and motor systems to create an overall representation of body position, movement, and acceleration. The feedback from these proprioceptors stabilizes body posture and coordinates body movement.


Dancers have thicker gray matter than controls in the superior and middle temporal gyri and precentral gyrus. They also have greater white-matter diffusivity in the corpus callosum, corticospinal tract, and superior longitudinal fasciculus. Long-term dance training is associated with brain plasticity in both gray- and white-matter regions associated with motor and auditory functions. In studies where dance was used as therapy or as an intervention, participants showed significant improvements in several aspects of brain function involving cognition and sensorimotor performance. In one study, researchers found that dancing led to larger volume increases in more brain areas, including the cingulate cortex, insula, corpus callosum and sensorimotor cortex compared to conventional fitness activities. Only dancing was associated with an increase in plasma BDNF levels (Rehfeld, 2018). BDNF is a molecule that plays a key role in plastic changes related to learning and memory.


Dancing significantly increases levels of osteocalcin. Osteocalcin is a versatile hormone secreted by the bones. It regulates whole body metabolism, reproduction, and cognition. Indeed, studies suggest that osteocalcin acts as an anti-geronic hormone that could prevent age-related cognitive decline (Obri, 2018). By contrast, an absence of osteocalcin resulted in profound deficits in both spatial learning and memory. Increased anxiety was also associated with a decrease in osteocalcin.


Balance

Balance degrades with age if not trained, so I incorporate it intentionally into my routines.



Movement Training

I supplement my exercise regimen with movement training. These combine mobility, flexibility, functional training, endurance, and balance.



Pliability

Pliability is quarterback Tom Brady's go to workout. Pliability speeds muscle repair and recovery. Bands, foam rollers, and deep muscle work are some ways to increase blood flow, improve muscle oxygen saturation, cell permeability, and neural muscular efficiency.




May this information be as beneficial to you as it has been for me. Wishing you excellent health, strength, and mobility.


Back to work.




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