Recovering Fitness, Lowering Inflammation, Protecting against Disease
“Exercise is one of the most potent anti-inflammatories and antioxidants known (not to mention that it helps control hunger signals, improves insulin sensitivity, burns off stress chemicals, boosts thyroid function, and helps your liver detoxify)” (UltraMetabolism, p. 170). Although classic Western forms of exercise like running, swimming and biking do great things for the heart and lungs, they are punishing on the joints (too much repetitive motion). Running is especially damaging (plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain, hip and lower back pain from shortened hamstrings). That’s why Food & Movement Therapy recommends 3 forms of movement as the healthiest: yoga, tai chi, and Pilates. These three movement systems focus on deep synchronized breathing (complex control over the diaphragm), strong flexible joints, lengthened muscles, a spine powerful and balanced on all four sides (not just in front), a long efficient core that extends from the chest and shoulder blades down to the thighs; they emphasize strengthening all the small muscles to harmonize the arms, torso, neck, and legs into an integrated force. These systems avoid excess strain. They teach us to become aware of our own bodies and to use our energy efficiently through flow.
“A fit person can do things the non-fit person couldn’t even imagine,” (Thrive Fitness, by Brendan Brazier, 2015 ed., p. 17). In Food & Movement Therapy we define “fit” functionally. A “fit” person moves in ways that help her stay healthy and that give her joy and a sense of accomplishment. There are levels of fitness, obviously, which we will discuss later, but the key thing to remember is that, in our approach, being “fit” is not about BMI (how much you weigh) or about how much aerobic exercise you can do or about how flexible you are. Our definition is purely functional. “Fit” means you are able to do what you need in your daily life without joint or muscle pain or straining your heart (climbing stairs, lifting children and moderately heavy objects, walking fast, driving, riding a bike, dancing, playing recreational sports or swimming in a lake if you wish, gardening, hiking up steep hills, etc.) If these activities you love bring you pain, then you need to build some new habits that strengthen your body. (I work every week with fit people in their late 80s who are still dancing and still doing my advanced form of chair yoga.)
Remember: we all start to lose muscle mass as we age. If we don’t use our muscles, they will either shrink to almost nothing (getting replaced by fat) or they will atrophy and shorten (chronic contraction), causing bones to rub together (this includes the spine) and joints to become swollen, inflamed, and painful (arthritis). All this pain and bother can be avoided by using the movement systems right for you.
Food & Movement Therapy will show you which systems can work for you. Then you just need to try out different ones and choose those you prefer. Try, if possible, to move in more than one systematic way (walking, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, dancing, swimming, and biking bring the largest benefits for the effort and are the least likely to injure you).
Whatever your choice of movement to stay fit, you have to commit to it. Better yet, commit to more than one type of movement. This is called “cross training.” Walking fast can be one of your ways to move; when you combine it with any other type of movement (except running), then you are cross training.
When we say a fit person stays “healthy,” what do we mean? He has no chronic diseases and takes no regular (daily) medications (see next 2 paragraphs for clarification). We all get injured sometimes, and we all get infections or acute diseases that last some days, even weeks or months (Lyme disease, malaria, measles, appendicitis, etc). But a fit person has strong habits (food and movement commitments) and a strong immune system that eventually heals the body and brings things back into balance. Healing can take time; we need to be patient.
“Wait a minute,” people say to me, “it’s not possible to get off my meds—my doctor says I’ll have to keep taking them the rest of my life to ‘manage my disease.’” Remember: the whole point of the health care revolution we’re telling you about here—and of our Food & Movement Therapy—is that there’s a new “future” coming for health care in America, and we’re driving this forward. The medical doctors we introduce you to in our forum (“pioneers”) are the ones who do their best to get most of their patients off their meds. That’s why we feature them and why we push this new definition of a “fit” person.
There are, of course, exceptions to this approach. Take, for example, our friend, Elaine. She had Graves disease in her 20s, so the doctors disabled her thyroid using radiation. Elaine will need to take thyroid hormone for the rest of her life. The reason her thyroid stopped functioning was that her mother had been exposed to Agent Orange as a girl growing up in Vietnam; this damaged her eggs and later caused her daughter to suffer.
Let’s look at the scientific evidence for how “fit” people get off their meds and why their immune systems get strong enough to carry the burden of health (without the addition of the strong toxins called “prescription drugs”). Two simple facts help you understand the magnitude of the problem we are facing in America with “getting off our meds.”
First, “almost 65 percent of the nation now [in 2003] takes a drug available only by prescription,” (Our Daily Meds, by Melody Petersen, 2008, pp. 5, 340). That’s why we are working to build a different “future” for health care in America and why we are so adamantly opposed to the two most powerful industries—food and pharmaceutical—that have created disease in America over the past fifty years. We are here to help you and your loved ones recover your natural health. Food & Movement Therapy is helping people to get off their meds by eating healthy food and moving well.
Second, “physician error, medication error and adverse events from drugs [taken as prescribed] or surgery kill 225,400 people every year [back in 2000]. That makes our health care system the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only cancer and heart disease,” (The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, 2006, pp. 15-16, 369-70).
If so many of us are dependent on prescription drugs (about “65 percent” of us), and if the current American health care system is our “third leading cause of death,” then it is time for a change. And the change we are seeking must come from within that portion of the general public who want real health and who listen only to those within the medical field who have our best interests at heart—people like the doctors, scientists and writers featured here.
Dr. Servan-Schrieber, in his book Anticancer, focuses on chronic “inflammation” and on how scientists have recently (1990-2005) come to understand its importance in “promoting” diseases, especially cancer. Of all the medical discoveries of the past thirty years, the role of “inflammation” is the most useful for us because it allows us to take control of our own health. (Two blood tests show the “level of inflammation.”) The task is simple—do whatever we can to lower chronic inflammation in our bodies. The medication that does this, according to Dr. Servan-Schrieber, “has too many side effects to offer a valid solution to the problem.” But there are “natural approaches available to everyone” that do the job: eating the right foods and moderate exercise significantly lower this dangerous type of long-lasting inflammation (Anticancer, pp. 47-9). Stress reduction techniques like mindfulness meditation (pioneered in medicine by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1980 and currently at the University of Massachusetts Medical Clinic: see his Full Catastrophe Living, 2005 edition); these techniques not only calm the mind but also the body, rewiring the nervous system and releasing beneficial chemicals in the brain.
Chronic stress leads to high levels of inflammation, which then promote many diseases. Stress reduction techniques (the right foods, moving well, and meditation) all lower these levels. Imagine the benefits you can get by combining eating well, moving well, and meditating.
Modern Western medicine starts with the discovery of the circulation of the blood (published in 1628 by William Harvey). The wisest doctors and scientists today (2016) understand that unimpeded flow (circulation with as little blockage as possible) is perhaps the overriding principle in being healthy: arteries are open to carry as much oxygen as possible, lungs pull in fresh air and pump out carbon dioxide with an easy deep continuous flow, intervertebral discs absorb fluid from their surroundings, when they twist and lean, to keep them plump and the spine flexible, lymph flows (without a pump like the heart) throughout the body carrying lymphocytes (“the main protagonists of the active defense of the organism”), fluids in the joints circulate freely within small sacs to prevent excess scar tissue and calcification from hardening and binding, and, lastly, the digestive and excretory systems work smoothly together, extracting nutrients efficiently and driving waste products out swiftly, without causing the suffering of constipation or bloating or acid reflux.
The three movement systems that most effectively promote “flow” in the body are tai chi, yoga, and Pilates. Walking briskly and enjoying the sun and nature around you also get you in the flow of life. That’s why we recommend these ways of moving. They will help you strengthen your immune system, avoid disease, sleep better, and feel calmer. The flow you experience in these types of movement helps the fluids in your body flow in the ways they have evolved to flow. Watch the clouds above, stand in a slow-moving river and feel its current, go down to the sea and feel the tide changing. Flow is all around us. It is not so hard to become part of this flow and to bring it inside us. But modern American life, with its desk-bound work and its rushed junky meals, does a great deal to lock us up and break the flow. Put in the effort in your life and recover flow by eating the right foods and moving well.