Not Too Much, Not Too Little

A TOJ needs to be smart about exercise because too much can be as harmful as too little. TOJs like to exercise so much that maintaining a healthy balance between exertion and rest can be a challenge.

In his book Ultra-Longevity: The Seven-Step Program for a Younger, Healthier You, Mark Liponis, M.D., makes the case that the key to a long and healthy life is to get your immune system functioning at its optimum level. Before explaining how to do this, he gives an overview of the amazingly complex interactions between bone marrow, glands, the lymphatic system, and various types of blood cells which function as your body's Department of Homeland Security. It's the best explanation of the immune system for a lay person I've ever read.

Most times the immune system works perfectly to protect us from toxic viruses, bacteria, parasites, allergens and other types of micro-body snatchers. Working quietly in the background, it turns on and off as needed, 24/7, year round. Only once in a while it lets its presence be known, like when you have a fever because you are fighting a flu or redness around a scrape.
Like most things physical, the immune system isn't perfect. Sometimes it can become hyper-active and not turn off. This can be caused by stress, food allergies, and other subtle culprits. Medical experts call the condition chronic inflammation and suspect it might be the root cause of a long list of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease. Dr. Liponis thinks chronic inflammation also accelerates aging.

In the mid-1990s some alert doctors at Harvard Medical School noticed that when inflammation is present so are elevated levels of C-reactive protein and cytokines. Today there is a standard CRP test that is a very early and accurate marker of heart disease. To keep the immune system in a non-aroused state, Dr. Liponis recommends correct eating, supplementation, good sleep, love/social life and relaxation. He also prescribes exercise because it is associated with "reduced levels of immune activation and lower levels of cytokines and CRP."

But he recommends exercising for less time and at lower intensity than many TOJs would ever limit themselves to. Clearly the target market for his book is not exercise nuts like TOJs, which might explain why he never mentions another probable cause of chronic inflammation -- over-exercising. And that's likely why so many doctors prescribe what could be called Exercise Lite, i.e., sweat, but not too much.

There is no way to avoid a certain amount of inflammation if you exercise hard. It is an inherent side product of developing strength and endurance. Mild inflammation is the reason you are sore a day or two after a tough workout. The miracle is how the body breaks down slightly with each workout, then rebounds stronger if you follow a mindful training regimen that stresses you just the right amount, then gives you time to rest and recover. You do not want to work out so hard each and every day that your body doesn't recover and is in a state of chronic inflammation.

The length of time each of us needs to rest between exercise varies from person to person. But the recovery period is always going to be longer for a TOJ because you do not recover as quickly when you are older as you did when you were a teenager. I notice telltale signs if I am over-exercising. My resting pulse stays slightly elevated, even hours after working out. I feel vague aches in parts of my body that were not specifically stressed during exercise. There is a general feeling of fatigue that lingers for days. Once these are present, I'm vulnerable for a cold or flu.

If some exercise physiologists and medical researchers are right, the risk to a TOJ's long term health due to over-exercising is much higher than just catching a head cold, a topic to explore in my next blog.

A TOJ has to know his or her body well to maintain the subtle balance between too much and too little. Without this balance, exercise, your best friend, can become your enemy.

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