Exercise in The Wellness Club

When I realized one of the members of our wellness club didn't know what dumbbells are for, I then knew we'd have to get back to very basic information on exercise as you'll see in the chapter summaries of the book.

But we kept coming back to exercise again and again. Two requests made people jumpy - one was the request to eat less sugar, and the other was to exercise more.

Turns out we're not all hard wired to love physical exertion. Sometimes people looked at this TOJ like he was a creature from outer space. Likewise I was a stranger in a strange land. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic. 

When it comes to exercising hard, one is reminded of these words from the Good Book: Many are called, few are chosen. Hopefully we can change that.

TOJ's New e-Book Is Now Available - The Wellness Club: A Journey to Health Beyond Healthcare

I'm happy to announce that the e-book I've been working on for the past nine months is now available at Smashwords and Amazon. It is available in formats from most major e-readers such as Kindle, computers, and mobile devices. 

Readers of tuffoldjock may not know that I was the executive director of a community health center in Colorado prior to moving to Oregon in July 2012. 

During my last year in healthcare, a group of employees got together once a week to explore wellness topics. People in healthcare are no healthier than the general population and we wanted to find out why and what do do about it.

We had lively discussions and watched videos on a host of wellness issues. Many of us embarked on various wellness journeys, e.g., to lose some weight, eat better, exercise more, stress less. Some succeeded, some failed. We had lots of fun and learned a lot.

For only $4.99 you'll get over 63,000 words of cutting edge information on the US healthcare system, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and many other topics, plus the links that will take you to the sites we visited during our presentations. We promised that each time we met, we'd learn something we didn't know before. We kept our promise, and if you read The Wellness Club, you'll learn some things too that will change your life.  

You can learn more about what's inside by visiting www.the-wellness-club-medicine-show.com. We're posting excerpts from each chapter over the next couple of weeks.

My wife was a key contributor to The Wellness Club. Together we're soon launching a personal training business, called Cascade Boomer Fitness, in Bend, Oregon. Everything we do will be shaped by what we discovered in The Wellness Club. 

The Anti-Frailty Instinct

The first time I saw Andy I was warming up for a circuit class. He wasn't in front of the mirrors with the young guys in tight-fitting compression tops grunting and grimacing, who would lift too much weight for thirty seconds with poor form, then spend a minute admiring their puffed up pecs and biceps as they recovered.

Andy was towards the back of the room, moving slowly and quietly from weight machine to machine, like a bee working a flower bed. His white long white hair and beard contrasted sharply with the black sweatsuit and shoes that covered him from head to toe. He would do a set, very slowly, sit for a moment to catch his breath, then get up and move to the next machine. When he got up, he wobbled a little and sometimes reached out to steady himself with his hand, especially if he had to wait patiently for someone to vacate a machine. Standing there, you could see he has a severe curvature to his upper spine, called kyphosis, that is common in old age.

One day when the weight room was crowded, I found myself stretching between two of the machines. I met Andy when he sat down on the calf machine, set the pin and with a quiet exhalation, started exercising.

I said had a question to ask him that I had wondered about for weeks: "How old are you?"

Continuing to exercise, he glanced at me with twinkling, small round eyes peering out from under bushy eyebrows, and answered: "I'm 90 years old."

This TOJ told him how impressed he was seeing him there and how hard he worked.

He shrugged and smiled. "I just want to be able to take care of myself. When I can't, it'll be time to go." He told me his father had lingered for a year and a half after a stroke. He would avoid that if he could. He said his daughter kept an eye on him, but he had specific instructions to not attempt anything dramatic if something happened to him. He said he'd already had his share of pain in life. When he was in the Navy, he broke his back. The doctors said he'd never walk again. He shook his head as he talked about this, "I was 19 years old. I had to get out of that wheelchair. That pain was..." He just shook his head as his words trailed off.  

I asked if he'd always worked out. He said that for many years he was an electrician and truck driver and didn't. It wasn't until he was in his 70s and fifty pounds heavier that he started to exercise. He felt bad, had some medical problems, and figured out he needed to do something and asked his doctor if it would be okay. She said yes, and he'd been lifting weights a few days a week ever since.

I told him I'd just finished a course on senior fitness and from what I had learned, he was doing everything right. He's an inspiration to others, including me. He smiled slightly, saying he figured it had something to do with living so long. He said his balance wasn't what it used to be, but other than that he was hanging in there.

The trainer called us to gather to prepare for circuits, but one day I'll talk more with Andy. Something got him out of that wheelchair and kept him in the gym five decades later. I'd like him to tell more.

He's living proof that resistance exercise is a key to a long, happy life. A  harsh fact is that we lose muscle mass as we age through a process called sarcopenia. The process starts in middle age and accelerates as we pass age 50. The muscles shrink and neurons die.

However, though it cannot be stopped, it can be significantly slowed  by resistance exercise. Other types of exercise for endurance and balance are also important, but strength enables the other two. Strength keeps you upright, mobile, and able to continue with activities of daily living. It's the key to remaining independent for as long as possible.

Andy discovered the elixir of life and the antidote to frailty. It's not in a pill. It's good old-fashioned sweat.

Jump for Joy

This TOJ was reading a book by Nassim Taleb called Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. He's best known as a brilliant, contrarian financial risk manager. However, he's also one of those broad thinkers who looks to other fields for insights to shed light on his work and life, including his choice of exercise - power lifting.

While doing some research he ran across a an 2003 Science article by Gerard Karsenty, a cutting edge scientist, who believes that bones are not just like passive metal beams in a building, but are very metabolically active, producing a host of chemicals that work at a molecular talking to other organ systems in the body. It's likely that bones play a key role whether or not you're healthy, not just whether you have bone related maladies as you age like osteoporosis or arthritis, but even diabetes or loss of sexual function.

At the heart of Taleb's argument is that we, the civilized and industrialized welfare staters, have developed an aversion for stressors of all kinds, in particular physical stressors. And this has been detrimental to our health and well being. Ironically, as we age, we're supposed to be more careful in order to avoid injury, but what we really need to do is be more aware of our limitations then consistently challenge them.

This TOJ thinks Taleb is right on the money. We become fragile (decrepit) earlier in our lives than necessary because we don't do the physical activities that will keep us strong and robust. The bones are very complex and not as well understood by science as you'd think they'd be. But one thing they do know, though they can't fully explain how it works, is that if you stress your bones the "right" way, they get stronger.

Once they thought only young bones reacted this way to the mechanical loading from exercise. However, more and more research shows that everyone of all ages benefits from using gravity and/or additional weight to stimulate the bones to grow stronger. Check out this successful program for older women at Oregon State University called Better Bones and Balance.

You'll see that the OSU program includes exercises that involve stepping and jumping to place a brief mechanical stress on the bones. Here's an interesting article by C.H Turner and A.G. Robling that explains what might be going on. Worth noting from their research is that you'd don't need to overdo the jumps. In fact, the bones respond better when exercise sessions are split; they observed if you do are going to do 120 jumps in a day, you see a 50% increase in the osteogenic index, a measure of bone formation, if you split the jumps into two 60 jump sessions separated by an 8 hour rest.

We TOJs are anti-fragile. We do our bones a favor and take some calculated risks. We seek positive stressors. We're jumpy.

Strong from Head to Toe

Last blog you saw this video of some amazingly fit young English guys doing some very unconventional, non-gym strength training. This TOJ suggested that much of it would look like the familiar stuff, e.g., push-ups and pull-ups, but to watch for differences. Those differences are the reason they're much stronger and fit than most guys their age.

So why would TOJs care about this? They're young, right? Yes, but they demonstrate some "secrets" that are really important to a TOJ because they promote physical resilience.  

The more experts understand human movement the more they are beginning to understand that it's not just muscle and bones that enable us to perform the range of motion we enjoy. Your entire body is is linked together by connective tissue (myofascia) that transmits dynamic energy from head to toe. This tissue, just like every other in your body, is constantly renewing itself - or not, if it's inactive.  

So here are a few of the secrets the English parkour artists revealed to us in the video.

Periodic Asymmetry - Notice how they shifted sideways during their push-ups, pull ups, and still ring exercises. They get slightly off-center. This places unusual stresses on the muscles and myofascial tissue because they must respond to additional gravitational forces as they  move away from their center of gravity. The guy presses a rock, not perfectly shaped, hard to grip.

Multi-Directional - They don't just move forward, they also move backwards and sideways. They don't just work on a flat surface, they climb and descend. All this multi-directional movement engages the muscles and anatomy trains in new and challenges ways. These guys aren't building isolated muscles like the guy in front of the mirror at the gym doing biceps curls, but building total body strength - the most useful strength there is that enables the body to safely perform a variety of tasks and adapt to unexpected forces, like breaking a fall on ice .

Non-Repetitive & Adaptive  - Their bodies, whether hands or feet, must adapt to a broad variety of surfaces, textures, and planes. They are developing incredible kinesthetic awareness of what their world feels like and how to adapt to it.

Whole-Body - They recruiting multiple muscles and anatomy chains by constant, variegated movement from head to toe, as opposed to sitting on a weight machine doing isolated calf presses. Nothing is more important than what you can do (or not) with your own body weight.

Bounce - One interesting discovery is that connective tissue is elastic. Much of our power results from loading and releasing energy stored in connective tissue, including ligaments and tendons, not just muscle. In the video, you see principle at work in the burpees and when the guy in a push up (plank) position climbs the steps doing a rapid downward then upward movement that "bounces" him from one step to another.

So here are some ways TOJs can start incorporating myofascial training into their exercise.
- When you do push-ups, slightly lean toward the right and go down, then repeat with the left.
- Stand with your feet flat on the ground and lightly spring up and down, keeping the ball of your foot in touch with the ground. Progress to jump roping off the balls of your feet.
- Do single arm swings with the kettlebell.
- Do push-ups with one hand or both hands on a medicine ball.
- Spider walk (crawl face down on hands and feet only) in all directions, sometimes lifting up onto a small step, box, Bosu, or sturdy coffee table.
- Crab walk, on hands and feet, facing up. Forwards and backwards.
- Hold a medicine ball with both hands and bend back (like a soccer throw-in) then slam the ball into the ground as hard as you can (you can also do this with a sledge hammer into the dirt).
- Hang from a bar and lift your knees towards your right shoulder, then your left. Repeat.

By incorporating some unusual movements, you literally strengthen your myofascial tissue. You get "bouncier" and less vulnerable to injury. Read this excellent article by Divo Muller and Robert Schleip about remodeling and rebuilding myofascial tissue. Note the importance of good hydration!

It only takes a few minutes of this a couple of times a week to get results, but because connective tissue develops more slowly than muscle, you need to be patient and persistent.

At first as you ad these elements to your exercise, you'll feel weaker and awkward. But not for long. Pretty soon, like they say in the TV ads for fancy men's clothes, "You'll like the way your feel. I guarantee it."