After some 15 years of impregnating the public consciousness with the health merits of fitness (or, instilling in the minds of the public the health merits of fitness), the once-revered cry to “Participaction!” now falls more and more on deaf ears. The waning enthusiasm for aerobic activities, the injuries — not to mention heart attacks — that have resulted from such activities and the emergence of “low-impact” aerobics as a safer alternative, along with other gentler forms of exercise like Yoga and Tai Chi, all conspire to undermine the validity of aerobic fitness despite its obvious value to the cardiovascular system.
In light of the above, what is the best advice to give patients regarding exercise?
The familiar saying that people take better care of their cars than they do of their bodies provides the clue if we follow the thought a step further. That is, how we take care of our cars will show us how we ought to take care of our bodies.
How we take care of our cars can be put into two words: maintenance and repair. That’s what keep them mechanically fit and safe to use, otherwise they can’t be certified as being in proper condition to drive, and, if sold, are sold “as is” with whatever problems they may have.
Allowing that leaving a car sit unused for too long has its deleterious consequences, the point is taken that driving a car has nothing to do with keeping it mechanically fit. “Use” and “maintenance” are two separate and distinct operations, and neither can substitute for the other.
The same holds true for the human body. While it’s better to use it than not, being active, per se, does not correct physical problems or make the body safe to use. If, for example, you have hunched shoulders, a swayback, inflexible joints and tight hamstrings, no amount of jogging or other activity will improve those conditions to any worthwhile extent. Moreover, unless conditions like these are corrected, or at least ameliorated, they will sooner or later lead to further physical problems as well as injuries.
The human body is, after all, a wonderful piece of “machinery” made up of pulleys, levers and hinges, all of which must operate without restriction and in harmony with every part for optimum efficiency. But it is also structured like a building with its skeletal framework and mass weight that needs be properly aligned and supported.
The problems that undermine the body’s functioning from these two pers-pectives, and which aerobics does not rectify, are tension, tight muscles, stiff joints, misaligned posture and inadequate weight support. Not to give the same remedial attention to these physical “faults” as given to a car’s faulty components is to use the body in an “as is” condition and risk the consequences to health and safety that that entails.
What we’re talking about, then, is “fit”-ness in the sense that the word fit implies, which is, according to one dictionary, “suitable, appropriate, adapted to an end, prepared or put in order for.” We talk of food, for example, as being fit — or unfit — for human consumption, water being fit to drink, and so on. The distinction should be made, therefore, between cardiovascular fitness, which results from activities, and “fit”-ness which is a condition in which the body is prepared, or ready for activities.
We could call this the “right working condition” of the body in accordance with how it is physically designed to work. This is the purpose of what in alter-native health jargon is called “bodywork.” With the risk factors removed, activities then become more energy efficient — and hence more exhilarating — more easily and skillfully done and safer.
Amazingly, when the body works “as it’s meant to,” the beneficial effects don’t stop at improved physical performance. Because of relieved interference and pressure to all body systems, stress has less negative impact, physiological functions work better and immunity to disease strengthens, aches and pains diminish or disappear, appearance becomes more complimentary and self-esteem increases. What it all adds up to is wellbeing and improved quality of life.
That this is so should not be surprising. There is a sound that everything of quality makes when it is working well. A car “purrs” along the highway; a motor “hums;” a sewing-machine “whirs;” a musical instrument “sings.” And wellbeing is the “sound of quality” when the body is working well.
As a last thought, “Practice makes perfect” is only a half-truth. Imagine a pianist practicing endlessly on a piano that is out of tune and expecting that the more he practices the better the piece will sound. Or a baseball player practicing his swing with a bat that is warped. Or a golfer practicing his swing with a body that is stiff, tight and full of tension. Same thing. So the other half of the truth is, “The quality of performance is only as good as the quality of the instrument.”
What to tell patients? Get your body “fit” first, then everything you do with it will work so much better.