We are already 1 month into 2015. Commercial gyms are humming with activity. On a recent weekend in Austin, with temperatures in the 70’s, the neighborhood sidewalks and parks teemed with people out walking, jogging, skating, etc.
Whether we formally ink goals for the year or simply acknowledge a general desire to just feel better, we all traditionally resolve to improve ourselves in some way as a new year begins. Goals may range: from trimming body-fat, to performing at a higher level at our jobs or in our sports, to feeling up to spending more active time with our families. Regardless of our primary goal, our physical health will play a major role. As an example, a triathlete age-group competitor and a 62-year-old retiree caring for a grandchild can both be equally thwarted by low back pain. And the mother of a new-born and the techie web developer may both be hindered by neck pain. Our physical function affects everything that we do.
Physical improvement is a worthy endeavor. And the benefits of improving your physical self reach beyond the musculoskeletal realm. For example, it has been demonstrated that a gene called Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) is activated during moderate-intensity exercise both acutely and chronically. Meaning that if you exercise once (acutely) you get a little benefit from BDNF and if you exercise regularly (chronically) you get longer-lasting benefits.1 BDNF has been shown to assist in brain structure development, brain plasticity (learning), and memory, as well as in pain regulation.2 Who couldn’t use better mental focus and improved memory? Now where was I?…
Establishing a routine of exercise activity on a regular time interval is also known to keep the physical body functioning more optimally. Exercise is one way of injecting order into chaos. Consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It states that the state of entropy (chaos) in the universe will always increase over time. But wait, there’s hope! Our bodies have a miraculous ability to adapt to stresses and become more robust in the face of disorder (eg: irregular activity). Julius Wolf and Henry Gassett Davis found that bone and soft-tissue, will each respond specifically to the stresses placed on those tissues by remodeling and becoming stronger. They described these principles in Wolf’s Law and in Davis’ Law, respectively. Essentially, they discovered that we can inject some ORDER into the DISORDER of our physical beings. I don’t know about you, but to me that is extremely empowering! In a universe of ever increasing disorder, we can own a little piece of control and order by providing ourselves with appropriate input!
On a daily rotation we work, play, eat, and then sleep. This is a macro example of a stress and rest system that keeps us each functioning at some level. As another example – we all know to brush and floss our teeth to maintain mouth health. But did you know that the act of chewing and the rinsing of saliva during swallowing are also vital to dental wellness? This is another, smaller stress and rest system.
Back to New Year’s Resolutions. According to business author Stephen Shapiro, only 8% of Americans are successful in completing their resolutions regarding physical activity.4 If our biological pattern of injecting order into chaos via physical activity can keep us tracking towards our health goals, then why do so many people get derailed from their New Year’s Resolutions? One reason that I have observed is that often, our zeal to increase the quantity of our movement supersedes our quality of movement. This then leads to discomfort, pain, or even injury.
When thinking of the quickest way to burn off some of the effects of that holiday merriment, (Mom’s Pecan Pie paired with a Shiner Chocolate Stout, for instance), many people will opt to take up running as their chosen form of New Year’s exercise. This choice inherently makes sense. Running is very efficient in that it burns about 100 kCal/ mile. (This rate of calorie burn is actually true whether you are walking or running.) Running (or walking) requires little equipment-shoes and a safe route. However, realize that running also loads the lower extremities with a force equivalent to 4 times the person’s body weight with every single dynamic step. If your body system is not ready to adapt to this type of stress, pain ensues. A systematic review of PubMed’s database of running injury studies found that between 19.4% and 79.3% of runners experience a lower extremity injury every year.5 Nearly 80%!?! No wonder only 8% of Americans succeed in their New Year’s Running Resolutions.
When I read this statistic, and when we encounter well-meaning patients with running overuse injuries at Symmetry Physical Therapy, I think of the late and prolific Stephen Covey and his 2nd Habit of Highly Effective People. The 2nd Habit advises that we “Sharpen the Saw”6. “Sharpening the Saw” refers to laying the necessary groundwork to succeed at your chosen task. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe.” Unfortunately, many of us are too busy sawing or chopping to stop, take pause, and SHARPEN. So how can we ensure that our metaphorical saws/axes are quite sharp? Or, more specifically, how can we ensure that our bodies are ready for the stress of a chosen exercise activity?
Enter Symmetry Physical Therapy. We are ready, willing, and able to be your go-to body-sharpening resource! Julie and I – Symmetry’s Orthopedic Physical Therapy Team – specialize in improving people’s movement patterns and in eliminating discomfort, pain, or injury. We can help you to head off an exercise overuse injury before it happens, or to resolve a new or nagging injury quickly. We invite you to come in and sharpen your 2015 physical activity capacity. Give us a call to schedule a consultation or evaluation appointment, and resolve to move well in 2015!
If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.
Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.
- Ferris LT, Williams JS, Shen CL. The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(4):728-34.
- Binder DK, Scharfman HE. Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor. Growth factors (Chur, Switzerland) 2004;22(3):123-131.
- Genetics Home Reference. BDNF. Available at: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/BDNF. Accessed January 29, 2015.
- http://stephenshapiro.com/resolutions-that-work/, accessed 1/19/2015.
- Van gent RN, Siem D, Van middelkoop M, Van os AG, Bierma-zeinstra SM, Koes BW.Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(8):469-80.
- Covey, SR. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. 1989, NY: Free Press.