The Key to a Healthy Life: Never Stop Moving

According to a report in the Lancet from October 2009, half the children born since 2000 can expect to live to be 100.  When I read that I thought, “That’s not possible! Most of the kids I see today – at least where I live – are chauffeured around by their parents and never go outside to play. You can’t stay healthy if you don’t move.”

In a New York Times Health article, Jane Brody states that, “there is no virtue in simply living long; the goal should be to live long and well.” She discusses how diet, proper nutrition, and supplements are important to long-term health. The second ingredient to aging well is – you guessed it: movement. Vigorous, aerobic movement. There are so many possibilities for incorporating movement into your life – and as many excuses not to (I’m too busy, I’m too tired when I come home from work, I don’t like exercise, it’s boring…)

I grew up in an era when physical activity was a given. I walked to school, walked to my friends’ houses, hiked in the summer, and took dance lessons during the school year. Everyone I knew walked, played outside, hula hooped, rode a bicycle, or skateboarded. Movement has always been my friend, rather than something I have to check off my list every day to make sure it gets done. I’m fortunate that way; no one has to convince me that movement is good for me. It was always part of life… not an after thought to it.

Without movement I get agitated, distracted, and tired. How many of you notice the connection between the amount of time you spend moving, and your inability to focus, your agitation level, or physical discomfort? Not exercising per se, but moving. Having a movement-filled life just may bring back the joy of movement for some people.

Outdoors, with a friend, in nature = good brain health

Here’s another movement benefit that may get you off the couch: great ideas often come from movement. Einstein said that not a day went by when he wouldn’t walk in the woods around Princeton with a companion; he felt that his best ideas came from this kind of movement. And indeed, according to studies highlighted in the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey, the combination of movement, companionship and nature result in the highest level of release of an important protein called BDNF (Ratey calls it “Miracle-Gro for your brain”).

I’m also very fortunate to have a mother who has never taken the time in her IMG_0058busy life to “slow down, and take it easy.” She’s 86 and still hiking; in the photo at the right you can see us together on our trek in Nepal. The common myth about aging is that we inevitably become decrepit as we get older; most people succumb to, yet it never registered with my mother. She’s always moving: hiking on the weekends, taking long morning walks up and down the hills of our town, and climbing mountains in the Himalayas, Africa, Australia and beyond.  She is just what Jane Brody’s talking about: she is in perfect health, has rarely taken prescription drugs, and has a wit as sharp as a katana.

I aspire to be like her as I age. There is so much information and support for those of us who want to stay healthy for as long as we walk this earth.  Life is short, so take control where you can, starting with your health.

The Link Between Neck Pain and Computer Work

The photo at right is a classic example of today’s typical “computer slouch.”

Look at the angle of the neck, the slump of the chest, and the rounded shoulders. If you sit like that long enough, you will develop neck, shoulder, and back pain. You might even find it difficult to take a full breath. This is called the Startle Reflex. Thomas Hanna called it the Red Light Reflex.

It is rare to meet someone nowadays who doesn’t spend significant amounts of time on the computer.

Even senior citizens are now reconnecting with old friends, not to mention staying in touch with grandchildren, via Facebook and email. Children are beginning to use computers on a daily basis, both in school and at home – often in place of outdoor play. Hundreds of millions of people work at computer terminals, often for hours at a stretch without getting up.

Any repeated movement or posture becomes a habit.

If you have to sit for hours, with elbows bent, wrists immobile and fingers typing rapidly, the brain will teach the muscles to be ready to sit and type again, in just the same manner, the next day. The wrists will be tight, the biceps tighter than usual to hold the arms steady and the neck will hold your head right where it needs to be in order to look at your computer screen. Eventually this learned posture can lead to muscular pain, TMJ, carpal tunnel syndrome, back, neck, and shoulder problems. This state of chronically contracted muscles is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. No amount of strengthening and stretching can get rid of this. You must learn how to sense and move your muscles again in order to regain freedom of movement and reverse this posture.

Children have the same potential as adults to become stuck in an habituated, slumped posture – one that tightens the chest, restricts breathing, overuses the back, neck, and shoulder muscles, and can eventually lead to postural dysfunction and muscular pain. They are learning, at an increasingly young age, to slump and tighten the front of their body as they play video games or use their iPads. Encouraging children to spend time outdoors moving – running, riding bicycles, jumping, climbing trees, playing – will go a long way in keeping a child aware of his body and healthier in the long run.

Here are a few helpful Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk every hour. They will teach you to release, relax, and lengthen your muscles – and eliminate neck and shoulder pain – while increasing body awareness.

The Flower – This movement teaches the muscles of the front of the body to release and lengthen so you can stand up to a relaxed and balanced neutral again. This will also help you breath more deeply and fully.

Here are some neck pandiculations that help me when I have to spend time at the computer:

Turn your head to the right at a 45 degree angle.

Slowly tighten your left shoulder up toward the ear, as you slowly tighten your neck back toward the left shoulder blade.

You’ll feel a contraction at the top of the shoulder and on the left side of the neck.

Slowly lengthen out of the contraction, and allow the neck to lengthen as the chin points to the right chest. The shoulder relaxes back to neutral.

Repeat 3 times, then do the same sequence on the other side.

Remember to move slowly for greater awareness in retraining your muscles to relax.

You are teasing out the muscle tightness, not by stretching, but by pandiculating – tightening first, then lengthening, much like a yawn. This movement should help you become more aware of the habit of hunching the shoulders. Once you’re aware of a habit, it’s more easily reversible.