natural movement

Movement, Memory and Minecraft

Fourth grade was the toughest three years of my life. (Well, it felt like three years, anyway...)

Fractions and decimals were introduced in math; in science class we had to learn about cells.


Paramecium and amoeba, along with all those long-named parts, like membrane and mitochondria, and my personal fave- endoplasmic reticulum! Wow, what a word!

Little did I realize that years later … no … YEARS and years later .. I would be
revisiting the world of cellular function to explain to my clients why they need to move more …naturally.

As it turns out, and as we’ve mentioned on occasion, and will continue to mention … cells require movement to stay healthy!

Compression and decompression are as important to a cell’s health as is its intake of nutrients and minerals. The fact is, you may eat the healthiest diet in the world, and yet still be malnourished through lack of movement. Part of this is because cells, like any other living physical structure, require healthy stress loads to maintain strength and integrity.

For instance, osteoporosis is as much a result of lack of tensile strength as it is a lack of calcium. Loading up on calcium will not make up for weight-bearing loads that encourage the cellular matrix to grow dense. Living tissue needs stress loads.

It’s part of the adaptive/evolutionary process.*

In addition to the role tensile loads play, there’s the electrical component to consider.

Cells are more than just little parts working in concert like a tiny clock, or, more accurately, like a tiny city. Cells "buzz”. They are electric. They have batteries (remember those mitochondria?) and they communicate with each other in frequencies (measured in Hz). The entire cell, according to Royal Raymond Rife “vibrates with an oscillatory rate”.

And how does this cell stay “charged”?

Partially through chemical reactions within it of potassium and zinc and iron and so-on … but also through piezoelectric properties.

In other words, when the cels experience compression and decompression, an electric charge (potential) is generated. This “charging of the cell” is as critical to its life as the nutrients and minerals it absorbs.

Which got me to thinking - I’ve read recently, and from several sources, that there are more memory cells in our intestines than there are in our brains. This doesn’t surprise me. I view the brain as a ‘mother board’ of sorts. It’s the processor with a certain amount of memory. But the bulk of the memory is RAM, found throughout the rest of our body.

If this be the case, then let’s link these two worlds together:

If movement is necessary for cellular health, and, If memory cells are located throughout our body (and not just in our brains, as previously held), then could it be that sedentary living is itself a cause for memory loss and dementia?

I know that may seem like a large leap, but if you follow the logic, it’s not that much of a jump at all.

Our body is home to 100 trillion microbes (both good and bad) that make up our microbiome, an ecosystem of bacteria that work together with our human cells. Most of these microorganisms reside in our gut, where they produce vitamins, regulate our immune system, improve digestion, relieve temporary inflammation, balance our blood sugar, and help us absorb nutrients.

Scientists are discovering that the bacteria in our gut may also have a large influence on our brain.

You see, the gut—often called the “second brain”—is home to the enteric nervous system, a vast network of millions of neurons that send and receive messages and respond to emotions (think of a “gut feeling”).

Studies now show that probiotics (the good guys) in the gut—which produce the majority of the body’s serotonin, along with other important brain chemicals—send messages and chemicals to the brain that may affect memory.

Furthermore, the vagus nerve is an information superhighway that extends from the brain stem all the way into the abdomen. Researchers are discovering that microbes in our gut can send messages and important brain chemicals via the vagus nerve to our brain, affecting how we think, feel, and remember. It seems to me that movement … natural movement … like walking and playing on the floor and dancing, would have a profound effect on the health and functionality of these memory-structures.

Maybe forgetfulness and what we call ‘dementia’ in the elderly is more of an atrophy which takes place when sitting all day in front of game shows.

And if that’s the case, what do we do about the new wave of entertainment that’s taken over the youth of today?

Yes, I’m talking about computer/video games.

When I visit my grandchildren, all I see of them is the top of their heads. Their faces are buried in their hand-held gadgetry. And when I look outside, I no longer see kids riding bikes, playing kick-ball or tag, or walking in the woods. They’re home … sitting in front of their computers playing “Minecraft”.

Does this count as 'natural movement'?

Does this count as 'natural movement'?

What's to become of this generation, with their senses dulled and their bodies turned off? What will the quality of their lives be in their 70’s and 80’s. Heck… in their 40’s?!

Movement … motion … activity … should be as much a part of our diet as fruits and vegetables (and ice cream. There, I said it!)

So - all that to say- if you want to stay mentally healthy, consider natural movement as a means to that end.

Therefore- since movement affects memory- remember to move!

(* G - The scientific term for this is mechanotransduction: “the process by which cells sense and then translate mechanical signals (compression, tension, fluid shear) created by their physical environment into biomechanical signals, allowing cells to adjust their structure and function accordingly.”. ~ Katy Bowman, 'Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.'

It's important to note that this is a very localized event - in other words, with 7+ trillion cells in your body, it is possible that while some cells may get a lot of input, others may not get any, even if you're 'active'.)

Why treadmill walking is not exactly the same as walking

So, my daughter called me a while back to ask if I would go do a "lunch hour workout" with her at a local gym she'd begun to frequent.

Sure, I said, always thankful to spend a little daddy-daughter time.

I show up, ready to go. I have my cleanest pair of sweatpants on, a sleeveless t-shirt from like, the 80's, and my Chucky-T's laced for business!

"Oooohhhh, Dad...", my daughter says, shaking her head.



"Nothing..." still shaking her head. "C'mon... this way..." leading me to the treadmill department

And it was there, on that very day, and on that very treadmill, I made a startling discovery: Treadmills are misleading!

Here's why I say that.

My daughter and I 'walked' for 20 minutes at a pretty aggressive clip on our respective treadmills. I was breathing a little heavier, I suppose, and my heart rate, I'm sure, had elevated some, which me feel pretty good about myself (Like, hey! Pretty good for a grand-dude! That's what my grandkids call me. Anyway...)

When it was time to get off the machine, and walk to the next 'station', IT happened.

Treading on treadmills.

Walking suddenly felt... strange. Like, I had no sea legs. Walking on the regular floor after having been on the treadmill for a while was, in fact, an entirely different experience. It took me a few minutes to re-adjust to NORMAL walking. Immediately I knew I had a mystery to solve.

Q: Why, if treadmills are designed to simulate or rather, replicate, the walking experience, do I feel different when actually walking on the floor afterward? It should have been a seamless transition from one 'walking' to the other, not? (That's how we talk in Lancaster County.)

As we were getting ready to leave, I made my way back to the treadmill area, and watched some of the folks on the machines.

There they were, 'walking'. Putting one foot in front of the other, left-right-left-right and so on.

By all outward appearances, they were 'walking'. And that's when I realized, No! They're not! In fact, on a treadmill, half of the muscle groups used for normal walking are disengaged.

Here's why:

When we walk, a several-step process takes place (no pun intended).

First, our iliopsoas* (along with other hip flexors**) raise our knee forward, while the quadriceps extend the foot outward, and then we plant the foot. THEN, our glutes and other extensors pull the leg back behind us, projecting our bodies forward through space, while the other foot comes forward, plants itself, and so on.

We're walking!

BUT - on a treadmill, something different happens.

We raise the knee, extend the leg, plant the foot, and THE MACHINE BRINGS OUR LEG BACK BEHIND US! The glutes play little to no role in the second half of the process. They are, for all intents and purposes, off-line, and that's not good.

Muscles are designed to work in concert with other muscles.

In combination, they keep even, steady tension in our bodies. This, in conjunction with the fascial system, ultimately forms our shape (i.e., our posture). And, the extensor and flexor groups are a perfect example of this.

Both the extensor and flexor groups should be in equal strength and ability to help balance the other.

That's not what happens on a treadmill.

On a treadmill, the flexors are getting a workout, but not the extensors.

This especially matters because the flexors in today's sitting-all-the-time society are usually too short.

I don't just mean in a shortened position.

I mean, they're too short because they've adapted that way from too often being in a seated position. So, when you spend time on a treadmill, you're strengthening a group of muscles that are already contracted, while ignoring its counter-balance muscles altogether.

This creates an even greater imbalance which can often be the cause of low back pain.

(Note from Gina: The lack of extensor workout out also matters regarding the use of the pelvic floor muscles, with which they have an intimate and supportive relationship.)

Anyone who has trouble getting up out of a chair because they feel pain in the low back knows exactly what happens when those flexors pull forward on the vertebrae, instead of opening up and releasing.

And that's why, after only twenty minutes, my body had to readjust to using all muscles again to walk. Ta-Da! Mystery solved!

But, now I'm faced with an even greater mystery: How come no one has ever noticed this discrepancy?

And, even greater than that, how do I get people, en masse, to get off their treadmills and walk for real? To do the natural instead of the artificial replication? To realize that their machine, while creating the appearance of walking, lacks the true power thereof?

In the meantime, I'm gonna take a walk.

 * Lots of discussions have occurred between Gina and Bill about the accuracy of the word, 'iliopsoas'. Here's an article by a doctor framing that debate.

** What flexors and extensors are: A flexor muscle is one that will decrease the angle of a joint when contracting. Like the action of the bicep on the elbow joint. An extensor will open up the angle of a joint when contracting, like the tricep on that same elbow joint.

In the case of the hip joint, hip 'flexors' will raise the femur, creating a small angle between the thigh relative to the pelvis. The glutes and hamstirings, when contracting, will bring the femur back and behind the pelvis, creating 'extension' in the hip joint.

It's all relative, my friend!





Working outside vs working out

Truly time waits for no man (or woman!) As I write this, a new year is upon is, and, of course,  with that comes the ever-familiar New Year's resolutions, with diet and exercise related goals topping the list.

I have to laugh as I hear people stating their intentions knowing darn well that if they hold true for a week or tow, they'll have bested last year's effort(s). It's like they know they're doomed to failure.

But, what if the problem is going unmentioned?

What if the reason we 'drop the ball' so quickly is not because of a lack of willpower or self-discipline, but rather, a realization on our body's part that what were attempting isn't what we need? There's a big difference between saying "I'm going to lost weight,", and, "I would like to eat better food."

Likewise, there's a difference between committing yourself to a daily/weekly 'workout' and moving more.

In the first instance, you're forcing your body to do what doesn't always come naturally.

In the second instance, you're aligning your body with what it actually wants (and needs) to be healthy.

Yes, your body actually craves movement. It's thirsty and hungry for it. A great Rabbi once said, "Who of you, when your child asks for bread, would give them a rock?"

So, too, why, when our bodies are hungry for movement, do we give it a barbell? Or, why, when our bodies needs walking, do we give it a treadmill?

Trading off real-life movement for simulated activities is like trying to subsist soley on a diet of nutritional supplements.

Here's an example from my own life:

Our house backs up to an Amish farm. The boundary dividing the two properties is lines with old walnut and sassafras trees. When I first moved in, this tree line was completely overtaken by sticker bushes, wild grape and poison ivy. The vines had grown up and over the tress, killing some of them, and making a mess of the rest. So, the tree line wasn't so much a tree line as it was a thirty foot swath of jungle, growing wider with each year.

The backyard 'before' shot.

The backyard 'before' shot.

Enter the 'me'.

Having spent a good bit of my adult life doing carpentry and excavation and so forth, my body missed that activity, and yes, the thrill of mindless grunt work.

I know - it sounds strange - bu there's something about ripping out weeds and pulling down vines that is very zen to me.

I have no problems to solve. I don't have to think a whole lot. I only need to tackle one weed, one vine, one root at a time. And, although getting started is always the hardest part, once I get going my body springs into life! My muscles are engaged, my breathing becomes more powerful, and my heart develops this nice bass drum punch to it that makes me feel like a machine coming back to life.

After about three or four hours, I usually have removed enough 'crapola' to then construct an evening's worth of bonfire, which I enjoy immensely!

Here's another thing. On several occasions, whilst whacking away at the verge, my neighbor comes over with this curious look on his face.

"What the hell are you doin'?"

"I'm clearing the tree line."

"Why are you doing it like THAT?" he asks, his eyebrows knitting together is a curious and semi-concerned manner. "I got a piece of equipment that can do all this in an hour!"

"Yeah, well -  like doing this. It makes me feel good. But, hey, thanks anyway!"

"Alright, suit yerself..." he says, and heads back over to his place.

I can't help but wonder about a connection between his choice for the 'easier and faster' approach to getting a job done, and his health issues, even though I know he works out.

Me? I'd rather work outside.

I have found that what most of us try to avoid is what we actually really need. By making the effort to go outside and yank weeds, dig up roots and move rocks, I get a full-body workout while making my yard look better. What do you get from lifting weights? Does the gym look any better after you're done? Can you look at the dumb-bells with any sense of lasting satisfaction?

"See those weighs over there? You oughtta see what they looked like BEFORE I lifted 'em twenty times!"

No - give me a sickle and a digging bar any day!

I use my arms, my legs, my torso ...everything!... to accomplish a task and feel good about it, and myself. And, I can enjoy my efforts for years to come. Every time I stand on my deck to look out over the beautiful landscape that was once untamed brush, I get a complete sense of satisfaction.

The backyard 'after' shot.

The backyard 'after' shot.

It's taken me five years so far, and I'm almost done. I have maybe two or three hundred more feet to go and I'm already wondering about what I'll do when I'm finished. (Gina asks, anyone need some brush cleared...? :)

In the meantime, I'll keep finding ways to use my body to 'do life', rather than seeking the 'easier, faster' ways, and then trying to fit my body's needs for movement around that.

What are some activities you might otherwise use technology for that you can re-purpose to meet your body's needs for movement?

Can you walk while doing your phone meetings? Can you shovel some of the drive before reaching for the snowblower? (Yes, Gina just inserted that suggestion, knowing that Bill who does still use a shovel actually covets the neighbor's snowblower...)

There's a million big and little whole foods movements we can reclaim for our workout.

Homework: In the last email, we asked you to pay attention to marketing messages for 'wellness' and 'health' and 'fitness', and see if you can discern what they're really selling.

This week, we want you to notice ads promoting 'ease' and 'convenience'. What sort of connections are you making (if any) between the two?

We invite you to post your comments below, or visit us on Facebook.

Stay tuned next week, where we'll discuss the differences between treadmill-walking and walking.

The backyard 'with Gina' shot...

The backyard 'with Gina' shot...