Friday, November 9, 2012

More Support for Exercise!

OK, so I've been an absent parent for awhile and this child of mine is feeling somewhat neglected. The last few months have been really busy and it's easy for me to forget about this blog. It's not something that comes naturally to me.

Things haven't changed that much. I'm still really busy. In the last couple of days I harvested and prepared the following macerations: 2 litres of fresh common burdock root (Arctium x nothum); 6 litres of fresh marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis); 7 litres of fresh maidenhair tree leaf (Ginkgo biloba); 9 litres of fresh rosemary leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis). Welcome to the life of an herbalist!

Common burdock (Arctium x nothum).

So now lets get to the point of this posting. Here's some information on an interesting study that was recently published:

This is another study that on some level is verifying the benefits of exercise. Unfortunately, the focus of the study was on life expectancy rather on quality of life indicators. Nevertheless, life expectancy is potentially an indirect indicator of other things. For instance, presumably a big part of the reason that the people in the study who got more exercise lived longer was because they were experiencing a lower incidence or later onset of the kinds of things that can kill us. Those kinds of illnesses also reduce our quality of life. So, some level of increase in quality of life can possibly be inferred. It is, however, possible that some of the subjects got sick with the same illnesses, but they developed more slowly to a level that produced mortality. So it is still possible that some of these people were chronically sick. This wasn't covered in the study but would have been a good parallel line of enquiry that they could have pursued. It is also possible that they did collect this kind of data but haven't analyzed and/or published it yet.

There's a lot of research on the benefits of exercise and these results are to be expected. However, there was one very interesting finding that resulted from this study. The researchers found that people who are obese who exercise regularly live longer than people whose body weight is in the normal range but don't exercise. This is a very important result because it means that for many people inactivity potentially has a greater negative impact on their overall level of health and well-being than obesity. Of course, in the real world the situation is far more complex than that. For instance, inactivity is one of the major causes of obesity. But there are many people who are overweight that exercise regularly and still have difficulty losing weight. There are a lot of reasons why that might be the case, but the important thing here is that they will receive health benefits whether they lose weight or not. It is so easy to get discouraged when we don't see the visible benefits of exercise. The results of this study are an encouragement to keep at it because the benefits are real even if they aren't visible.

Although in the last few decades there has been a growing number of people in our society who are taking positive steps to implement a healthier diet and/or lifestyle into their lives, we still have a growing segment of the population that are overweight or obese. This is primarily due to diet and lifestyle issues, although we can't ignore the deeper psychological, social and spiritual reasons why people make the kinds of choices that they do. On the surface it is obvious that the typical modern lifestyle is way too sedentary. Our bodies are designed to be on the move most of the time. Things that are misused usually break down. Unfortunately, even among the more health conscious members of our society, there tends to be two distinctive camps: those who try to eat good quality natural food but rarely exercise, and those who get lots of exercise, play sports and eat crap. Diet and exercise are two sides of the same coin. Living a healthy life means eating well and being active. That is why the Harvard Medical School Healthy Eating Pyramid has daily exercise and weight control at the base of the pyramid [See:]. This pyramid represents the best dietary and lifestyle choices that can be recommended based on the research that is out there.

The bottom line is that the modern Western lifestyle is far too sedentary. We need to spend less time sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, watching television, playing video games and driving around in our cars and SUVs; and a lot more time walking, hiking, playing sports and working out. As always, the difficult part is changing the old unhealthy patterns and replacing them with healthy patterns. Once the new patterns are established it gets a lot easier. Most people don't realize how bad they feel until they start doing things that are good for them and feel the difference.

It is also important to keep in mind that we aren't going to be able to maintain a healthy activity and lifestyle regimen if we don't enjoy it. We need to experiment a bit until we find the kind of exercise that we like if we want to be able to sustain it in the long run. Being in nature is always healthy and healing. We spend most of our lives cut off from the real world. So if getting out in a natural environment is an option I highly recommend it.

Sasha doesn't need to be convinced that exercise is good for her!

Before I sign off on this one I'm going to rant a bit on another issue that this study has brought up for me. I do take issue to some degree with the fact that the primary parameter that they are looking at is life expectancy. Our society is obsessed with wanting more of everything without any consideration of quality or consequences. Life expectancy is no exception. Most of us are so afraid of death that we will do anything to extend our life at almost any cost. I don't see any point in living an extra 10 years if we are going to spend it in a nursing home pumped full of drugs. What kind of quality of life can we expect when we force our body to continue functioning beyond it's expiry date? Of course, it is likely that we will live longer and be healthier if we live according to healthy principles. Extending our life naturally by living and eating in a way that promotes greater health and well-being is not the what I'm addressing. It's amazing how much money is pumped into "longevity" research, seeking ways to extend life at any cost. This has got to be one of the most absurd and selfish things that I can imagine. We are already over-populated and a large (and growing number) of us are significantly over-consuming. The goal of our economic pundits and the multinational corporations that they serve is to produce endless amounts of junk as cheaply as possible and make sure that everyone is consuming as much as possible. It doesn't take very much intelligence to realize that this is unsustainable. We are quickly eliminating all of the resources that our children and grandchildren will need in order to survive, not to mention all of the other beings that we share this beautiful planet with. If we find unnatural ways (drugs, stem cells, genetic manipulation, etc.) to increase average life expectancy by 10 or 20 years we will be taking even more from future generations. How about we just learn to be satisfied with what we have and live our life to the fullest? In our society we need to learn to embrace our death; to learn from it instead of pretend that it isn't going to happen. Our lives will be so much fuller and more rewarding if we learn how to live and die with dignity. To live a healthy, well-balanced life, we need to integrate the bigger picture rather than to live our life as if we are the centre of the universe. Of course, whether we intend it or not, our last act of generosity will be to nourish the fungi and bacteria that create the soil for the future benefit of all living beings!

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is a medicinal mushroom that eats wood, not human remains.
But who knows what the tree was eating?

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