According to the Oxford Dictionary, “To nourish is to provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.”I enjoy this definition because it goes beyond just food when considering how to provide nourishment to the body. Keep it in mind as we determine how we ensure that we are genuinely nourishing our bodies through movement.
Generally, body tissues thrive when loaded and deteriorate in the absence of a load. It is well known that we activate muscles with an external load or through body weight support. It is less well known that an equally important part of our body’s support system is fascia. To maintain fascia in a healthy state capable of glide and elastic resilience, we need to subject it to tensional loads or active stretch.
Therefore, the load is necessary.
The problem comes when our effort exceeds a load’s demands or when the load exceeds our current capacity.
In keeping with the food analogy, consuming too many calories becomes harmful to the body by disrupting the metabolism. Physical activity can cross this line as well. We can start by asking ourselves what our goals are.
Often the pendulum swings for us. We go through phases of being relatively sedentary. Then we suddenly want to increase our activity, most often to lose weight. When the pendulum swings this way, sometimes we think we need to train like a competitive athlete. We forget that that is the athlete’s job. Their workout is part of a comprehensive program balancing activity, rest, and diet, among other things. For most of us who have another job, this type of strenuous activity might not be healthy.
The key comes down to the adage – not too little, not too much.
When we use excessive force, muscle tension increases and muscles often remain in this state even when we remove the load. It’s highly likely that we already went into our “workout” in this heightened state of tension. This tension can perpetuate a loop of increased sympathetic nervous system activation or fight-or-flight. When this activation is chronic, certain hormones, including cortisol, remain elevated. These hormones limit blood supply to the brain and gut to allow the body to direct more blood supply to the muscle, leading to brain fog symptoms and potential weight gain. Not a very healthy situation!
We can sense in our body when we can’t meet a load’s demand. This often means we collapse and lose our centre. We either ignore essential feedback from our bodies, or we lack awareness of these things. Often, we’re not paying attention to the cues because we’ve set an external measure, such as load, distance, speed, burning calories, or keeping up with an instructor or the rest of the class.
We’re busy shouting at ourselves and aren’t able to listen.
The saying “exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate” suggests a more balanced approach to nourishing ourselves with both food and activity.
Going back to the food analogy,we knowthat we need to eat regularly to provide nutrition so that our organ systems function optimally. We also need to move periodically throughout the day, as we said previously, to provide appropriate stimulation of tissues and to regulate hormones and metabolism.
Think of a snack analogy.
If we think of a snack analogy, healthy movement interspersed throughout our day provides adequate nourishment for our body. As Daniel Lieberman pointed out in a recent podcast with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, we don’t have to be physically active (for survival) and we have an abundance of calories available to us. There is an input/output imbalance. It would be beneficial to make some of our snacks “movement snacks” rather than “food snacks.” Make the “movement snacks” fun. When we participate in activities we enjoy, our body generates different hormones than those circulated when participating in activities we dislike or do out of a sense of obligation.
Moderate vs. vigorous exercise.
There is often debate over the benefits of moderate versus vigorous exercise. The quantitative measure of heart rate determines the intensity. On the other hand, qualitative measurements such as muscle tension and collapse (or feedback from the body) need to be considered to avoid physical stress on tissues and physiological stress that chronically activates the fight-or-flight response. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) involves high-intensity activity for a short period of 10 seconds followed by 20 seconds of recovery, repeated over 10 minutes. This brief, intense activity can help dissipate stress in the body, but again, it’s a fine line. It is essential to listen to cues from the body that we may be overloading. For example, are we using too much force and overloading the knees if working on an exercise bike? Find something that you like to do. It doesn’t need to be a repetitive exercise. Just move!
Self-Sustainability – the new self-care.
I’m not using the term nourishment in an indulgent or hedonistic way. Just as overeating dessert might feel good at first, indulgent self-care has only short-term benefits. In a recent Liberated Being podcast, Constance Clare Newman suggests a better term might be self-sustainability. (Sustainability is the avoidance of depleting resources to maintain homeostasis – adapted from the Oxford Dictionary definition regarding environmental sustainability.) A spa day feels great, but what happens when we leave the spa and get back to real life? How will we provide nourishment to our body and being to give us the physical and mental energy we need to participate fully in our lives? Next time you’re working out, take the approach of listening to your body rather than shouting at your body to ensure that you are genuinely providing nourishment.