Optimal Health and the role of movement
I’ve been really thinking hard these last few weeks about how I would define health. I’ve poured back through books and notes, consulted the all-knowing Internet, and polled a random sampling of people. And what I’ve concluded is that there are many definitions and it’s personal.
And that’s fine. Splendid. Except when it comes time for me to set to (virtual) paper what I mean when I say that I teach healthy movement, or movement that promotes health. If health means different things to different people, things get complicated in a hurry.
When I meet with someone for the first time, I ask them about their goals. Very often, ‘get healthy’ or ‘improve my health’ come up. And for a long time, I didn’t really inquire more deeply into these statements because I innocently assumed we were all talking about the same thing. Well, as I’ve indicated, this is simply not the case. I’ve written before about different definitions of health I encounter when I do question more deeply, and so I guess what I’m really trying to do here is present MY definition of health and healthy movement.
For starters, we’re just going to throw aesthetics out the window. Looking fit and healthy is a symptom of health, in my opinion. And it’s terrifically misleading and open to interpretation. You can look well without feeling or functioning well, so we’re just going to set it aside.
The dictionary definition of health is: “the condition of being free from illness or disease.” And my own definition is not far off. My working definition of health has two parts:
Doing the activities you want to do or need to do without pain and injury.
Being free from disease, or successfully managing your chronic illness to be symptom free.
I’ve gone round and round about it, and that’s as concise as I can be right now. So that’s the benchmark for health in this discussion. Of course health is impacted by a variety of things, such as nutrition, sleep, stress management, relationships, social interactions, and movement. This is not an exhaustive list, and each is important. For the purpose of this conversation we’ll focus on my area of interest – movement.
The next question, then, is how we create, restore, and sustain health through movement? After all, we’ve all been told that we need movement to be ‘healthy.’ And healthy is vague. So let’s get even more specific, shall we?
Both conditions of my definition for health are positively affected through movement that creates, restores, and practices uniform development.
And what is uniform development? Joseph Pilates explains it this way: “Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles. As small bricks are employed to build large buildings, so will the development of small muscles help develop large muscles. Therefore, when all your muscles are properly developed you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.” So by conscientiously utilizing every muscle, we are bettering the support and function of the entire body. Nothing overworked or underworked, but balanced.
Uniform development does more than help us function, however. It is a necessary component in health all the way down to the cellular level. Mr. Pilates goes on to say, “Contrology (Pilates) is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles. Just to the contrary, it was conceived and tested (for over forty-three years) with the idea of properly and scientifically exercising every muscle in your body in order to improve the circulation of the blood so that the bloodstream can and will carry more and better blood to feed every fiber and tissue of your body.”
So exercise is not just for cardiovascular work, strength, or flexibility, but a means of feeding the tissues themselves and the cells that make them. And an importance is placed on not overfeeding some muscles and underfeeding others, but to strive to do so completely and uniformly.
There is even more benefit to the tissues and the cells they’re made of than Mr. Pilates indicated. Truly, cells needs 3 things in order achieve and sustain health. First, there must be good electrical flow through the tissue by means of the nervous system. Second, by innervating the tissue we can contract and release it, creating the means to move the blood of the cardiovascular system to the cells. Cardio is more than the heart - muscles move blood too! And finally, by delivering food (blood) to the cells, the lymph of the immune system is stimulated to carry off the cellular waste. So the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune system are all invigorated and optimized through movement! And if we strive to produce this result in every muscle of the body, we are ensuring every corner of the body is optimally healthy. And optimal tissue health creates optimal tissue function. This is true for muscles, which creates optimal movement function, but it also creates optimal cellular health and function for the organs of the body as well, thereby positively affecting treatment and prevention of disease.
I don’t know about you, but the preceding paragraph excites me like nobody’s business. It is the evidence that movement is necessary for more than fitness, sports conditioning, aesthetic, or pastime. The very function and health of our cells require movement.
And THAT is what I’m seeking in teaching healthy movement. By mindfully seeking uniform development of the entire body, we can feed every cell of every structure and create optimal health. And that knowledge motivates me to get moving like nothing else.