Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Only Thing That Makes Sense

My father was already 50 when I was born and so I've been acutely aware of the aging effect from the first moments of my life -- as well as noticing the studied movements of my father teaching exercise (Tai-chi) in the house he designed and built as an exercise studio for that purpose. So whether I wanted to or not, I've "studied" exercise all my life -- because nothing else was possible.

But even though my father was very diligent, devoted and dedicated to these studies and practice, I was shocked and disturbed by the deterioration that had taken place while I was away at college, and wondered if there was some missing factor he overlooked which would have made exercise the magic bullet it has often been claimed to be against the deterioration and aging process, especially in the new manner that extended lives made prominent and commonplace -- as the dementias.

To those who are not aware of its symptoms, it is probably best described as the head being cut off from the rest of the body -- in the sense of the mind losing that sense of body awareness, which was the ultimate disintegration of mind and body that exercise hopes to integrate, as its highest achievement. That is the attainment of a true exercise guru -- this mastering of the oneness of body and mind, the inner and outer universes.

So as I sat looking into the vacantness and unresponsiveness of his eyes, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that his lifelong devotion to exercise had still kept the core of his body in remarkable condition -- but there was no responsiveness otherwise, at the usual sites indicating high sensibilities and sensitivities. Obviously, at the most basic level of functioning, the body continued remarkable health otherwise -- but the body was cut off from the mind, and could not show that responsiveness of voluntary movement.

A physical therapist came by one day to assess his condition and whether further attempts at recovery were fruitful, but he could not respond to her commands to lift his leg from the bed. At that point, he could not even blink his eyes to indicate any responsiveness to her instructions -- and I thought the physical therapist would see response and lower the bar for signs of any capability -- instead making her commands even more difficult. This was a person who was also not in touch with any reality.

But what was impressed upon me, was that human responsiveness was best indicated by the face, hands, feet -- rather than at the "core" muscles, which contemporary exercise/fitness have moved onto from a misguided control over the autonomic function of the heart -- as though that was a necessary and wise thing to do. The rationale of emphasizing movement of the core muscles, is that being the largest muscles of the body, if one wants to get into shape expeditiously, one should activate these largest muscles with contrived movements for that purpose -- rather than recognizing that the primary function of those large muscles is not to provide movement, but stability and support -- for the effective and precise movements that take place and are expressed at the muscles of the head (face, neck), hands, and feet, as the distinctive characteristics and accomplishments of human movement and activities.

There are no such meaningful expressions at the core, other than mating, but that is not distinctively and distinguishingly human. But rather, it is the almost infinite variety and control of expressions at the extremities of the human body, that distinguishes virtually all achievement and accomplishment -- beginning with the refinement of the first tools shaped by the hand. That is the quality lacked by all other animals that is a handicap they cannot overcome and requires them to be specialized and limited at what they do.

It is the development of the hands, feet and head (face), that marks the human as vastly superior to others -- and that high development, implies the more rudimentary ones have in common with all other animals. The hearts have evolved similarly, as well as the lungs -- but no other animal has the distinctive human hand, foot and head that makes humans the supremely evolved species beyond all the others.

Those are the qualities, one would seek to develop, strengthen and maintain throughout life -- as ensuring the dynamism and proficiency of that individual specimen -- at all times of life. That implies the supreme functioning of everything else -- but not necessarily vice-versa beginning at the core muscles.

This is a very key concept in understanding anything. One critical element will imply everything else, while many other things, will just be one disconnected thing not implying or impacting anything else -- and no amount of energy and effort, will alter this relationship -- of the critical path by which all things are accomplished, instead of many fragments that even in sum, don't amount to much, if anything.

Once that key is understood, everything else basically falls into place -- because nothing else is possible.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What You Need to Know About Beneficial Exercise

Most people have the misconception that the major reason for exercising is to make the heart stronger -- which is never the weakest link in the circulatory system, but is invariably, the strength as well as the limiting one has to work with. But whether one's heart is weak or strong, there are strategies one can adopt to optimize the efficiency of the circulatory and respiratory system. Chief among that, is the right understanding of what is effected in the various forms of activities that the human musculature makes possible.

We can become good at running, jumping and throwing is the ultimate measure and definition of actualizing this potential. Some others might think dancing, singing, playing an instrument are more meaningful measures of meaningful and purposeful human activities. Seldom has it been thought that one can merely entertain what would the most healthful practice, regardless of some more conventional measure -- such as lifting weights, jumping high or long, throwing, or even lately, just raising the heart rate as an end in itself.

With that idea in mind, it becomes easily possible to exhaust that possibility in a relatively short order by maximizing the heart rate until nothing further is possible -- which should also be obvious as the most dangerous thing to do, because beyond maximum, is failure. And that's why doctors first getting on the exercise bandwagon, were careful to stress that one should not approach maximum heartrate, and came up with a simple age-based formula for ensuring that one could calculate the theoretical maximum for any age, as well as the recommended 50-80% normal range of the heart function -- whether one is aiming for it or not. But in no case, was exceeding the recommended 80% of maximum ever advised -- which of course, in the competitive world of jockdom, then became the minimum -- along with a lot of other misunderstandings that are propagated as conventional wisdom, which are then repeated by those who have no idea of what they are talking about -- on virtually anything.

But achieving productive and desirable results with exercise (as with anything else), has always been discovering some key critical understanding by which everything thereafter, transformed one from the lifelong seeker, to the guru of enlightenment, which reveals how terribly random and deluded most are in their activities -- as though simply persisting long and hard at what doesn't work, will transform and reward them ultimately for their faithfulness.

But that's not how reality works; that is merely wishful thinking that deludes and deceives the world -- until most people simply give up in their quests that there is truth out there, because they had not found it yet -- obviously.

Still, there are no panaceas that solve everything -- but one particular answer, may not be one's problem, or if it is a solution, it may not be all the solutions one requires. In healthful movements, the obvious problem is that circulation is poorest at the extremities, where the most visible parts of the human body at the head (face, brain, senses), hands and feet -- clearly show the first signs of deterioration, even in individuals who have been regarded as outstanding specimen up to that point in which deterioration is now visible, if not overwhelming.

Strangely, very rarely are exercises to increase and optimize the circulation specifically for these targets usually recommended -- but rather, are just taken for granted, even though on reflection, most would agree, if one wanted or could just target one particularly area beyond all the others, it would certainly have to be to the brain. But beyond that admission, it would be assumed that just making the heart work harder, would be enough to direct the circulation to that critical region -- instead of realizing that with any muscle or region, that flow is directed by the action of the muscles pumping blood and other fluids back to the centers of the body for regenerative purposes, which creates space for the new life giving nutrients to enter and ensure health and growth beyond that.

All the random activity in the world to burn as many calories as possible, is not going to get one the same results, or even produce anything other than random, poorly conceived results, including injury, excessive and inappropriate wear and tear, and even be destructive beyond that. There's a reason people get into poor condition, and a reason people must get into good condition also. It's not just that doing anything, is better than doing nothing -- because one is always doing something, but often, it is not the right thing to get the results they desire -- obviously.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Designing Exercise to Make Sense

Most people rightly object to doing exercise because it doesn't make sense -- but that's what their coaches and trainers are there to force them to do -- otherwise they wouldn't do it.

But that's like not learning anything unless there is somebody to give one a grade for it -- and if no one will, then what is the sense?

Both are the same kind of wrong conditioning models, that try to force one to do things that don't make sense to most people, but they are indoctrinated to believe is what is good for them -- and a few years later, there may be a new edict in town, often directly contradicting what was thought and taught previously.

Among the most obvious to many, is the belief that withholding fluids from athletes made them better athletes, rather than that it could seriously endanger health, let alone impair one's performance. More recently, it was thought that exposure to sunlight, was damaging, rather than it is now being regarded, as one of the essential ingredients of life -- for which other plants and animals also evolved in as living proof of its necessity. That's almost like believing that deep breathing is bad for one, or more commonly is the case, that exercise itself is bad, because the exercises recommended, are ill-advised and ill-conceived -- even the popular running, walking, and treadmill, which can be either or both.

Those latter exercises are predicated on the premise that the reason for exercise, is to make the heart work harder and faster, rather than to optimize the circulation so that the heart isn't stressed, which is originally the rationale for the "target heart rate," of setting a "maximum" heart rate far short of the ultimate theoretical maximum, which is arbitrary because the range is much greater than the averages would suggest.

The averages are not the ideal -- for every particular individual. Far more important, is each individual's personal range and history. If one has a particular allergy to anything, it doesn't matter that most people do not. And one will not necessarily be able to become more average by a systematic program of increasing one's tolerance to it; very likely, the opposite adverse reaction is more likely the case.

As one ages particularly, what seems to be obvious to even the most undiscriminating observers, is that there is a profound change in appearance of those in declining health, from those in the years of their growth and beneficial maturation -- that is most dramatic in those formerly outstanding in their fields of accomplishment, when their entire appearance seems to be characterized by a bloated look. Formerly world champion athletes look twice as big as their former selves; conversely, the most dramatic transformations occur in the rarer other direction.

But both are characterized by a common atrophying of the musculature so that there is very little control in altering their condition. Thus their range of appearance becomes more fixed -- until finally, there is almost a rigor mortis in their form.

If one is simply observant of these things, designing movements and expressions that make sense to directly prevent this deterioration and dysfunction, should be very obvious beyond walking, running and the treadmill -- which is practically a denial of these observations of what is lacking and needs to be articulated, expressed and exercised.

It is the range of movement at the extremities that indicate the fluidity or congestive failure of the circulatory flow.

Monday, February 01, 2010

What One Needs to Know About Exercise

As people age and deteriorate in health, what they are most alarmed about, is that they no longer recover as quickly from injuries and illnesses, and in fact, the inability to recover, is what sets them down a steep path of increasingly deteriorating health without end -- no matter how long and hard they try to counteract that tendency.

So the first thing they have to do, is prevent themselves from further injury and bouts which take a long time to recover from. That is a major argument for very brief, but frequent exercises throughout the day, rather than a long duration that taxes their recovery overmuch at once, and makes it increasingly likely to suffer a calamitous event -- because the body is not fresh and alert, but fatigued and overburdened, which is not a good way to begin or to take on any additional challenges.

That is also the importance of frequent rests between exercises -- to recover. That's also what champion athletes do -- know their recovery ability, and not exhaust it prematurely, so when it comes time for their event, they haven't exhausted themselves prior to what they hope to be their peak performance, but very deliberately learn, to peak at the right moment.

Most athletic performance is actually of that nature -- of peaking, or putting everything together, at precisely the right moment. They are not concerned with lasting 30 minutes at a constant, sustained pace, because that's how the human is designed to produce its greatest capabilities -- running, jumping or throwing. The body is preparing and organizing a response to the challenge of the peak moment, and not any amount of mediocre effort and challenge -- no matter how long.

The fastest sprint will last less than 10 seconds. In football, they think a 40 yard dash is more valuable than a 100 yard dash, in determining the useful speed of an athlete. And then for some of the bigger guys, their ability to explode into an opposing player takes less than a second, and that is enough to make a huge difference. Everything is over and done with very quickly -- and then they rest and recover for their next attempt.

In no case, are they trying to maintain a steady high heart rate, but more valuable to them, is to be able to lower their heart rates, to achieve a greater state of relaxation preparatory to the natural rise accompanying a maximal effort. But the very deliberate attempt -- is to LOWER the heart rate and tension prior to a maximal effort, because it is that sudden change of state from fullest relaxation to peak contraction, that is the power of change, or simply power -- to fuel growth, health, work, play, creativity, imagination, whatever. That is the measure of one's vibrancy and vitality -- a peak and not a sustained and prolonged interval.

Those are the vital experiences of life -- keeping one at peak condition, and the ability to achieve it. It doesn't have to be for long, or prolonged. In every meaningful event, it is not, and even impossible to maintain for very long, but it doesn't mean that a very brief achievement of that condition, isn't enough to make a huge difference, in one's life and in the world.

One researcher made his study the attainment of peak performances (moments), and taken over a lifetime, is the fully actualized life. It doesn't matter if that activity is in the field of athletics, music, art, battle, emergency -- the peak is what is possible and defines the range of possibility, that doesn't just happen. It's cultivated by practice to become a conditioned response -- among all the others, including no, or an inadequate response.

The ability to call up that ability, not always, but briefly if necessary, is generally considered the ultimate capabilities of individuals, rather than simply being able to don only one thing over and over again -- regardless if it is meaningful to accomplishing any specific task. That kind of conditioning, is useless for any real world purpose -- just like learning for learning's sake that has no real world application and value.