THE ELASTIC LIFE

elasticityWhen I was coming up in fitness, staying in the fat burning zone was the thing. So joggers strapped on heart rate monitors and limited their activity by staying within these narrow parameters. They didn’t know how limited they were about to get.

Once runners started stabilizing their heart rates, the ultimate limitation emerged. Their mortality rate increased. WTH?

How did active people die…from activity? Here’s another one for you. The most active person I know, someone who was active probably using all energy systems…developed diabetes. Why? For the same reason the joggers died.

Even though he was active for 10 hours a day (and eating “clean”) the rest of the time, he still developed diabetes. Why? My hypothesis is his routine.

He was the most “disciplined” person I knew (and many consider me disciplined). But this discipline came in the form of routine. Routine, no matter how good it is, is the freeway to the graveyard. Why?

Why would consistently doing the “right” thing lead to the ultimate negative consequence? Let’s focus on two possible reasons. The first is adaptation.

Adaptation can be understood as the ability to change directions. If we’re routined, we’re moving through a limited number of directions. When we have to get out of our routine, we’re negatively impacted.

Of course we are. We’ve been practicing a routine. We haven’t been practicing adaptability.

The second reason the “right” thing could lead to the wrong outcome is how organisms respond to stress. Organisms with too much stress predictably die. But also consider those organisms with no distress at all, die, too. This points us in the direction we need to go.

Mechanical systems break down through use. Friction wears away the parts. Not as much in living systems.

Living systems build themselves up through use. Hypertrophy, right? And they break down through disuse…atrophy.

Whenever we don’t experience distress, we lose the ability to deal with distress. But too much distress and the system breaks. How do we navigate this conflict, even paradox?

If we don’t use, or use it enough, a bodily part or area breaks down. And if we use it too much, it breaks down, as well. But that isn’t the whole story.

Each part of the body affects the rest of the body. How it affects the rest of those parts is movement. But even the movement of one part affects the rest of the movements of that same part.

Let’s take the shoulder, for example. The shoulder flexes, extends, adducts, abducts, internally rotates, externally rotates, and circumducts. But here’s the kicker – when the shoulder flexes (with all other things being equal), it makes the rest of the motions harder to perform.

Why would moving your shoulder in one way make it harder to move your shoulder in all the other ways? It has to do with how our tissue adapts. Our tissue reshapes itself with use.

Like a living clay, the body reshapes itself in the shape of movement. That’s why we can often tell what a person does or doesn’t do by their posture and their gait. So when we have tissue that loses function if we don’t use that function, we’re left with one biological command: use everything.

We have to use every musculoskeletal motion of the body or we’ll eventually lose every motion of the body.  But we can’t just look musculoskeletally, we have look organically, as well. If we don’t utilize the upper and lower limits of all function, those functions become limited…until we cannot function, at all.

Our joggers lost physiological function because of how limited activity limited their hearts. No longer was there as much variability in the heart rate. It only went so far up and so far down. It purposefully stayed within a “zone.”

But to stay in this zone changed the organ tissue. Because it physiologically, or functionally, didn’t go up and down as much, it lost the analogous anatomical quality. What is that quality? Elasticity.

Our tissues are all elastic in nature. Our anatomy is elastic. While form follows function, in living systems, function follows form, as well.

If we want to maintain our elasticity, we have to live elastically. We have to breathe really fast…and really slow. We have to eat a lot and nothing. We have to drink a lot and nothing.

Periodically, life has to be be about the extremes. It’s not as though one day can be feast and one can be famine…at least from day to day. But a flat line is just that…life needs its ups and downs.

For many of us, life provides enough downs, so we spend our free time working on going up. But we forget that the climb is indefinite, it foreshadows a fall…at least on one front. But life is lived on many fronts.

When we’re down in one area, we can be up in another. But if we’re so focused on where we’re down, we’re missing the opportunity to find an area where we can go up…and then actually go up. And if we can’t find a place to go up, we have to remember that our anatomy is elastic, so our physiology is elastic, so then our life is elastic….and the only way to move forward is to go both up and down.

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