We get so many patients in our practice who think exercising 5 days a week or more means they are covered for all of the other unhealthy things they are doing. While regular exercise is really great, it isn’t the whole picture. Trust me, I am as disappointed to hear about this as you are. When I hired a trainer and started going to the gym, I was thinking, “This is great, now I don’t have to feel guilty abut the pizza and chips and salsa I’m eating.” It was actually shocking to me that I wasn’t losing any weight after a few months. What happened to the Business Plan for the Body? More calories going out than coming in so why wasn’t that enough?
Let’s say you are going on a mountain biking trip. If you’ve ever been mountain biking across Moab, UT, you’d know there are some pretty amazing things to see out there. As in your life, you want to make sure your body, like your bike are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead so you don’t miss out on all the beauty that surrounds you. There’s a lot more to it than just jumping on that bike and moving your legs.
Let’s start with your gears and chain. These are pretty important parts of a bike. They, like your heart and brain, are running the show; without them, nothing else on the bike will work. Now, if the chain gets the wrong kind of oil, that could be a problem. Likewise, if the chain and gears are constantly exposed to sand and dust and salt water without being maintained things can stop working smoothly, then malfunction, and eventually corrode over and lock up and you’re done with your ride. Assaulting your brain and heart with processed foods, vegetable oils, excess sugar WILL catch up to you, just like the dirt and grime will on your bike chain. Just because you can’t SEE your organs getting all gummed up doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, and like your bike chain, things can be going along smoothly and suddenly the point is reached where things stop working. Nobody wants to be stuck at the bike shop waiting for their bike to fixed and missing out and hoping their bike will be able to take them to the same heights.
I’d say the brakes on your bike are as important as the parts that make it go, or you will end up going over a cliff or crashing. Stress, like applying the brakes on your bike, is only meant to be experienced when necessary and not constantly. The same way applying your brakes constantly on your bike damages the pads and discs, prolonged stress damages your body and brain. Stress boosts hormones that boost histamines that boost inflammation, that causes damage to organs and vessels. Just like a mountain biking adventure, we can’t eliminate the need to stop nor the stress we experience in our lives. What we can do is learn ways to manage our stress and take steps to recover from it more easily.
On that note, you could consider the shocks on your bike to be stress management and recovery practices. Of course, shocks make the bumps and holes in the road easier on your bike and your body; if you didn’t have them, you’d be feeling the full impact of every jolt. There are many many mind-body practices that can put you more in tune with your body and “the road” you are navigating. The practice of mindfulness opens your awareness and slows things down so that you can make choices about how to better respond to situations rather than reacting and possibly making things worse. Seeing the trails ahead of you with a broader perspective allows you to navigate your bike around obstacles in the same way. Stress left unchecked literally narrows your focus.
Another thing we humans tend to do is ignore small problems like getting sick more often, experiencing fatigue, achy joints or sleeping poorly. We have all masked problems like these with medications, caffein, or just powering through times when we feel physically burdened. This is like ignoring a flat tire on your bike. You really can’t make it far on a flat tire and if you try, you will cause worse damage to the rest of t he bike and likely the rider. Patching a flat may work for a while, but the best option is to change the tire entirely. Poor eating habits are like buying your tires at Wal-Mart, it may taste great and be really cheap, but a cheap tire isn’t going to perform well over the exciting trails that lie ahead. You’re going to need to invest in tires from an actual bike shop to take you where you want to go. We understand this with o ur bikes and cars, don’t we? Why not our bodies?
Lastly, I think there is something to be said about wearing a helmet and protection the brain in the parson riding the bike! Again, seems rather obvious when you’re on a bike, but little thought is give to protecting the health of our brains. There is now a lot of emerging evidence that lifestyle choices like eating healthy, staying active, and managing stress can go a long way toward prevention and even reversal of cognition issues such a dementia and Alzheimer’s. And that’s exciting news!
Now that you can clearly see how taking care of your bike makes so much sense, hopefully you will see the same importance in taking care of YOU so you can explore this beautiful world we live in with those you love and for many, many years to come.