Motion is Medicine, especially for men

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease”.
~Thomas Edison

There is something magical about motion (walking,running, cycling, swimming,etc) .  We adults like to think we know more than kids.  We have our important things to do and even spend many hours essentially motionless in our work and daily activities.  Children, if left to themselves, move for the sake of moving. There is much to be learned from the young.

Currently the bane of modern health is a term called, “Cardiometabolic Syndrome”. In brief, it is the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Over half of all adults will die of heart disease. In spite of all our diet foods, artificial sweeteners and spending billions on healthcare, the increasing rate of cardiometabolic syndrome is dramatic.

Part of the cure for all this is motion.  We try to complicate it by calling it exercise, aerobics, plates, crossfit, etc.  But to our bodies, motion is truly medicine. The newest research brings us back to what every grade school child knows instinctively, recess is wonderful!

Let’s start with arthritis: As many of us over 50 years old know, “Arthur-itis” likes to visit first thing in the morning. The pain keeps us up at night and makes it hard to get going in the morning.  The problem is in the cushioning of our joints called cartilage. It is usually a white, firm, smooth substance that is also what makes up the structure of the tops of our ears.  Cartilage is white because it does not get it’s nutrition from blood but from something called, imbibement.  The best way to explain it is to think of a two inch sponge sitting in one inch of water.  If the sponge does not get squished or massaged, the top of the sponge will dry out and become brittle and flake off. This is what happens to our cartilage when we don”t use it. I have patients say, “I don’t understand why I have osteoarthritis, I just sit on the couch”. I have to tactfully inform them that the reason they have osteoarthritis is BECAUSE they sit on the couch.

You see, our joints are self-lubricating. That is to say, motion is lotion to our joints. Gentle, continuous motion will keep the cartilage (think sponge) moist, supple and smooth.  While hitting the sponge with a sledge hammer will get the fluid/water to move into the sponge, it beats up and destroys the sponge. This is what jogging to lose weight does. As we age and become above our ideal weight, it is not good for our cartilage to run/jog to get into shape. In fact, I turn it around for my patients and say,” you need to be in shape to run when you’re older”.  It is not fair to our cartilage to pound on it like the sledge hammer.  While it is America, and we can do anything we want… just because you can take the pain, does not mean it is good for you. While running/jogging can be good for your heart/engine, it beats up the wheels if we are over our ideal weight.

But I thought you said motion is good? It is, but “pain is a blessing” in terms of damage to our knees, hips and other joints. If you ignore pain, it is like ignoring the red light on our car’s dash board. Oh, you could but a piece of tape over the red light, but the car will suffer. Just like you could take a pill to mask the pain in your knees and run the marathon, ultimately your knees will suffer.  So, what kind of motion is good for my heart and my joints?  In my opinion, some form of cycling seems to be best. Having run six marathons (with 3 hours 5 min PR), I had to undergo arthroscopic surgery in both knees and cannot run even a mile now. But, I can ride over a hundred miles on my bike. For most of us, we can only run until we are into our forties, but frankly, we can ride until we are 100 years old.

Cycling, both indoor and/or outdoors is wonderful for cartilage. In my exam rooms, where I see many patients everyday complaining of severe, constant pain to their joints—especially their knees and hips—I have several river rocks on the counters. You know what “river rocks” are; they are the rocks people love to place in their gardens because they are smooth and round and pretty. But how did they get like that? Did someone take a grinder to each one (read, arthroscopic surgery)? No. They gently tumbled down the river, becoming amazingly smooth just by spinning in the water. In essence, a well fitted bike will do the same thing to your knees and hips. By spinning on a bike, gently smoothing and massaging your cartilage, it gives nutrition to the cartilage and mechanically smooths the surface eliminating most, if not all, the popping and snapping most people have in their knees. In short, cycling IS surgery.

So, for your cartilage sake, for your hearts sake and even for your mind’s sake, gentle motion is just want the doctor(this doctor) orders!


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