I have a guilty secret. I am the consumer for whom the Matrix will be made. If I were a brain plugged directly into a net with access to all the books, games, movies and TV shows ever made, I’d probably be perfectly content.
But I’m not just a brain or a node on a computer network. I’ve got a body and all its accoutrements (best said with a French accent). Having a body means I get messages from it and the world around me ALL THE TIME. If I ignore some messages, like “you’ve been sitting way too long” or “your toes lost all feeling about an hour ago because you put them in preposterous shoes” or “this 4th cup of coffee is not delicious and is making you dizzy,” then my body talks to me louder. By loud, I mean messages of pain.
My body was and is made for motion. Computers, Hulu and smartphones have been around about a nano-second relative to how long the human body has been in existence. If my hunter-gatherer agrarian ancestors wanted to eat, drink, eliminate waste and make merry, they had to move. Until relatively recently, they had no telephone or internet by which a pizza and cheesy breadsticks could be ordered. There was no online catalogue of potential mates to choose from. Which was ok, because they had bodies which evolution had honed into perfect locomotive machines. It’s pretty much the same body I’ve inherited.
The human body is such a marvel in the myriad ways it does what it does, to allow us to do what we do. I think that if people knew more about it, we would all take much better care of ourselves. For instance, physical work by the body results in oxidants being created by the cells, specifically, reactive oxygen and nitrogen (aka “RONS”). Oxidants, in case you haven’t read all the ads for expensive anti-oxidant supplements, can harm the whole body starting at the cellular level. Oxidants running rampant in your body cause your cells, organs, skeleton, brain – YOU – to age faster. Oxidants causes wrinkles, got it?
But wait! The body is sooo brilliant, it creates its own cure! How, you may ask? I’ll tell you how! By making its own ANTIOXIDANTS! (But really the story is too complicated to tell it all here, so I’m going to relate a few of the fascinating findings described in a paper by Ji, Radak and Goto that was published in the American Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology in 2008.)
For instance: the body engages in hormesis. Hormesis is a term for how the body may use low doses of toxins to increase the body’s tolerance for larger doses of those toxins. When we engage in any sort of aerobic exercise that works muscles, we create oxidative stress in our bodies. We create oxidative stress in our bodies by merely sitting and breathing. (The major mover of breath is the dome-like muscle called the diaphragm.)
But the body, because it really loves us and wants us to survive and keep feeding it, combats the bad oxidants by creating antioxidants. Increased blood flow from exercise causes the generation of nitric oxide (NO) which, at low concentrations, is an antioxidant. However, at high concentrations, perhaps due to an irregular and high-intensity exercise session after months/years/a lifetime of no exercise, NO can react with superoxide to generate highly reactive and (bad) cytotoxic peroxynitrate (ONOO). I did not make that acronym up. High levels of NO create ONOO! Get it?
Moving on. This should NEVER be used as an argument for being a couch potato. Because aerobic exercise does not appear to harm vascular function “because of the high scavenging capacity of the antioxidant system.” (Ji, et al., referencing study published by Goto, Higashi, Kimura, Noma, Hara, et al., in Circulation in 2003, 108:530-535.) Also, regular exercise is absolutely beneficial in preventing diseases and improving both physiological and psychological functions in ways researchers are just beginning to understand.
Come back for part 2 of this article on Friday (and the answer to how YTU will make you younger!).