Atrophy from lack of use or injury
We are, as humans, designed to stand upright, with the bones and muscles working against the resistance of gravity. Which means, standing and walking are, by themselves, exercises for our bodies, so when we are forced to remain in a prone or resting position – like lying in a bed to recover from an illness or injury, we are no longer exercising and consequently the body deteriorates.
Muscles become weak and waste away (atrophy) when not used, decreasing our physical strength by 20 to 30 percent during a single week of bed rest. Think about it; one week to lose about a quarter of our total strength, and, as this is happening, the bones that rely upon muscular movement for their exercise, pulling and bending under pressure, become softer and less dense, while joints tighten and lose flexibility as muscles shorten and cartilage thins from lack of blood circulation and stimulation. All of this conspires to make regaining our daily lives very difficult as we become more prone to instability and falling.
The body is a machine, “use it, or lose it.”
Bed rest and immobility also affects the lungs and circulatory system. Breathing when in a prone or supine position for an extended time becomes shallow and usually originates in the upper thorax (chest) as opposed to the diaphragm (belly) as blood gathers in the chest and legs while the heart, trying to compensate, beats more quickly.
Shallow breathing means less oxygen in the body, and fewer toxins pumped out during exhalation (70 percent of body toxins are released through complete exhalation).
On top of this, the lymphatic system that carries and removes dead cells and cellular waste from the body and relies upon breath and muscular contraction to function (as a pump) is slowed significantly. This, along with inadequate oxygenation of the body,
causes a weakening of the immune system and sets the stage for more illness and disease.
The primary cause of cancer is lack of oxygen in the cells leading to less oxygenation of sugar (metabolism) and the fermentation of that sugar within the cells.
When oxygen levels are low, so is the level of C02 – which aids in the separation of oxygen from hemoglobin (inside the red blood cells that transport oxygen to the cells) enabling the cells to absorb oxygen.
Breathing too fast and getting rid of too much CO2 decreases oxygen levels.
A sedentary lifestyle, like spending hours on the sofa (eating junk foods), can mimic the degeneration of bed rest. So can spending hours seated in a chair in front of a computer screen. Followed by food and sleep (with the body in a supine or prone position). Breathing becomes fast and shallow, often because of posture, originating in the chest and not from the diaphragm or belly.
But how can we exercise when recovering from an illness or a surgery?
The first exercise, always, is diaphragmatic breathing.
In many cases, such as rehabilitation from surgery, static contraction or isometric exercise will help the body maintain muscle mass and strength.
Breath and movement (leading to progressive resistance exercise) is the key to recovery
The intention of REAL STRENGTH NOW training is to teach the student to understand the body from the inside, out and become his or her own teacher. Everything else, health of mind and body, will flow from this training. BREATH IS LIFE.
My own personal experience
I was ten years old when I fell from a tree and suffered a ‘hangman’s fracture,’ commonly known as a broken neck. Following a trip to the emergency room to re-set my second cervical vertebrae, I was confined inside a body cast, plaster from head to groin, with a hole cut in front of my face to breath, eat and see. During this period, I spent a great deal of time lying on a bed or sofa. When the cast was removed I was literally skin and bones, with little muscular strength. In fact, I was unable to walk due to a lack of equilibrium created by the weight of the plaster and its sudden loss. It was during my period of rehabilitation that an elementary school gym teacher introduced me to progressive resistance exercise. In other words, when I could lift ten pounds above my head, he added two more pounds to the bar, making greater demands upon my body as it healed. Improving my strength while increasing my muscle mass. He also insisted that I breathe properly, using all of my lungs (lower, middle and top), while performing my exercises. It was as simple as that. Yet in its simplicity are all the secrets of real strength and health, breath and movement.
In the years and injuries following – motorcycle accidents and sports injuries, illnesses and surgeries – I have always returned to that basic discipline – breath and movement – to calm my mind as I have rebuilt atrophied muscle, soft bones and fortified and protected my joints, beginning with diaphragmatic breathing, progressing to static contractions (isometric) and moving towards dynamic exercise.
Through understanding my own body, the way in which the bones and muscles recover, regenerate and grow, I have helped others regain their strength and health following illnesses and injuries. But the single thing, distilled and reinforced over time, that serves as the foundation for my work in health and strength is oxygen and its healing affect upon the mind and body.
Breath is life.
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The Lost Art of Breathing
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