Thoughts on Exercise
- Created on Tuesday, 11 August 2020 20:03
I presume that most people who read this blog are on the older side, like me. And you know it’s important to stay active for many reasons, including the prevention of atrophy. And atrophy starts young- even in your 30s. I kid you not. I have gotten letters from people in their 30s, both female and male, complaining about not having the round, toned buttocks they used to have when they were young, which for them was not too long ago. They even made an episode of King of the Hill about it, an adult cartoon about life in a fictional mid-sized Texas town called Arlen. And note that I am the creator of a fictional small Texas town called Arlettsville in My Stretch of Texas Ground. But, in one episode of King of the Hill, Hank Hill, who is in his 40s, and is a former high school athlete, discovers that his butt has become totally flat and wasted.
So, what causes the flattening of the butt? First, the person has stopped exercising, and second, it’s a natural tendency. The gluteus maximus tends to atrophy. It is one of the first muscles to go. And there may be a genetic component to the tendency.
To fight it, you should exercise as in bicycling, stair climbing, sprinting. There are various weight-lifting exercises you can do, but let’s note that young people can have very well-toned butts without lifting weights. It’s not fundamentally about heavy weightlifting. It’s more about how you move your own weight around.
But, it’s an example of a decline that can take place when a person is still relatively young. And obviously, the tendency to atrophy only gets worse as we get older. There is a term for it Medicine: sarcopenia, which is skeletal muscle wasting. And it goes hand in hand with bone wasting called osteopenia. And it makes sense that they would go together because it’s all one continuous stream of functional tissue.
But, here’s what I’m getting at: say you have two people, same age, same gender, doing the same exercise. But, one is living healthfully, eating nutritious food and avoiding bad habits like smoking and drinking. The other is eating crap and doing everything else that’s bad. That person is likely to get a flat butt at a younger age, even doing the same exercise. Why? Because that person is aging faster overall, and the flattening of the butt is an aging thing. So, it’s not just about exercise; it’s about your general health and how you are living your life.
So, what exercises are best? Especially for older people who are trying to stay younger? I mentioned weight lifting, and it is very efficient. But, I don’t go to a gym. I have a light weight set in my garage, which I use sometimes. But, I have mixed feelings about older people lifting weights because it is very easy to hurt oneself. For instance, you should never arch your back. The back wasn’t meant to be arched. You have about 5 degrees of back-bending before the facet joints lock, and it’s all strain after that. The window is so small, you should just forget about arching your back at all. Just don’t do it. Make it a rule: don’t arch your back. But, if you try to lift a heavy weight overhead, you are almost certain to arch your back. And the same goes for a bench press, because it’s very easy to arch your back when you’re lying down. So, the best way to press a weight is to do it on an incline where the support behind you keeps you from arching your back. Therefore, yes to incline presses, but no to military presses and bench presses.
And I’ll give one more example and that is curling weight with the forearm supinated- the traditional biceps curl. In life, the biceps is more of a supporting muscle than a prime mover. There aren’t too many movements in life in which it’s practical to flex the arm with the forearm supinated. For instance, if you were pulling yourself up a tree to climb the tree, you couldn’t do it with your forearm supinated. You’d have no way to get up and over. The only practical way to do it is with the palm rotated internally; i.e. pronated. So, if you are going to pull yourself up on a pull-up bar, you should do it with the dorsal side of your hand facing you. In other words, your hand should be internally rotated, not externally rotated. And note that you are much more likely to tear a muscle if you do it the other way.
But, what about developing big biceps? That shouldn’t be your objective. That muscle is going to be worked some even if you do the exercise the right way. But, the hallmark of a “gym rat” are big biceps. It’s not something that comes from other athletics or strenuous physical work. Gymnasts get big biceps because they often work-out on the high bar underhanded. Otherwise, a more balanced muscular conditioning takes place that I think is more normal. And again: you’ll be less likely to get hurt because bicep tears are very common when you twist your arm out and flex.
So, if you are going to do weight-lifting, don’t just do anything that you see other people doing. I hope you have someone good advising you who knows something about body mechanics and kinesthetics.
So, what else? There are competitive sports like tennis and golf, but realize: people get hurt doing those things. Tennis is harder on the body than golf, but they are both hard. Tennis is a disaster biomechanically. There are few things that cause dystonia and dyskinesia more than tennis. Just watch professional tennis players, and I don’t mean when they’re playing; I mean when they’re just walking. They’re spastic. They’re a dystonic mess.
So, what’s good? Bicycling is good because it’s easy on your joints. The important thing is to have a good bike that fits you properly and a comfortable seat. You should also know how to ride without crimping your neck and thwarting your linearity. But, let’s face it: short of crashing, you’re not likely to hurt yourself riding a bike.
Walking? Well, that's the best; there is nothing better. Walking is better than running because it calls for a more balanced use of the lower extremities. In walking, you actually straighten your leg, that is, your knee joint, which calls upon the anterior thigh muscles. When you run, your leg remains bent all the time; it never straightens; which means that you are using your posterior muscles very much more. It’s unbalanced. Obviously, human beings have the ability to run; it is a natural movement. But, I believe it’s really part of your “fight or flight” mechanism to run. Normal locomotion for a human being- to get from place to place- is to walk. It doesn’t mean you can never run, but don’t do it every day because if you do, you are going to get hurt.
Now, if you’re concerned about walking being too “easy,” and you want to make it harder, don’t consider carrying something. That’s a terrible idea. Walking is a natural movement that involves cadence and rhythm and freedom, which you lose completely if you are carrying something. So, don’t even think about doing that. What you should do instead is: walk up hills. If you include some hills in your course, you can get everything you need from walking. And of course, I mean walking up the hills. It’s not important to walk down. It would be OK to skip that.
Swimming is excellent, and that’s another natural movement. A human being does not know how to swim instinctively, but some animals do. I’ll never forget the first time I put my dog Firsky into water, as a puppy, and he started doing the dog paddle, and it was beautiful. And, it’s very easy to teach the dog paddle to children. It’s really the first stroke they should learn.
The crawl (which is often mistakenly called the free-style, but that is really just a competitive distinction; the movement is the crawl) the back stroke, and the breast stroke are all very good and biomechanically sound. Don’t do the butterfly- unless you want shoulder problems. You really should skip that one or else it's going to be impingement syndromes and rotator cuff tears.
So, what do I do? I follow my own advice. I walk, including up hills. I bicycle. I swim. And I do some working out with weights but in a very controlled, non- straining manner. And I do calisthenics like pull-ups and push-up, but again, with a lot of attention to form. I always do my pull-ups over-handed.
And as I approach my 70th birthday, I am feeling good; strong like bull.