In the last fifty years a radical change has taken place in how we
move our bodies. From nature-based movements we have emerged
artificial movement culture. Instead of walking to the store we now
drive our automobiles. From here we get back in the car
ourselves to the gym for a “workout." Through this emphasis on
artificial movement has emerged a phenomenon called “fitness."
and behavioral practices have come to label health
and the newly arrived fitness model into the same category, as one
The fact of the matter is that health and fitness are
almost always two entirely distinct pursuits.
What is fitness?
is a concept, a word, an image in the mind,
shaped by decades of advances in exercise science along with
and publicly broadcast messages. Fitness as a
cultural phenomenon is controlled by a cartel that includes several
them beauty, fashion, sports, sporting goods, and
media.” Peg Jordan, The Fitness Instinct
Fitness is a concept that
has been beaten into us from our
earliest of walking days. We have been shamed and ostracized if we are
fat. Fit people get the best
mates and the best paying jobs, or so we
are told. We have been cajoled into believing that to be fit is to be
the fitness myth is just that—a myth.
Fitness is about looking good. When we practice fitness
rarely are we practicing
health. Instead, we are working on our body in
order to appear a certain way. This is not necessarily health.
will cross over into the health world. For
instance, if you were obese and the extra weight was causing your heart
to have to beat
faster, then engaging in a fitness practice would
constitute as a health practice. But this is not the norm. Most often,
when we are
practicing fitness we are more closely aligned with the
beauty and cosmetic industry then the world of health and wellness.
it may be important to include a fitness regime into your daily
schedule, it is primarily for appearance and not for general health.
you go to the gym it is rare that you are working on
your health. You are working on your body, or your body’s appearance,
ignoring what is going on inside the physical shell. Fitness
is about how the outside looks. Health is more about how the inside
are two cornerstone beliefs about fitness. These
beliefs are 1) that a hard body is a healthy body, and 2) an aerobically
is a healthy heart. Unfortunately, both of these beliefs are
myths and do not constitute much in regards to the world of health.
# 1: A hard body is a healthy body
It is true that muscle is a fat burning machine. One of
the goals in the fitness world
is to create more muscle mass in order to
consume more calories, including when one is at rest. But in order to
achieve these appearance-based
goals one often has to harden one’s
musculature into rigid and dense tissue. Hard muscles and dense fascia
tissue are not healthy.
a muscle to be healthy it needs to contract and to
relax. A hypertonic muscle that does not relax is not the model of
muscles tend to create hardened fascia tissue around
them. These hardened tissues then dry out and become brittle, having a
like that of beef jerky. Not only does fluid become minimized
but energetic flow is diminished through the surrounding fascia.
myth that pervades the fitness industry is that
strength and health are one in the same. It might seem ironic to
consider this scenario.
Usually one would consider a tight hamstring as a
“bad” thing. Then why is it a “good” thing to have a tight chest muscle
or a hardened
abdominal area? While strength training may have some
value in the world of health it has become far more mythological than
those hardened abdominal muscles lie a host of
internal organs gasping for space. Not only does one harden the outside
of the torso
with weight training but the inside becomes hard as well.
Underneath that hard and inflated chest lies the heart and lungs. This
of steel prevents adequate expansion of the chest and diminishes
the breathing capacity.
The diaphragm and the heart are
linked through a common
connective tissue matrix. A natural belly will allow the diaphragm to
expand and contract at will. This contraction
tugs on the heart and
massages the heart during respiration. A diaphragm that is locked in
place by rigid abdominal muscles does not
create the same massaging
affect on the heart.
Hardening the body is consistent with the belief that an
athlete is a warrior
and in order to train for war one has to be hard
and mighty. Unfortunately, war is most often within our own head but we
to create a hard outer shell to defend ourselves from this
imagined enemy. A culture that is obsessed with thinness attempts to
fat burning machines, not for health, but for cosmetic
appearances. A culture that lives from a place of imagined fears from
will create movement to armor the body to protect oneself, even
though most of those fears are imagined.
Myth #2: An aerobically
fit heart is a healthy heart
We jump, we run, we swim, we aerobicise. We watch our
celebrities and fitness gurus who teach
us how to climb our heart up to
our target range to achieve our maximum health benefits. Sports medicine
and a league of fitness trainers
have beaten into us the belief that an
aerobically fit heart makes for health. But this is not necessarily so.
place strain on our heart when performing aerobic
exercise we help to create a stress response in the body. The body
believes it is
at war. When the stress response is triggered our
breathing becomes labored. Most often we breathe through our mouth,
Referring to the research of Allan Douillard, Peg Jordan writes in The Fitness Instinct.
“Douillard knew that breathing
through the mouth tends to inflate
only the upper lobes of the lungs, which are connected to sympathetic
nerve fibers, the branch
of the nervous system that activates the
fight-or-flight response. Breathing through your mouth prepares your
body with adrenaline
for an emergency response. Your pupils dilate,
blood is shunted to your extremities, peripheral blood vessels expand,
and so on. The
problem with exercising at this level all of the time is
that you are consistently dipping into a full-alarm state with every
If you work out every day, you undergo the ravages of
adrenaline toxicity. One of the side effects, for example, is that
(a form of adrenaline) coaxes “bad” LDL cholesterol onto the
walls of the coronary arteries.”
In addition, when we are in a
stress response muscles in our
body will constrict. Organs consist of smooth muscle fibers and will
contract just as easily as skeletal
muscle found in a bicep. The heart
is one such organ. Under a stress response, like aerobic activity, the
heart is actually tightening
up. In addition, arteries, consisting of
smooth muscle fibers, will also constrict. The arteries leading into the
heart narrow when
aerobic exercise is performed.
Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D., writes about this phenomenon in The
Cholesterol Myths. “Artery walls are
surrounded by smooth muscle cells.
When such cells contract, the artery narrows. When they relax, it
widens. Various factors may stimulate
the smooth muscle cells of the
coronary arteries to contract including mental stress, anxiety, exposure
to cold and even a sustained
hand grip.” Aerobic exercise is this
stress that causes the smooth muscle cells to constrict.
One would think that we would
learn our lessons after
witnessing many who have died while in pursuit of the aerobic myth. For
instance, Florence Griffith Joyner,
at one time the faster woman on
earth, reportedly died of heart complications. Jim Fixx, the author of
The Compete Book of Running,
died of a heart attack at age 52 while
running. He had atherosclerosis, (hardening of his arteries) in three of
his coronary arteries.
Brian Maxwell, a Canadian marathon runner and
creator of the Powerbar, died at age 51 of a heart attack. Peg Jordan
writes in The
“When I was a cardiac care nurse, for example, I knew a
40-year-old runner who surpassed every one of those
followed a heart-healthy diet, even sprinkling lecithin (a fat
emulsifier) on his breakfast cereal. He had the blood
pressure of a
teenager. He had no family history of heart disease or any other
identifiable risk factors. Thus, when he dropped dead
from a sudden
heart attack, it made me question the value of the numbers game.”
We have been taught to believe that a low resting
heart rate is
the eternal sign of health in our culture. This mathematical formula
has lulled us into believing that the lower the
number the healthier we
The beliefs that we have about health can often be traced back
to our childhoods. We had heroes
and role models who demonstrated these
beliefs for us. Often we take on those beliefs without ever questioning
their impact on us.
- Where did you learn about fitness?
- What is your belief about fitness?
- How do you feel while
- Who were your role models?
- What does fitness provide for you?
- What are the side affects
of a fitness routine?
- How do you feel when you cannot practice your routine?
- Why are you practicing fitness?
How often are you practicing fitness?
- What are your fitness goals?
Aerobic exercise is not the panacea that it was once
thought to be.
Movement is important in our health. But how we move is even more
important. A body that consistently moves under the
code of stress will
suffer from the affects of stress. Weight training and aerobic activity
have become a mainstay of our lives. Unfortunately,
these myths have
become institutionalized in our culture. When we begin to question their
real impact we may be alarmed at the results.
What is health?
The health of an individual is often linked to the health of a
culture. Beliefs and behaviors are transmuted throughout
through the stories and myths that we tell. We often claim that we are
healthy if we are free of pain. But health is much
more than this.
Health can be determined by the flow of all the individual
systems of the body. When one is blocked or
backed up there is a good
possibility that disease or illness will take place. When looking at
health we need to consider how open
these systems are.
There are twelve primary body systems. Each one will
function independently, yet have an influence
on the other systems. When
considering health we need to examine the functioning of all of these
The Twelve Body Systems
Circulates oxygen to each and every cell by the pumping of the heart and the flow of blood through arteries
- Lymphatic System
Assists the veins in draining fluid back to the heart as well as carrying away waste products
Allows for the exchange of oxygen into the lungs and removal of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere
This system takes food from the outside and converts it to usable fuel while eliminating waste products from
- Urinary System
Elimination of water and fluid waste components from the body
- Reproductive System
of organs and glands to enable the species to reproduce itself
- Integument System
Layers of skin to provide protection from
elements in the external world
- Endocrine System
Provides needed stimulation to corresponding glands to function efficiently
Vast system of nerve branches that begin in the brain and lead to pathways ending at organs and muscles
This fluid system begins in the brain and encircles the entire spinal
cord. Cranial sacral fluid pulses
out the center of the brain and flows
to the far reaches of the tailbone where it recirculates back to the
brain. This system is accepted
by Western medicine but is poorly
understood under the Western medical model.
- Body Electric System***********
This is a system
of energetic pathways that works through the bodies’
fascia network. This network transports bioelectrical energy to each
formally recognized by the Western Medical Community. (See Dr.
Robert O. Becker, M.D., The Body Electric, or James L. Oschman, Energy
- Emotional System************
Emotions flow through the body like rivers of water. Emotions are forms of
designed to shake us, stir us, and, like a faucet, flow out of us. While
their existence is acknowledged by Western Medicine this
body system is poorly understood, and, has almost no value.
In a cultured obsessed with appearance we have been convinced that big
and flat stomachs are the ideal of health. Nothing could be
more wrong. When your glandular system functions fully and your urinary
system is flowing well then you have obtained a more modest degree of
health. Much of our current beliefs about health actually prevent
For instance, tight abdominal muscles restrict our
diaphragm, (the central muscle involved in respiration)
and squeeze the
abdominal cavity tightly. Any organ or gland beneath these hardened
muscles will suffer the consequences of hardness
and tightness. The flow
coming and going to these organs will be diminished.
An emotional system that allows one to cry
at will or
express anger in a healthy manner will be far healthier than hundreds of
laps run around a track every evening after work.
Along with the twelve
body systems one might consider twenty-one points of health. Within
these twenty-one points one begins to focus
on one’s health.
The Twenty-one Points of Health
- Cardiovascular System
Strength and Tone
- Spinal Flexibility
- Emotional Wisdom
- Relationship Wisdom
- Body Electric System
- Urinary Clearing
- Glandular and Organ Functioning
Health can be reflected in individuals’ needs and lifestyle.
For instance, a 70-year old woman does not necessarily
biceps to be healthy. Learning to balance so as not to fall and break a
hip would be a far more beneficial health practice
for someone like
this. For many practicing Kegel exercises to balance the pelvic floor
would be a far greater health practice than
jumping on a machine to
tighten up the abdominal area. Practicing how to breathe more deeply and
efficiently is a much more pronounced
healthy practice than adding
muscle mass to one’s chest. Engaging in vision improvement exercises to
balance the muscles surrounding
the eyes and maintain healthy vision
would be far more of a health practice than seeing how big you can make
your calf muscles.
what it might be like to spend just as much time
working on our health as we do on our body. When we “workout," “get in
“get fit” we are seldom practicing health at all. A “fitness
routine” performed three days a week may make you feel better in your
clothes but might not be doing much for your over all health.
Unfortunately, fitness is used as a healing remedy when it is
primarily designed for cosmetic purposes. For instances, many people
diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis are recommended by their health
provider to engage in a fitness program. This is the one of the last
things they ought to be doing. A person with Multiple Sclerosis
likely suffering from a tightened neck and shoulder area, creating an
environment for the connective tissue that surrounds
the nerves that
emerge from the neck area to weaken and dissolve. A fitness routine only
helps to create more tension within the connective
tissue leading to
more connective tissue damage. A health practice emphasizing gentle
expansive movement would be far more beneficial
in this case than a
In another instance, someone suffering from a breathing
disorder like pulmonary fibrosis
is often encouraged to enter into a
rehab program where they are taught how to lift weights to tighten their
chest even more and perform
abdominal exercises to shorten up an
already tightened abdominal cavity. The breath has no hope of returning
to normal under the guidance
of a fitness practice like this. A health
practice would be far more beneficial focusing on teaching an individual
how to breathe.
beliefs and practices of fitness are institutionalized as
normal. The primary emphasis of fitness is to look good. Most often
routines are far from health. While it may be important to feel
good by looking good, this type of practice falls far short of achieving
It is important to move our body frequently to obtain optimal
health. But how and why we move is even more important. Health and
are two entirely different concepts that should remain clear and
The Fitness Instinct, Peg Jordan, 1999, Rodale
Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania
The Cholesterol Myths, Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D. , 2000, New Trends Publishing, Washington, DC