Qigong, an ancient Chinese exercise and treatment, benefits both health and longevity. It involves mind and body coordination to improve the flow of the body’s vital life force. Although similar to acupuncture in moving the qi (also called chi), qigong doesn’t require needles and also helps improve organ health. There are a number of schools and approaches to qigong, from exercises you can do yourself, to having work done to you by qigong practitioners.
One simple way to improve your immune system is to improve salivation in your mouth. Doctors and dentists know that saliva helps reduce dental cavities. People with poor salivation tend to have more dental cavities and poorer immune function.
Here is a simple qigong exercise to increase salivation. Clack your teeth together 12 times, move your tongue up and down 9 times, then move your tongue from left to right 9 times, and finally move your tongue out and in 9 times. You should notice increased saliva in your mouth. Swish the fluid around your mouth and swallow it in 3 amounts. You will notice even more saliva afterwards.
Improving the lymphatic flow in the body also improves the immune system. The lymphatic system is similar in structure to the circulatory system but with much smaller vessels. If the blood vessels were the size of straws, then the lymphatic vessels would be the size of silk threads. The lymphatic system removes waste material. Sometimes, if there is a lot of material to remove, congestion occurs, resulting in swelling, heaviness and decreased immunity. Even bone dust from certain surgical procedures can clog lymph nodes and vessels.
Using shaking machines or vibrators or jumping on trampolines can help move the lymph fluid. A simple qigong exercise involves doing mild shaking while standing and relaxing all joints in the body including the jaw, so that when you shake, your teeth clack. Imagine all of the water in your body, which is about 70% of your body composition, moving as a single unit, creating a tidal wave moving waste material out of the cell and driving in nutrition, including oxygen. Also imagine the various types of tissues gliding smoothly as separate units, unsticking any scar tissue that may have developed from trauma, infection or disuse. Your fingers, shoulders, vertebrae, skin and muscles should bounce or move as a wave or flap like a flag blowing in the breeze. The action should appear graceful and flowing, with movement occurring at each separate joint. Care has to be taken to shake at an appropriate speed so you don’t hurt yourself.
From a qigong point of view, this is the only exercise I know of that benefits the hormonal or endocrine system. The endocrine system could be described as the “mobile” messenger system, versus the nervous system which could be described as the “landline.” The endocrine system communicates messages that help with energy production (thyroid, adrenal), digestion (salivary), sexual function (prostate, ovaries), sleep cycles, growth, and coordination of all bodily functions.
As a child, I watched my grandparents doing a Japanese exercise called nishishiki. They would shake their arms and legs while lying on their backs. My grandmother lived to 88 and my grandfather to 97. Later, a 92-year-old Japanese patient told me to shake my hands to stay healthy. Even while playing sports, if a team member missed a point, everyone said, “shake it off.” Shaking seems to lead to better health and performance.
What differentiates living from non-living things? Movement.
Strength training is used more today to round out exercise regimes, especially for the “Baby Boomer” population. This addition compliments the previous focus on cardiovascular fitness programs. Evidence shows that strength training is not only good for activities of daily living, but also improves balance and helps with weight management and memory. Muscle strength involves coordination of nerve messages getting to the individual muscle fibers, which requires chemical messengers called neurotransmitters to link muscle and nerve function. Weight/strength training stimulates the production of these neurotransmitters, which also may boost memory.
Some of my patients are taking responsibility to keep themselves fit with a daily exercise routine but find that they are injuring themselves with the same routine they have done for years. Upon questioning, we find individuals are doing weight lifting of only certain muscles around a particular joint, usually the areas of the body that are easily seen. In doing so, imbalances can develop. Some people try to progress with their programs quicker than their bodies can handle. Some start off at too heavy a load and try to push through the exercise despite what their body says. Others do techniques or exercises with a higher risk for injury. Still others take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol but are not taking Co-Q 10 which gets depleted when taking statin drugs, thus reducing the body’s ability to produce muscle energy. Plus, add in the aging factor where muscle mass and strength decrease with each decade of life.
Most people who do weight training know that exercise is done gradually and every other day to allow for the muscle fibers to build with a day of rest between workouts. It is important to understand the different types of workout routines depending on your goals, whether to tone, bulk, increase strength or increase stamina.
Muscles are made up of different types of fibers; some are better suited for strong bursts of energy and others better suited for endurance activities. People have different ratios of each of these fibers, so that is why some people are better at long distance running and others are better at sprints.
Nutrition can make a difference in how muscle performs. Many books have been written on the subject, specific for various types of athletic events.
For the majority of us who just want to stay standing and functional for as long as we can as we age, there are simpler guidelines to follow, but it may help to get some guidance with an exercise program if you feel you are straining, plateauing or have gotten into a rut. Changing a routine may enhance brain function and muscle efficiency and get you to a new level with less risk for injury.
I still hear people talking about exercising to the point of pain and trying to work through the pain. Ever since I was an undergraduate in college, I have always believed, based on what my professor said, that pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is getting damaged. He said you could exercise without experiencing pain. Was I relieved to hear that, since I am such a baby when it comes to pain.
Coaches still push their athletes to the point of pain and it is one way to develop more muscle fiber. But some damage does occur and it’s similar to taking 2 steps forward and 1 step backward. You make forward progress but you do have some suffering.
There is a way to push ahead 1 step forward, 1 step forward, without any backward motion. I tell my patients to listen to your body. Don’t look for pain signals, because that is an indication that you have already gone too far. If you have to use ice to calm the pain and swelling, then you have most certainly gone too far.
Instead, look for other signals from the body telling you the point of damage is near, such as breathing harder or feeling like more effort is needed. You may start to modify the movement by using more parts of your body. It can feel like you are straining. You feel fatigue coming on. These are signals that come before the pain and will give you a “heads up” that you should stop. Using these signals will prevent any damage or pain from occurring, making your progress proceed in a forward manner.
One incredible athlete I met in my life was Lynn Jennings, who won the Bronze Medal in the 1500 meters at the Barcelona Olympics. What made her so remarkable was the fact that she never had an injury in her running career at the time I met her. When I asked her how she was able to accomplish this, she said that she always listened to her body, taking it easy when she felt tired, taking a break when she felt her body needed a rest. What a contrast to other elite runners who usually feel compelled to continue to train despite pain and injuries to keep up with the other runners. She lived in the woods and trained with her dog, away from the running community, so she never got caught up in the competition of keeping up with the other runners. She listened instead to her body.
No matter what type of activity, exercise or class you are doing, listen to your body and stop before you experience any pain. Keep moving forward.
Yonemoto Physical Therapy published a newsletter “The Aches and Pains of Aging” that can be found in the newsletter archives. Aging can present itself in different ways and have many different symptoms. There are ways to help prevent the effects of aging by changing how you view life, change your lifestyle, incorporate exercise for the body and mind.
Learn more about aging and solutions by reading “The Aches and Pains of Aging” which covers:
About 13 years ago, my father had bypass surgery for his heart and it was a real learning experience in dealing with hospitals, insurance and hospital personnel. Unfortunately, like most hospitalizations and illnesses, it was a “learn as you go” experience. Certainly, I would not recommend this approach as once you are in the system, it is oftentimes hard to make changes. Prepare yourself for the possibility of hospitalization before you have to do it by reading, asking questions and doing your consumer research.
Here are some tips:
Q: Where should I start?
A: Find out about the hospitals in your area. Find out what services are offered, which doctors are on staff, what insurance plans are generally accepted, what success ratings they have for particular surgeries and what their nursing personnel is like. Try to find the hospital that best fits your needs and goals.
Q: How do I choose a hospital?
A: Mostly it depends on where your doctor is on staff and these days with managed care, it depends on your insurance coverage.
Q: Don’t all hospitals provide the same care?
A: In my father’s particular case, no. He had a 5 graft bypass heart surgery in Visalia and was discharged three days after his surgery. His HMO plan stated that this was the normal course of a hospital stay. Unfortunately, after he came to Southern California to stay with me about 2 weeks after his surgery, he had to be readmitted to another local hospital. I have since found out that this hospital kept a 5 graft bypass heart surgery patient in for a minimum of 1 week.
Q: Why did your father have to be readmitted to the hospital?
A: Apparently, he was dehydrated and malnourished from not eating after his surgery. His appetite and ability to eat diminished to almost nothing and forcing him to eat only made him throw up. I have since found out that anesthesia and medication will decrease appetite and taste so it is helpful to continue the intravenous nutrition for a while following surgery. Other friends of mine have related similar stories regarding being discharged from the hospital in a short period of time then having to be readmitted to rehydrate.
Q: Is your father okay now?
A: No. His heart did not hold up well and he passed away soon after coming home. The lack of adequate nutrition for those initial two weeks led to a starvation condition, causing the body to break down. His condition was further complicated by internal bleeding which was hard to control since his clotting ability stopped functioning normally due to significant blood loss and break down caused by the starvation.
Q: Couldn’t you tell if he was bleeding?
A: Not while he was at home. His bowel movements had slowed down to a crawl. His first bowel movement following the surgery was about 10 days later and was black. Because he was on iron supplements, I assumed this caused the black color of his fecal matter even though old blood can do the same. He was sleeping a lot and did not want to do much of anything, but this was explained by the hospital staff to be normal following major heart surgery.
Q: What finally led to getting him back to a hospital?
A: Although his eating was getting better and he was taking in more food, he was getting weaker and finally collapsed while walking complaining of stomach pain. It turns out he had internal bleeding which became very hard to control. The ulcers he had turned out to be quite deep and it was estimated that he probably had these ulcers for a long time.
Q: Since he has been in the hospital, what are some of your recommendations for a better experience?
A: Find a doctor with whom you can communicate easily and makes things understandable to you. It is helpful to have the doctor line up a team in the anticipation of future needs, particularly for a critical care patient. Coordination of the entire team, including family visits, spiritual counseling and nursing care, is important to establish. Focusing only on the clinical, bodily functions is not enough. Be sure that the team is aware of the human side of nurturing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. See if there are written materials available to help you. There are books available to the general public explaining medical conditions in easy to understand terms and pictures. Don’t let medical personnel create a hopeless picture. Insist that they talk in hopeful terms even if death is imminent. Norman Cousins describes this well in his book, Head First: The Biology of Hope.
I focus on the topics you care about most.