Mobility and Health: Some Thoughts

I’d like to thank Todd Hargrove for his guest post (How to Do Joint Mobility Drills, July 26, 2011). It was thought-provoking, and I thought I’d share my reflections on it.

What Is the Goal of Exercise?

When it comes to fitness, the blogosphere tends to emphasize strength and athleticism. This is great, but there are other dimensions to health and fitness that are maybe a bit under-discussed.

As a 48-year-old recovering chronic disease patient, I am not looking to become a competitive athlete, enjoyable though that might be. Rather, I want to maximize health and longevity, and be able to freely and pleasurably move through all the challenges and opportunities life may present. I’ll be happy if I can:

  1. Be strong enough to freely manipulate my body plus a heavy load.
  2. Be fit enough to run 3-4 miles with pleasure, play an hour of tennis without getting sore, and sprint faster than common criminals.
  3. Be mobile enough to move freely and gracefully through the full natural range of motion of all joints without crackling, stiffness, or soreness.
  4. Develop good posture, circulation, and neurological function, so that my body naturally arranges itself in healthy positions.

The first three goals are not too different from Jamie Scott’s prescription for surviving a natural disaster. He asks: Could you lift yourself over a wall or up to a balcony to escape a tsunami? Sprint-jog 3-4 miles over shattered ground and obstacles to escape the liquefaction zone of an earthquake? Walk 3-4 hours over hills daily when roads are impassable? Get into a low squat to fit in a small shelter, or squeeze through a small opening?

But I have a special interest in neurological health. I had chronic ear infections as an infant, culminating in surgery, and ever since have had poor balance. My central nervous system infection made it much worse. Three years ago I had to sit down to put pants on or take them off; walked into doors; and fumbled and dropped things, as the complete loss of our former collection of wine glasses can attest. With diet and antibiotics I’ve recovered; my balance is now similar to what it was in my 20s – which is to say, poor.  I can now stand on one foot for about 20 seconds before I have to put down the other foot to balance myself; that would have been 1 or 2 seconds three years ago, but Shou-Ching can do it indefinitely. When we go hiking in the mountains, Shou-Ching clambers up or down steep rocky slopes like a mountain goat; I have to move with care.

Falls are a major cause of health impairment, broken bones, and mortality in the elderly. It would be great if I can improve nervous system function and balance before I get old and falls become dangerous.

I’m very pleased to start this blog’s discussion of fitness with Todd’s post, because mobility and neurological function are critically important to fitness at all ages – and may be crucial to good health as we age.

The Concept of Body Maps

Let me paraphrase one of the key points of Todd’s post this way:

The brain maintains “maps” of the body … These maps may become inaccurate, out of synch with the physical body … As a result the brain may believe a movement is impossible or dangerous and block its performance, even if the body is fully capable of performing the movement … With training the brain can learn the true movement capabilities of the body and revise its maps to more accurately reflect reality, thus increasing the body’s ability to move freely.

The idea that brain “maps” of the physical body, rather than the actual body, are what sets the limits to motion reminded me of a TED video I had seen by Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran. He is a neuroscientist who investigated the problem of “phantom pain” in the lost limbs of amputation victims, and showed that the pain could be cured by “mirror box” therapies that fooled the brain into manipulating the lost arm and thereby re-drawing the brain’s body maps. Here is his fascinating TED talk:

Todd explains how improper brain maps can lead to chronic pain, and how repairing the brain maps can end the pain. This is an important idea for those suffering from chronic pain.

Use It Or Lose It

Todd observes that

While movement will clarify maps, lack of movement will tend to blur them. In a famous experiment, researchers found that sewing a monkey’s fingers together for a few weeks caused its brain to map the fingers as one unit, not as two separate parts capable of individual movements.

So if I want my brain to remember what my body is capable of, I need to regularly take my body through a diversity of movements.

This is an important reminder for someone who spends 12 hours per day at a desk. Get away from the desk, even if only for a few minutes a day, and move!

The Strategy of Slow, Mindful Movement

When I was young I wanted to do everything fast. (Shou-Ching complains that when I’m behind the wheel of a car, I think I’m still young.) But now I’m starting to appreciate the benefits of slow motion.

Todd’s list of ways to “maximize the benefit of mobility exercise” emphasizes slow, mindful movements. A few thoughts on each:

Avoid pain and threat.” Since the purpose of the brain’s body maps is to prevent dangerous movements from happening, to re-draw the maps we have to teach the brain that “dangerous” movements are actually safe. For this to be persuasive, they must actually be safe. But this corollary may be less obvious:

Make sure the movement does not … create other signs of threat such as holding the breath, grimacing, collapsing your posture, or using unnecessary tension.

I’m a fan of the mobility videos of Kelly Starrett at mobilitywod.com, and he frequently advises one never to make a “pain face” or grimace, but rather to maintain a cheerful “Zen face.” A grimace during a challenging stretch or movement may be enjoyable, but it might detract from the value of the exercise. Interesting!

Be mindful and attentive.” This one comes easily to me: I am introspective and enjoy listening to my body and paying attention to muscles, breath, and blood flow during exercise. It’s good to know that’s beneficial.

Use novel movements.” I like routine, but routine mobility drills are unproductive. Movements need to explore new capabilities.

Easy does it.” Move slowly and gently. This calls to mind the classic Chinese exercise forms, like Qi Gong and Tai Chi; they are characterized by slow, flowing, graceful movements.

Be curious, exploratory, and playful.” I like the evolutionary inference Todd makes here:

All animals engage in the most play during the times of their lives when the educational demands are the highest. This means that play is the best solution to difficult education problems that evolution has found.

I think we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that adulthood implies seriousness and sobriety. No! Rather, good health implies lifelong playfulness.

In Boswell’s Life of Johnson, in the Dedication, Boswell writes:

It is related of the great Dr. Clarke, that when in one of his leisure hours he was unbending himself with a few friends in the most playful and frolicksome manner, he observed Beau Nash approaching; upon which he suddenly stopped. “My boys,” said he, “let us be grave – here comes a fool.”

Let us not be fools, and play!

Can Rhythmic Movement Be an Ultradian Therapy?

I’ve done several posts on the subject of circadian (day-night) rhythms, and how enhancing these rhythms with diet, light, sleep, and exercise may be therapeutic for many diseases. See, for instance, Intermittent Fasting as a Therapy for Hypothyroidism (Dec 1, 2010) and Seth Roberts and Circadian Therapy (Mar 22, 2011).

But humans have other natural biorhythms that cycle more frequently. These “ultradian rhythms” can be quite short. For instance, some hormones are released in pulses – I believe insulin and thyroid hormone may operate this way – and I believe a common interval between pulses is 6 seconds.

Many classic movement forms, like yoga or qi gong, emphasize that movement should be synchronized with breathing, and that breathing should be slow and rhythmic – often with about ten breaths per minute, or six seconds per breath.

The coincidence between these numbers intrigues me. If enhancing circadian rhythms is therapeutic for disease, might enhancing ultradian rhythms by mindful “synching” of the breath to their period be therapeutic for hormonal dysfunction?

It’s just a thought. Many people with glucose regulation issues have disrupted ultradian rhythms for insulin secretion. The ultradian clocks in their pancreatic beta cells aren’t working properly. Wouldn’t it be interesting if mindful breathing, as in yoga, could improve insulin secretion and glucose regulation?

This is not such a far out idea. Consider these quotations from recently published papers:

Mind-body modalities based on Eastern philosophy, such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation … have many reported benefits for improving symptoms and physiological measures associated with the metabolic syndrome…. Findings from the studies reviewed support the potential clinical effectiveness of mind-body practices in improving indices of the metabolic syndrome. [1]

Participation of subjects with T2DM in yoga practice for 40 days resulted in reduced BMI, improved well-being, and reduced anxiety. [2]

Yoga-nidra practiced for 30 minutes daily up to 90 days, parameters were recorded every. 30th day. Results of this study showed that most of the symptoms were subsided (P < 0.004, significant), and fall of mean blood glucose level was significant after 3-month of Yoga-nidra. This fall was 21.3 mg/dl, P < 0.0007, (from 159 +/- 12.27 to 137.7 +/- 23.15,) in fasting and 17.95 mg/dl, P = 0.02, (from 255.45 +/- 16.85 to 237.5 +/- 30.54) in post prandial glucose level. Results of this study suggest that subjects on Yoga-nidra with drug regimen had better control in their fluctuating blood glucose and symptoms associated with diabetes, compared to those were on oral hypoglycaemics alone. [3]

[F]asting plasma insulin was significantly lower in the yoga group. The yoga group was also more insulin sensitive (yoga 7.82 [2.29] v. control 4.86 [11.97] (mg/[kg.min])/(microU/ml), p < 0.001). [4]

There are fifty-six papers in Pubmed on “yoga diabetes”, and only four of them date before 2002. Most were published after 2008. This is an emerging area of research, but it would be interesting if slow, mindful movement proves to be an effective therapy for metabolic disorders. Maybe exercise doesn’t need to be vigorous to heal disorders like diabetes and obesity!

The Best Exercises for Mobility

I asked Todd what traditional movement forms he would most recommend. He replied:

In my blog I made some lists of exercises styles, traditional and modern, which are in line with what I recommend: the Feldenkrais Method, Z-Health, Alexander Technique, and tai chi are at the top of the list.

My favorite is the Feldenkrais method, but I think for purposes of your blog, some tai chi videos would be perfect, because they really provide a picture of what I’m talking about. You can’t do tai chi without observing all of the guidelines I provide at the end. And it looks cool.

You might include a point that the magic of tai chi is not so much in the specific forms they use, but in the WAY they move – smooth and slow. And the mind state while moving – mindful, relaxed, attention to small details and subtleties. You could apply this tai chi style to anything and get benefit – sitting, standing, walking, lifting weights or doing joint mobility drills.

All of these movement disciplines are extremely interesting, and I hope to get help exploring them in future blog posts. I know that a number of Z-Health Master Trainers have read our book, and hopefully one of them will teach us about Z-Health.

In closing, here are some videos of Qi Gong and Tai Chi movements. With videos available on DVD or on YouTube, there’s no need to join a class to learn mobility drills. You can play a video in your TV and practice slow, mindful, relaxed movements at home.

Perhaps the most valuable movements, in my view, are those used as “warm-up” exercises in Tai Chi or beginning movements in Qi Gong. Here is a well-made introductory video:

Here is a beautiful exhibition of Tai Chi:

Thanks, Todd. I very much appreciate the opportunity to learn about fitness from an expert!

References

[1] Anderson JG, Taylor AG. The metabolic syndrome and mind-body therapies: a systematic review. J Nutr Metab. 2011;2011:276419. http://pmid.us/21773016.

[2] Kosuri M, Sridhar GR. Yoga practice in diabetes improves physical and psychological outcomes. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2009 Dec;7(6):515-7. http://pmid.us/19900155.

[3] Amita S et al. Effect of yoga-nidra on blood glucose level in diabetic patients. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 Jan-Mar;53(1):97-101. http://pmid.us/19810584.

[4] Chaya MS et al. Insulin sensitivity and cardiac autonomic function in young male practitioners of yoga. Natl Med J India. 2008 Sep-Oct;21(5):217-21. http://pmid.us/19320319.

Leave a comment ?

35 Comments.

  1. Very interesting posts, thank you.

    As a person who has suffered from joint pain for years, I’m not interested in pushing myself beyond my endurance or until I am in agony. I finally found a trainer who understands this. I do Pilates and some upper-body weight training. I’ve lost inches, and my strength, mobility and balance have all improved. I’m thrilled, and It’s enough for me.

  2. Thanks Paul. I’m not sure its fair to call me an expert on these issues. And at your rate of learning you will probably surpass me in the next thirty minutes or so.

    I liked several points you made. As to the goals of exercise, I think its great that you have some specifics in mind. Many people approach exercise with a very vague idea that they want to become more fit, while ignoring the question of “fit for what.”

    Regarding balance, you might want to try doing mobility drills while manipulating the following variables: eye position (open, closed, left, right, up, down); head position (tilted or turned left or right); and foot position (two feet, one foot, lunge). Each of these will test the vestibular system in a slightly different way. Zach could give you much more advice in that regard I’m sure.

    I agree that falling is a major issue. I have heard many experts, including Feldenkrais speculate that fear of falling is such a primal concern that the central nervous system is probably always preoccupied to some extent with fall protection. So any problem with balance might be able to cause at least minor stress all the time.

    I think the idea of rhythm in movement is very interesting. I have heard Steven Pinker speculate that our love of music is not an adaptation but a side effect of various other adaptations, including an ability to attend to the rhythmic movements of the limbs needed for optimal gait and running. I have also read that rhythmic aerobic activities have particularly beneficial effects on the brain, including brain wave patterns.

  3. I have practiced tai chi for five years and can attest that practice of tai chi improves balance, mobility, posture, structure, movement . . . and that’s just the physical improvements. The internal changes are even more interesting, starting with the recognition of how much tension we carry around and believe to be normal.

    I have three reservations about what you have presented. First, to my eye, the woman in the video is doing harm to her knees, in that my teachers insist the knee of the front leg in a 70-30 posture should be directly above the toes and no further. Her knees are usually way in front of the toes.

    Which leads to my second reservation. From my own personal experience, and from everything I’ve read in the field, true internal martial arts movement can be learned only by hands-on training. It cannot be learned from videos.

    Third reservation: I have heard of enough scare stories about people using the wrong internal exercises which messed up them up physically or mentally. This is powerful stuff.

    I have seen people on the tai chi forums speak highly of Feldenkrais. Question for Todd: can Feldenkrais be learned from a book or DVD?

    Second related question for Todd: what about his own material? Can his material be learned correctly from the e-book and audio, or are those products aids to those who have already gone through his own personal training sessions?

  4. “often with about ten breaths per minute, or sex seconds per breath.”

    I think you meant to write: “. . . or six seconds per breath.”

    Interesting article, thanks.

  5. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for the tips. Based on a few trials, my balance is better with eyes open than closed. My balance on either foot is better looking left than looking right. Much better looking down than up.

    I hadn’t heard about rhythmic aerobic exercise benefiting the brain. Good news for me, I like running.

    Hi Kirk,

    Yes, I’m sure videos are no substitute for the real thing. But for simple movements and breathing exercises, they can be a start.

    Hi Tana,

    Thanks, I’ve fixed it!

  6. Kirk,

    Feldenkrais movement lessons, called awareness through movement lessons or ATMs are done by following the verbal instructions of a teacher. The lesson will usually start with the students lying on their backs, and then the teacher will take the students through a scripted series of movements, such as lifting the head in a certain way, rolling to the side, using a hand to lift a foot or knee, etc. The lesson will usually take about 45 minutes and will revolve around a particular theme such as improving trunk flexion or rotation. The movements are very novel, gentle and designed to be doable by almost anyone.

    The teacher almost never demonstrates movements or puts his hands on a student. This is to encourage students to find their own unique and personal solutions to movement problems, as opposed to copying the movements of someone else. It also encourages a playful exploratory and process-oriented mindset, as opposed to a goal oriented mindset.

    Because the teacher doesn’t really do anything besides tell the students what movements to make and what to be aware of while moving, the lessons can be done equally well by attending a class or by listening to a recorded audio lesson on a tape, CD or mp3. Books on Feldenkrais are useful for explaining why the lessons work, but you don’t need to know why they work to do them. The lessons can be done by reading movement instructions from the book, but it is far preferable to listen to the instructions than to read them.

  7. > I have seen people on the tai chi forums speak highly of Feldenkrais. Question for Todd: can Feldenkrais be learned from a book or DVD?

    > the lessons can be done equally well by attending a class or by listening to a recorded audio lesson on a tape,

    IMHO The first few lessons should be done with a teacher.

    I’m still told to move either slower or to push less hard, and I’ve been doing it a long time.

    IMHO anyone who has not done it before must do at least 4 or 5 active lessons (not breathing lessons, some of which are impossible to ruin by pushing too hard) with a teacher to get an idea of how little exertion is needed for most lessons.

    All that being said, there is the occasional lesson that’s hard for even very athletic people.

  8. Paul

    this is a fascinating area. in terms of maps I’d recommend a really interesting book: The Body has a Mind of its own. The author’s website is here: http://www.sandrablakeslee.net/index.asp?PG=3

    It is a fascinating analysis of how the brain creates maps of the body’s position in space.

    In terms of applying this to movement, I like the cheap little ebook Becoming Bulletproof which has some nice little drills – for example simple crawling on the floor. I reviewed it here – http://conditioningresearch.blogspot.com/2011/07/becoming-bulletproof.html -and it is definitely worth the price.

    The benefits of movement on the brain are another great topic. John Ratey’s book Spark is a great place to start – his website http://johnratey.typepad.com/.

  9. > I’m still told to move either slower or to push less hard, and I’ve been doing it a long time.

    clarifying: one would think I would “get it” about when to push, when not to push … and I DO “get it”,

    … BUT the social/cultural conditioning gets in the way, and all the instructions to the effect that it’s more important to move slowly, gently, smoothly, and with awareness than to achieve a personal record or to be the first one in the class to achieve the goal … those admonitions fall on (temporarily) deafened ears.

  10. Balance is a fascinating area too – a complex of vision, proprioception (sense of body in space) and the vestibular system (your ears). Limiting your sense input e.g. by closing your eyes will always impact your balance. The other thing that limits sense input is footwear, which is why minimal shoes or barefoot is great for maximising mobility and balance.

    This paper http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/90/2/157.full.pdf+html in addition to an analysis of gait (which I don’t totally buy) has some interesting material on stability in walking and the importance of sense input.

  11. there is a recent review paper on the benefits of exercise for brain health and cognition:

    http://jap.physiology.org/content/early/2011/04/25/japplphysiol.00210.2011

  12. anand srivastava

    This set of articles have been very useful to me. Thanks Paul and Todd.

  13. Paul,

    With regard to balance issues it is possible that a few sessions with an Osteopath who is trained in manipulation might be worth looking into as a supplement to your own movement training.

    Out of the blue I had a case of postural dizzyness which was cured in one hands on session which was so gentle that it is hard to feel that anything was actually “manipulated”. Oddly I did not get up from the table cured but about an hour or two later I had no symptoms.

    Obviously my acute case is different from your chronic one, and yet there might be something there for your condition.

  14. Our body is incredible machine and yet we are understanding only one small part of how it works, and what it needs. Great set of articles.

  15. Hi Paul,

    I think you will find Scott Sonnon’s “Intu-flow” of interest:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsMPqP7hxRk is his introductory discussion of the method.

    Best, KKC

  16. Chris,

    Yes the books by Blakeslee and Ratey are both excellent and right on point. (I think Sam mentioned the Blakeslee book as well.)

  17. Bread is bad and now this! I don’t know if my brain can handle it all. J/K. Seriously, thanks Todd and Paul. Explaining these movements this way really makes it interesting and shows it has some real health benefits worth looking into I would not have considered otherwise.

  18. As an ex-ballet dancer, I’d like to suggest dance, in any form, as a good exercise for improving proprioception for individuals deficient in this area or for those with prior injuries. I still keep fit by taking ballet classes even though I don’t dance at a professional level anymore.

    Also, there are many adult, beginner classes in ballet, jazz, and modern dance offered by dance studios and community colleges today. The main goal isn’t for the adult beginner to be able to dance per se, but to learn the basic tenets of ballet. These tenets are body placements, awareness of breathing, strengthening the core or center of the body, and effortless, coordinated movements of the entire body.

  19. Hi Paul,

    One theory I have about generalized movements’ positive impacts on health, whether, Tai Chi, yoga, martial arts, etc, is that they are all mechanisms for causing circulation of the lymphatic system, and as such stimulate the immune system.
    As a layman, I don’t know much about the lymphatic system but it seems to me that not much is talked about it on many of the health/fitness blogs I’ve seen.

    what are you thoughts on the lymph’s impact on our overall health, and what we should be doing to help it out?

  20. Thanks everyone, esp Sam, Chris, and KKC for the links. You’ve given me a lot of homework!

    Hi DancinPete,

    I had the same thought about lymphatic circulation, but decided not to venture there.

    I think the CNS fluid is also important, and synovial fluid. In Chinese massage, it’s taught to always massage the spine away from the brain, not toward it. Similarly, one massages tendons from joint toward muscle, not the other way.

  21. Excellent review: where would one find competent instructors for each of Feldenkrais, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. I live in NYC. I am also not sure i understand the relative benefits/shortcomings of each practice which would make it hard to decide which one to learn.

    Off topic: have you seen the Dr. Davis post which talks about high fish oil, his diet recommendations and driving small LDL particles to zero? Be interested in your take on it.

    Regards,

    Steve

  22. Hi steve,

    Your question about Dr Davis made me realize I hadn’t seen any posts from him in a long time. Seems when his blog moved at the end of April I didn’t update my RSS feed.

    Personally, I would fear 6 g of fish oil a day far more than a little sdLDL. As you know, I think lipoproteins are mostly beneficial. That’s probably true even if they are in the small dense form. sdLDL are more sensitive to toxins and there may be benefits to that. He might be treating a (biomarker) number rather than improving health. I’d also like to monitor what happens to the liver on high fish oil. He may be optimizing cardiology but minimizing something else …

  23. Paul:

    I tend to agree with you on the fish oil; 6 grams seems way to much poly unsat, even of the beneficial kind.
    Any thoughts on the Feldenkris/QiGong/Tai Chi choice and how to go about finding a competent instructor?
    Others should feel free to weigh in.
    Lipoproteins are of interest to me given a family history of CAD, which i have, thank you healthy low fat diet. At age 60 i now follow only a diet with safe carbs; may be a hypo absorber of fats given last NMR so need to watch fat intake.

    Regards,

    Steve

  24. For those who might be intimidated by the complexity of Tai Chi or other similar exercises I highly recommend The Fourfold Path to Healing by Thomas Cowan. The chapters on “Spacial Dynamics” and movement by Jaimen Mcmillan seems to be closely related to the concept of body maps. The Amazon preview even shows several of the exercises in the book. Highly recommended.

  25. @Steve

    People from different schools of Tai Chi think highly of William C.C. Chen. His website is http://www.williamccchen.com/ .

    Robert Chuckrow in Westchester, N.Y. might be another source: http://www.chuckrowtaichi.com/ .

    Those who know much more than I do say that Tai Chi includes Qi Gong, but Qi Gong does not include Tai Chi.

  26. The “body mapping” concept makes me think of “Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health”, a book by Thomas Hanna, a student of Moshe Feldenkrais. The book gets rather philosophical about how we all “forget” how to move, but it does include practical lessons on how to recapture the awareness of muscles we really didn’t know we have! These lessons have improved the flexibility and tension in my hips, knees, and shoulders, and probably a lot of other places but that is where I notice it most.

  27. There are two modes of Feldenkreis, the classes, where instructions are given for movements, and individual sessions, hands on therapy, where the therapist actually moves your body in the correct moves, works on ‘stuck’ places, balances both sides of the body, and a lot of other things I probably can’t remember. It’s worth it for a few sessions, especially if you can find a good therapist.
    I have chronic pain from a neck injury and for me, Feldenkreis was the therapy of last resort, I could barely take a breath I was so tight and inflamed, once I could move with less pain, I took the classes also, but the one on one therapy was what did it.
    I’ve also used cranio-sacral therapy which helped, though not as much, it also works with the body’s pulsing, this time through the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. We ‘breathe’ that way, and imbalances in the body change that breath and cause pain and other things, epilepsy, possibly autism, they’ve worked with a lot of chronic illness, especially in children and have had good results. Google John Upledger, D.O. and you’ll get a ton of information. Also, googling Feldenkreis will get you to a site to find instructors, they are very well organized, all over the country.

  28. > Any thoughts on the Feldenkris … finding a competent instructor?

    I’ve been thinking about this question. In most of the world you don’t have a lot of choice, there’s a couple of local Feldenkrais practitioners.

    The various national bodies have ways to find a local practitioner – as long as you stick with that I would guess you would be OK, at least for the awareness through movement classes. I’ve never really experienced a “bad” teacher and I’ve done these classes since around 2001.

    Classes are short enough and usually cheap enough that you can take one and ask fellow students what other teachers they like.

    > therapist actually moves your body in the correct moves,

    I have heard stuff like “you’re not doing it slowly enough to learn”, or “you’re applying a lot of force there …”

    but correctness … I don’t recall having heard that word in a class or during a private session … correctness has never seemed a priority, even a low priority; certainly not a high priority.

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  30. I have been reading a book that was mentioned in the comments of this post. Spark by John Ratey. Aside from the benefits of movement, he also discusses the benefits of low levels of stress on the body caused by the toxins in vegetables. That the body becomes healthier due to coping with the stress (as long as it is not too much) similar to physical improvements due to exercise. Along the same lines, he disucussed a study that sought to demonstrate the ill-effects of low levels of radiation in the body (such as what a worker might be exposed to in certain fields). The study was never published because it “failed”; it actually showed improved health! As PHD recommends spreading your vegetable intake across a variety of types in order to minimize exposure to any single toxin, it seems to be in line with what Ratey is discussing. However, I don’t recall any mention of benefits of these toxins at low levels in PHD. I would really be interested in hearing your thoughts on this if you have (or get) a chance to read the book.

  31. Hi Mark,

    The book sounds very interesting, thanks for letting us know about it.

    The concept of hormesis – of a beneficial response to minor stresses or toxins – is a matter of lively debate. We mentioned it in the book and from time to time on the blog, in Around the Webs. However, I don’t specifically recommend vegetables on that basis, as I think the evidence for hormesis is pretty small. I would say the benefits from vegetables are from (a) micronutrients, (b) fiber, (c) toxins which have an antimicrobial function and which positively reshape the gut flora. Any hormetic effect in the body would be a fourth source of benefit; toxicity effects would be the main item on the negative side of the ledger.

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