“It’s true that you can’t change your destiny, but still it helps knowing about gravity.” – Kedar Joshi
As residents of planet Earth, we have a love hate relationship with gravity. It is an ever present force, something that we take for granted. We seldom notice it unless we misuse its ever present power. Usually, someone or something falls. We break something important, receive a bump, bruise, or possibly even a more serious injury. Our interactions with gravity are usually instantaneous, unexpected, and remind us of the fragility of life and the sudden consequences that our actions can have. There are, however, other powers that gravity has over us that are not so sudden.
As we get older, mother nature reminds us in subtle, but definite ways of the persistence of gravity. Virtually any adult over the age of 30 carries the visible effects of gravity. Hunched shoulders, slouched posture, sagging muscles, and problems with digestion are all “normal” changes because of the impact of gravity. The average human shrinks 1/3 to 1/4 of an inch in height each decade from age 40 to 70, with the average man is a 1.3 inches in height during that time. Women are more victimized, losing an average of 3.1 inches by age 80. Gravity, although not the only factor, is the primary one. Bone shrinkage, poor posture, and lifestyle choices contribute to the decline. (see also “Preventing Age Related Shrinkage” http://mindbodycoach.org/preventing-shrinkage/ , “The Zen Of Being Sedentary” http://mindbodycoach.org/the-zen-of-being-sedentary/ and “Death By Desk” http://mindbodycoach.org/death-desk/ )
A study at San Francisco State University showed that poor posture caused by the pull of gravity is a major cause in depression and inability to manage stress, digestive problems, improper breathing, all types of back pain, and tension headaches. Much of what humans believe is the stress of 21st century life could be alleviated if we learn to work with, rather than against, the forces of gravity. Although we frequently associate gravity with its negative impact on human health, we can implement it in ways that are beneficial, healthy, and improve our quality of life. And, it is free, consistent, and available 24/7.
Gravity is a signal that tells the body how strong its bones and muscles have to be. Astronauts in zero gravity for long periods of time suffer detrimental effects from its absence. The body perceives that there is no need for strength and bone density, so atrophy sets in throughout the musculoskeletal structure rapidly. Muscle mass can atrophy at a rate of 5% per week, and supporting muscles such as the legs and back can lose around 20% of their mass during a typical spaceflight. Bones lose even more. For most astronauts the total loss in bone density is 40 to 60% for a month-long spaceflight.
Efforts to prevent physical deterioration in astronauts through exercise programs during spaceflight have only been marginally successful. Various types of exercise equipment have been tried during spaceflights, but the results have been less than spectacular. The reason? Lack of gravity. Without gravity is next to impossible to load the musculoskeletal structure to the resistance levels required to maintain strength and mass. Astronauts continue to use resistance bands, exercise bicycles, and treadmills while wearing weighted vests, but continued to lose muscle strength and bone density despite their best efforts.
With a little ingenuity, us earthlings can learn to use gravity to our advantage in order to stay fit and healthy. Here are some ways to use one of nature’s most powerful forces to your advantage:
Move! Every motion that you make is met with some degree of resistance from the pull of gravity. Simple activities such as walking, stretching, and even something as simple as getting in and out of a chair can become legitimate exercises if you do them consistently, paying attention to the pull of gravity.
Exercise slowly. Any exercise, even those without weighted resistance, can be beneficial for muscle and bone strength if performed slowly. Martial artists, yoga and tai chi practitioners, gymnasts, and dancers all know this. Try doing a set of 10 push-ups as slowly as you can and you’ll see what I mean. Muscles grow in response to resistance, not a number on a barbell plate. Your muscles don’t know if you’re curling a 45 pound dumbbell, they just know if they’re working hard or not. In fact, this is a trick that 19th-century strongmen knew well. In those days strongmen only used heavy weights for exhibitions, never in their day to day training routines. They knew that an injury would have ended their career, as orthopedic surgery as we know it did not yet exist. If you blew out a knee, or herniated a disc, your lifting days were over. They trained with moderate weights, moving slowly and made the weight feel as heavy as they possibly could.
Train to increase time under tension. Instead of performing an exercise for a set number of reps, do it slowly for a set length of time. Instead of curling a 45 pound dumbell for 10 reps, curl a 25 pounder slowly, in good form, for 90 seconds. Interval training can be done with resistance by alternating periods of effort and periods of rest. 90 seconds of effort followed by 30 seconds of rest repeated during a 30 minute exercise routine can create a solid and challenging workout. Forget about how many reps you’ve done, focus on the effort, muscular tension, and the pull of gravity. This is a great way to combine cardio and resistance work in one workout. Great for people who believe they don’t have enough time or are “too busy to workout.”
Add this some body weight exercises to your routine. Moving your body through space creates a body that is functional as well as fit looking. When the gym is closed or you don’t have equipment available, don’t make excuses. You’ve got gravity, you can get a workout in. Gravity can be as effective as any piece of exercise equipment despite the fact you’ll never see it on an infomercial.
Make an effort to harness gravity during the day. Take the stairs, walk a little farther to the train, stand while working at you desk, stretch during the day multiple times and engage in nonspecific movement as much as possible. Being sedentary is a choice, don’t make it!
“What goes up must come down.” – Isaac Newton
Smart guy, that Newton!
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