Being more active improves your ability to prevent damage and recover

merry go round

The overwhelming feeling I get when reviewing all I’ve learned about the benefits of exercise is that the most important benefit you get is the ability to recover from any risk you take or damage or injury you incur.

Take this tweet

FFA transporters move to the plasma membrane during endurance exercise to bring more fat into the muscle. Our muscles are smart #GSSIXP

I need to find the actual source for this insight, unfortunately Kimberley didn’t cite an article because she was tweeting from a conference. That aside it’s becoming increasingly clear that all fuels that humans use for energy are dangerous when not controlled properly. Not surprising when you consider that all fuels we use outside the body like wood, oil and gas are also dangerous when not used and stored properly.

It turns out that fat, sugar and protein are all dangerous if not properly controlled. So too are other chemicals used by the body. Salt being an obvious example because one researcher, marc peletier specifically attributes salt regulation to heart disease.

So the good news is that exercise is natures way of regulating all these dangerous chemicals. The bad news is that not all the research is conclusive yet so let me give you a quick run down of what I have found.

  • Sugar: AKA Carbohydrate: Your exercise performance depends greatly on your ability to use sugar so exercise improves your ability to control and use it. Exercise targets the Glucose transporters specifically type 4 which are regulated by insulin which ensures the body can regulate sugar properly
  • Fat: Fat is of course the fuel you want to use the most of yet most people don’t know that your ability to burn fat depends on your ability to mobilise it but also your ability to use carbohyrdate. The saying goes that “You can only burn fat in a carbohydrate  flame” so of course exercise improves sugar and fat mobilisation and use. Insulin also controls fat release but the mechanism is yet to be fully understood. New evidence is coming to light but whether that includes insulin response we will find out.
  • Protein: Protein is half sugar and half amine. The amine part is toxic in large quantities so just like sugar it needs tight regulation. Exercise requires protein partly for fuel but mainly for building and repair work. What exercise does is push the body to become more able to handle the forces applied to it. Therefore it becomes less likely to break under strain. At the same time it creates a strong need to use protein and thus the systems to regulate protein become efficient and tightly regulated.
  • Salt: Salt and salts are actually crucial to the body because they have very useful chemical properties. Two very important functions are to help draw water in and out of the body as required making it easier to regulate water and keep the whole body healthy. The other is to supply the calcium and sodium required by nerves in saltatory conduction. Your entire nervous system including your brain, spine and motor circuits require specific amounts of calcium to repeatedly send message around the body
  • Water: The biggest improvement your body makes when you exercise is in water regulation. This is because every system in the body works better when water is controlled properly. Plenty of studies show that carbohydrate and fat don’t get digested or used properly if the water around them is not correct which is the basis of the sports drinks industry. Exercise puts the greatest strain possible on the bodies ability to supply, transport and regulate water and so it is no surprise that exercise forces the body to keep the required systems up to date.

As you can see from this analysis exercise puts a great and regular demand on all the body as a whole. This act itself forces the body to bring itself up to standard and reminds the body how it is supposed to work and that it must prepare for challenges. The challenge of exercise no longer exists in modern sedentary life and we haven’t yet evolved to handle this. So without the regular challenge of movement the body and its systems fall into disrepair. This is the reason that obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases of western life are all being recognised as the result of the body not working as it normally would and that those who are regularly active suffer much less from these diseases if they suffer at all.

Coming from this angle you see from my list that several keys aspects of the body are kept functioning by activity. From the ability to use fuel to the ability to supply water. At the same time the improvements made to bodily systems to make this happen reduce the damage caused when these systems are not maintained.

Related articles

Purging cells in mice is found to combat aging ills  senescent cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. Exercise and calorie restriction are two important ways to encourage this purging process. Exercise though is much more important in preparing the body to do the process well. Calorie restriction can trigger the process but it has an arbitrary focus, as likely to purge heart muscle cells and faulty ones. Exercise forces the body to be more practical and calculating. Building up the resources and workflow to purge effectively rather than randomly. Directing the efforts of calorie restriction in a more organised and beneficial way.

The mathematics of weight loss: Ruben Meerman at TEDxQUT really well presented explanation of the basics of weight loss. You lose weight by eating less and moving more and breathing. He cuts right through many of the myths and explains specifically what happens. Doesn’t cover the challenges of doing this. Just focuses on the specific reliable equations that you should actually care about. I would like to see if it helps people understand the process itself more and believe in it.

The underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease Muscle isn’t susceptible to cancer. We don’t yet know why but we’re learning. Muscles affect us more than we know encouraging the transfer of sugar around our body and reducing insulin resistance and diabetes.

The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty explores the relationship with recovers of water in cells and surrounding tissues and frailty through loss of muscle function. It is a complex and very important topic related to ageing. It highlights that as we age we require more self care not less to help our bodies retain the recovery abilities that we take for advantage when we are younger.

These are the things I already know and this talk by Jamie Scott adds even more to why being strong can give you a happy future

How can Tai Chi help my daily life? Flow more, Force less

I’ve always wanted to learn about Tai Chi but never found the time. I saw a great deal from TennisOne for a course teaching Tai Chi in relation to tennis. So I thought I would take this as an opportunity to learn Tai Chi while also improving my tennis game.

Continually moving towards your goals is a principle of Cell Your Sole. To do this without overloading myself I like to combine activities and achieve more things with one period of effort. Developing my tennis game through learning Tai Chi makes Tai Chi practical right away.

Tai Chi = Unforced Balance

I’ve heard that Tai Chi is about understanding your body more so you can achieve more physically yet it’s a very relaxed approach using gentle flowing movements. This is the kind of methodology I’m looking for. I need something that:

  • fits into my daily life
  • requires minimal effort: improves me yet doesn’t demand too much.
  • prevents injury
  • improves my day to day activities: Something that is useful every day.

The course is Flow more, force less: Tai Chi Movement and Principles and is provided by Tennis One.

I like Tennis One because it takes me back in time. They aren’t up with current technology but their lessons are timeless. Tai Chi is centuries old and, I hope, as relevant today and tomorrow as yesterday.

The course is a series of lessons available through private youtube videos with downloadable versions you can keep for life if you want.

Finding Neutral

First impressions are really good. Each lesson is exactly what I want. I’ve noticed how most if not all my injuries come from me trying too hard. I push my body beyond what it is comfortable with, often for too long either in matches or practise and generally over days or weeks.
So I’m increasingly interested in the value of small purposeful movements to achieve an end instead of big powerful ones. 

Instead of training just for tennis my philosophy is to use my life to prepare me for tennis and vice versa. So I prefer to use daily tasks like walking my dog, DIY and playing with my son as opportunities to strengthen and train my body so that it is strong enough for tennis.

An easier life

Very much like in Karate Kid when painting a fence laid the foundation for the boys body to understand karate. My life is getting easier and easier as I apply this concept more. I already find that walking my dog is excellent recovery from my intense Tennis matches and sessions. At the same time the walk challenges my body and encourages strong bones, proper use of energy like fats, carbs and protein and other elements like salt a walk also encourages recovery.

Muscles around your body move rhythmically massaging blood and other items to where they need to go. Synovial fluid starts bathing your joints, nourishing them so they can heal and strengthen. The gentle pressure of the walk encourages healing in the correct direction that nature requires.

it seems fantastical to describe healing in this way but it’s how we have evolved. Gentle activity is the most natural state. Being sedentary isn’t so natural. So our bodies have evolved uses for this activity like using the contraction of the lower leg muscles to push blood back up the body into normal circulation. The motion of walking is important in moving food through the digestive system, helping the process along. As an equal and opposite reaction you find that without activity problems develop because the body is no longer getting the support it requires. Bowel problems can start because food isn’t being moved around the body. Blood may also pool in the legs because it isn’t being returned by the leg muscles through movement. This can obviously cause problems in the legs.

I’ve started the course and already I’ve found it’s just what I wanted. At first glance it’s very simple but just like in Karate Kid the more you apply and learn, the more complex you realise these basic principles are. My initial thoughts are that I have found a beautiful art I can practise every day. I’m already doing similar activities and now I have direction.

Quality over quantity

I like the delivery of Gene Burnett the instructor because it is very level and calming. He doesn’t shout or rush, everything is gentle, well explained and also made relevant to real life first. Basics like how you stand, move to look at things and how to just be. It may sound a bit fanciful but having taught in gyms and had many injuries from bad posture and technique I quickly realise how everything here is about doing a lot with a little effort. Quality over quantity.

So far I’m enjoying the course so much it feels worth writing a post for each lesson sharing what I learn.

Course details

  • Overview of Course – Read this First!
  • Introduction
  • Finding Neutral
  • Springy Power
  • Turning:Bringing Your Whole Self
  • Ripple of Power: Expressed by the Hands
  • Opening and Closing
  • Grounding Opposing Force
  • Warding Off
  • Yielding
  • Rolling Back
  • Improvised Flow
  • Concluding Remarks

Brain’s motor cortex uses multiple frequency bands to coordinate movement

 How and why we move is a fascinating topic. We have long known that muscle movement is coordinated through systematically triggering muscles. The trigger pattern determines the type of movement produced. New research has uncovered how this pattern is widespread throughout the brain structures involved with movement.

Synchrony is critical for the proper functioning of the brain. Synchronous firing of neurons within regions of the brain and synchrony between brain waves in different regions facilitate information processing, yet researchers know very little about these neural codes. Now, new research led by Tomoki Fukai of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute reveals how one region of the brain uses multiple brain-wave frequency bands to control movement.

Read more in  Brain’s motor cortex uses multiple frequency bands to coordinate movement

Exercise may slow progression of retinal degeneration

That is the finding of a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Exercise appears to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after damage. 

Moderate aerobic exercise helps to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after damage, according to an animal study appearing February 12 in TheJournal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest exercise may be able to slow the progression of retinal degenerative diseases.

To find out more check out  Exercise may slow progression of retinal degeneration

Can training your nerves improve athletic performance?

In the last post I asked Why train your nerves? It was a precursor to explaining the value of a healthy and strong nervous system to athletic performance.

In fact it is little known that the reason sedentary people improve so much when they begin exercising is because their nervous system adapts very quickly. The reason for the inevitable plateau is that the rest of the body takes much longer to adapt. So improvements then reflect the normal pace of change within the body.

Nerves adapt quickly

The specific reason for such vast improvements when people return to activity is pretty much down to nerves triggering muscles. Muscles, bones, ligaments and nerves don’t grow particularly fast so of course improvements couldn’t come from new growth. Instead muscle output and thus strength, endurance and other athletic measures depend on good coordination of all the systems involved. So the big improvements come from the coordination of muscles and at a much smaller level muscles are broken down into groups of muscle cells controlled by motor units which are groups of nerves that tell the muscle cells when to fire.

Coordinated patterns

Despite how it looks and feels it is rare for the whole of a muscle to contract (fire) at once. The reality is that each unit of muscle cells fires at a specific time aiming to produce a pattern of firing that leads to the desired result. Muscles that haven’t been used often therefore become lax at achieving and maintaining the specific firing patterns that are required. They know what to do but are out of practise. We can all relate to that. Specifically they are unable to achieve the exact pattern of firing required but they also tire sooner. They seem to run out of energy.

Lack of nerve

The evidence is that energy for the muscle to move is still there and if triggered it will move. The problem lies with the trigger system. The nerves are simply not able to trigger the muscles for long enough.

I studied sports science at university yet this explanation wasn’t part of my course. I found it delving deeper into books I found. The single point of failure was always assumed to be the muscle even though all the evidence pointed elsewhere.

So of course I’ve been waiting to take this insight further and share. That time has now come.

Muscle output: Is it neural?

An experiment we undertook during my studies at Loughborough taught me early on that it wasn’t muscle fatigue or presence of lactic acid that limited performance despite common knowledge saying otherwise.

We completed some experiments with repeated sprints and measured lactic acid and muscle output from repeated 30 second sprints on a stationary bike. Each participant was a sports science student, fitness wasn’t tested but assumed to be normal or above average.

What has always stuck in my mind was that the participants could always produce more power and muscle output in the second sprint compared to the first. This defies the logic that Lactic acid hinders performance because the second sprint always occurred with much more Lactic acid travelling through the individuals system. So, at least in this experiment Lactic Acid concentration didn’t impede exercise power output.

I was weight training from an early age so I was familiar with having more strength and power in my second set of work than my first and this experiment opened my eyes as to why. I had heard before that Lactic acid doesn’t have the impact that it’s famed for. Not in sprinting and power activities at least.

So I had always wondered if the nervous system had a greater role to play. Over time I have found articles and experiments indicating that the ability of nerves to do their job is the defining factor in performing a skill assuming someone is proficient.

This is based on these three statements:

  1. Do muscles fatigue as quickly as thought?
  2. If not Something else is the weakpoint. What is it?
  3. Does the ability of nerves to trigger muscle activity determine muscle output?

The problem is that I found much of this research before I knew about the internet. So my challenge now is to ask these questions again and see what I find.

Is the quality of energy supply crucial to the effects of Parkinsons and related heart failure.?

Following on from the finding that the ability of your brain to harness energy could explain age related mental decline? there is similar evidence that problems with energy provision could be a factor in  Parkinson’s disease and heart failure.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis investigating mouse and fruit fly hearts, found that

a protein known as mitofusin 2 (Mfn2) is the long-sought missing link in the chain of events that control mitochondrial quality.

I’m most interested in their explanation of the effects of poor mitochondrial quality

Heart muscle cells and neurons in the brain have huge numbers of mitochondria that must be tightly monitored. If bad mitochondria are allowed to build up, not only do they stop making fuel, they begin consuming it and produce molecules that damage the cell

This finding implies that the effects of Parkinson are tied to problems of energy handling. The process of getting energy from one place to another fails or is disrupted. That appears to be crucial in Parkinsons and critical to heart failure.

Put in these terms I hope it makes more sense. Throughout the body our cells rely on energy to function properly and do their part in keeping us alive and healthy. So a failure in the energy cycle which is the production, transport and use of energy will inevitably cause problems.

We see the same effects at a different scale in society. When we run out of energy whether it’s petrol for your car or electricity for your house. There are always wider effects and damage to deal with. Freezers defrosting, cars not moving, engines being damaged. Why would the body be any different.?

Fitness: Could your brains ability to harness energy explain age related mental decline?

Everyone seems to assume that your mind must degrade with age. I’ve never seen convincing evidence for that. I simply see that increasing age requires increasing maintenance since our parts and code get old. In otherwords,

You are only as old as the lifestyle you live. 

So it is that I am good at finding evidence that shows this to be true. There is increasing evidence that
Age-related cognitive decline is linked to the energy available to synapses in the prefrontal cortex. The study’s senior author, John Morrison, PhD explains this more clearly

“We are increasingly convinced that maintenance of synaptic health as we age, rather than rescuing cognition later, is critically important in preventing age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease,”

So the experts are finding that our brain structures don’t die off as much as we thought. The real problem is that the brain needs energy to keep its traffic flowing because neurons need energy to transfer signals. As people age our current lifestyles lead them to become inefficient in accessing their available energy stores. So less energy is made available to support brain traffic.

The authors sum up the finding neatly

Working memory requires the energy-demanding activation of nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex through the complex arrangement of the synapses that interconnect nerve cells.

In short. Synapses need lots of energy to work properly. Without that energy they start to fail.

If you have been following this blog you may start to understand why I believe that the health of our bodies reflects an energy economy. Financial economies suffer when money flows slowly. Cashflow is everything and individual businesses fail simply because cash flow isn’t handled properly.

In the same vain life is all about energy flow and individual humans suffer problems when they manage their energy poorly.

The best way to fix problems like this is to be more active. With the mind you need both physical and mental activity. The reason is simple. Your brain loses functionality because it can’t tap into the energy resources around it. This happens primarily because you don’t use your brain enough and so it hasn’t kept up its sharpness. It’s literally become unfit. So you have to train it by using it.

Over time the parts that were slack are forced to get back up to speed. It’s obviously much more technical than that but that is what ultimately why the term use it or lose it was coined.

Are home schooled children leaner than traditionally schooled kids?

I saw the article Home schooled children leaner than traditionally schooled kids and just had to share and keep it.

It is just one study but it’s an important consideration. The impact of school on socialisation and health. The study makes clear these results came before the latest health standards were implemented at school but also makes clear the dependence you have on the school system when you’re kids are there.

It’s also important to remember that we haven’t heard the whole story

  • What’s the range and regularity? These are averages 
  • How much leaner? I didn’t see any numbers. 
  • What was classed as traditional
I’m not ripping apart the study. Just something I think of regularly in any study. Every report you get is biased but the bias is always slightly different. You will never get the full story so it’s work thinking a little deeper. 
An interesting question though. 

What pedometer tracks daily life?

I’m looking for something cheap and simple to start tracking the steps in my daily life. I can’t believe I don’t already have one but I was hoping to do this through my smartphone. It’s never really worked out like that for a bunch of reasons so I’m just going to get something and start monitoring my daily activity.

Tracking my steps is the basic unit that seems to fit me so a pedometer is what I need. I’ve never had my own before so I thought I would get a cheap one to test the concept then buy something expensive like a fitbit once I’ve learnt more about what I want.

The idea is to track steps in daily life. Steps in cooking, cleaning, walking dog and playing tennis shopping. Everything. Point out how much activity is out there.
Key features for me:

  • track small activities like pottering in the kitchen with small steps then a stop including
    • cooking
    • cleaning
    • walking the dog
    • playing tennis
    • shopping
  • light
  • waist clip

A quick check on amazon for pedometers less than £20 with feedback of 4 or more revealed a page of results.

Fit the bill

  • Omron Walking Style III Pedometer £20
    • Excellent battery life
    • active mode: You can track specific activities. I hope this is useful for pottering activities
    • 7 day memory
    • excellent reviews

Not appropriate

  • Daffodil HPC650 Multi-function Pedometer £5.15 Won’t track short activities
    •  Accurate Step Counter with 7 day Memory Function, Calorie Counter and Daily Progress Monitor
    • the pedometer will only start to count your steps after seven seconds of movement. So it doesn’t pick up steps if you only travel a small distance – say pottering in the kitchen.
    • no waist clip
    • all reports say it is highly accurate
    • I have had no problems whatsoever with accidental counting, for example when driving (even with a dozen quite severe speed bumps on my commute). And the device being on a lanyard around my neck has not been an issue either, i wear it under my clothes so it is not obvious at work and if i change clothes i don’t have to move it between pockets or waistbands.
  • CSX Walking 3D Pedometer with Clip and Strap £15.99 Won’t track short activities
    • – Accurate Step Counter, Distance Miles and Km, Calorie Counter, Daily Target Progress Monitor, 7 Day Memory, Exercise Time – White – with Tri-Axis Technology
    • Walk Sensor technology – to avoid counting sudden movements as steps, the counter will not count any movement less than 10 consecutive steps.
  • Omron HJ005-E Step Counter Pedometer With Large Lcd Display £6.15 Not accurate enough
    • pendulum driven so not highly accurate.
    • good reviews and very cheap. 
    • Good name


So I bought the Omron walking style III. I did checkout a bunch more but didn’t feel like including every one. For each either accuracy or not tracking short sequences of steps was the problem. I might find the results inaccurate for this reason but I want to track the small activities as much as the large. Going up the stairs and cleaning. Stuff like that. The boring but incidental activities. Do they add up to something useful.

I would prefer a fitbit or similar but they cost and only work with an iPhone. I have Android at the moment but I will be addressing that soon. For now I just want to get used to having a pedomete because I don’t have one at all.