International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997

Activity is a priority
Rozalind Gruben

Professor at the American Institute of Health Science, member of the American Society of Nutrition and Dietetics Consultants

Life is movement. If there were a mouse here on the floor and I wanted to know if it were dead or alive, I might well go up and touch it to see if it moved because, generally, the idea is that if something moves it is probably alive. The same goes for us. The less you move, the sooner you will suffer the effects of the ageing process. Some very interesting research was done on a group of people whose hearts were not working perfectly: their hearts were not beating strongly enough to pump the necessary amounts of blood around their bodies. They had reduced muscle mass, increased amounts of fat deposits in their bodies, reduced bone density, and a tendency towards problems with their insuline levels. They were becoming potentional diabetics. Their blood pressure was very high and they had balance problems.

They were not elderly: in fact they were all in their twenties. Working in a zero gravity environment like astronauts, they were losing the use of their muscles and bones. This shows that it is constantly overcoming the pull of gravity that builds up our bodies and keeps them strong. Another study done in the UK in 1992 showed that 30% of men and 50% of women over the age of 65 didn't have enough strength in their legs to get up from a chair without using their arms. The condition of our bones constantly changes during our lives, and regular activity helps keep them strong. The centre of the bone is made up of a large number of tiny holes, all joined together - this is what makes them strong. A diet containing animal proteins speeds up the process of bone acidification, with the bone calcium tending to dry out (osteoporosis). The holes widen and their walls disintegrate, the whole structure becomes vulnerable and the bones easily break. Movement, even just walking, produces shockwaves throughout the skeletal system, and the bones respond, are stimulated and grow stronger to deal with those shockwaves.

So it is that movement and sound diet can be combined to combat osteoporosis. When people already have osteoporosis, there is greater stress along the inner edge of the vertebrae, which can produce a wedge shape and partial joining together. This process is irreversible, which is why it is so important to keep the spine in good alignment.

A joint is where two bones come together. The end of the bone is encapsulated and protected by membrane which secretes a fluid. In addition there are two little cushions that stop the two bones from touching. Movement sets off the production of greater quantities of fluid, so avoiding dehydration and ensuring good operation. The sponges need to be kept engorged with fluid to mantain their sponginess. If they dried out they would disintegrate. Movement improves the muscles, and they help to keep a good position. Working against gravity and keeping active will make a tremendous difference to your health. The benefits of movement can be seen in all of the the cardiac and respiratory apparatus - the blood flows more freely through the capillaries and it brings higher haemoglobin levels and more oxygen to the whole body, and the veins keep their elasticity.

When your heart beats, it pumps blood around your body. The heart needs oxygen, exercise reduces the possibility of an heart attack, blood pressure and colesterol level normalise. When you move vigorously, a greater amount of blood is flushing through your blood vessels, keeping them clean and maintaining their elasticity, with reduced likelihood of aneurisms. If you are stressed, your body prepares for fight or flight by pouring fats into the blood, and uses the extra sugar in the blood to help prevent diabetes. The lymphatic system is the body's cleaning system, and relies on your muscle movement to keep it flowing around: the less you move, the more toxic you become.

The way to stay efficient is walking and bending. Being a vegetarian is not the answer to everything, but the combination of a non-sedentary lifestyle and a vegetarian diet certainly increases the potential for planetary health.

- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)