International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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32nd World Vegetarian Congress 1996
[Vegetarian Summerfest '96: A World Vegetarian Congress]

Use it or lose it - Reasons to be active
by Prof. Rozalind Gruben

from EVU News, Issue 1 /1998

Rozalind Gruben
Rozalind Gruben in Bussolengo
Disease has nothing to do with the natural processes of ageing.

The long-term accumulation of poor lifestyle and dietary habits has everything to do with it.

Being young does not guarantee a state of physical fitness: in fact, many active adults are far fitter than the average sedentary teenager. These statements may not be a surprise to you but are you really investing in your future health and well being, or just paying ‘lip service’ to the importance of regular exercise? In this article Prof Rozalind Gruben invites you to take a closer look at just why this aspect of your self-care is so vital to your vitality.

PHYSICAL REDUNDENCY – AN EPIDEMIC OF OUR TIMES

Most of the declines in physical functioning, experienced as people age, are due to nothing more than inactivity and unhealthy dietary habits. The ageing process itself has surprisingly little to do with stiff joints, weak inflexible muscles or poor circulation. Physical activity is as vital to the life of your organism as the foods you eat. Leave your automobile parked in the garage for twenty years and then try to take it out for a drive. Even if the door does not fall off in your hand as you go to step inside, the battery certainly won’t turn the engine over! If you don’t use it – you will lose it! The older people get the less likely they are to be physically active, yet being sedentary contributes to premature ageing. With each advancing year it becomes progressively more important to exercise.

In our technologically driven western society, with all its labour saving ‘gadgets’, moving walkways and automobiles, the human body is in grave danger of becoming redundant. According to a national fitness survey conducted in the U.K. (Allied Dunbar 1992),

  • Nearly one third of men and two thirds of women would find it difficult to sustain walking at a reasonable pace (3mph) up a 1 in 20 slope.
  • 30% of men and 50% of women aged 65 to 74 did not have sufficient muscle strength or power to lift 50% of their body weight – and as a consequence would have difficulty raising from a chair without using their arms.
There is every indication that these shocking findings represent trends throughout the rest of Europe. If the ‘tide’ doesn’t ‘turn’ soon we will inevitably, as a species, begin to lose the body’s ability to function. Excessive academic development can separate us from two of our most precious possessions – namely our natural instincts and common sense. It may, ironically, be a lack of physical movement that eventually leads to our extinction. As we live more and more from an intellectual perspective our physical awareness tends to decline and, along with it, our health. Most people have already become so ‘disembodied’ in their awareness that they have distorted perceptions of how active they really are.

The U.K. National Fitness Survey also revealed that ‘many people assume their hectic lifestyle replaces the need to exercise, yet eight out of ten people do less exercise than is needed to benefit their health.’ This was surprising as the report also documented that ‘80% believe they do enough to keep fit’!

This apparent lack of awareness gives us partial insight into the reason why so few of the population exercise, but there is another key reason why inactivity is of epidemic proportions in westernised society.

EDUCATION – THE MISSING LINK

Most people know that they ‘should’ exercise, yet remain unmotivated to do so due to a lack of understanding the reasons why. The aim of this short article is to fuel your enthusiasm to get up and move, by identifying just a few of the many wonderful benefits an active lifestyle can bring.

JOINTS

A joint describes the junction of two bones. The ends of your bones that meet to form freely movable joints, such as elbows, hips and knees are protected with a layer of cartilage. This cartilage protects the bone ends as they move against each other, acts as a shock absorber and is instrumental in transporting nutrients to the bone tissue.

Having a constituency similar to that of a sea sponge, the cartilage becomes relatively brittle, dense and non-yielding when dehydrated. Once engorged with fluid, however, it transforms into a voluptuous cushion and effectively protects the bone ends.

In order for the cartilage to remain hydrated, freely movable joints are encased in what is known as a ‘Synovial Capsule’. The membrane of this capsule, when stimulated to do so by movement, produces a fluid that keeps the cartilage lubricated.

Joints that are kept minimally mobile through lack of use produce little synovial fluid and, consequently, have dense, brittle and ineffectual cartilage pads. Once dehydrated over an extended period of time slits begin to appear in the cartilage, rather like the cracking of the earth during a drought. What little fluid there may be remaining inside leaks out, further desiccating the situation.

Healthy joint cartilage does not contain nerve endings. Scar tissue, however, does. As the body attempts to repair its diseased joints scar tissue is laid down resulting in pain being felt on movement. This scenario severely exacerbates the problem as the individual is now even more hesitant to be active due to the pain experienced when doing so. Gradually a downward spiral of degeneration is occasioned, often to a point of losing physical independence. This state of disease is commonly referred to as ‘Osteoarthritis’.

One of the secrets to joyful joints is to regularly take them through their natural ranges of intended movement. The knees and elbows are hinge joints and are therefore designed to move through one plane of movement – like the hinges of a door. Attempts to move them laterally or to rotate them, especially with force, can result in extensive damage to the surrounding ligaments. Simple squats, stair climbing and kicking of a ball are all effective in exercising the knee joints Cycling provides a good alternative too for people whose knee joints are painful, as they can be mobilised without bearing weight.

The shoulder and hip joints are composed of a ball of bone that fits into a concave socket. This allows them to be moved in a comprehensive range of directions. Racket sports and swimming both make good use of the shoul-ders. The use of a ‘hula-hoop’ can be a fun way to maintain healthy hip joints, however, simple stair and hill climbing is also effective. For people with painful hips exercising in the water can be invaluable as the body weight is supported alleviating pressure on joints.

THE FIVE COMPONANTS OF PHYSICAL FITNESS

Physical fitness can be divided into five distinct areas, all of which have a multitude of health benefits and, if trained, can profoundly enhance the quality of your life.

CARDIORESPIRATORY FITNESS

This describes our body’s efficiency at drawing in oxygen, transporting it to where it is needed and using it once it gets there. The ability to do this primarily depends on healthy functioning of the heart, lungs and circulatory system. Cardiorespiratory fitness carries with it a multitude of benefits, which include

  • a reduction in body fat
  • a stronger heart muscle
  • greater elasticity of the breathing apparatus
  • enhanced lymphatic functioning
  • reduced stress
  • more elastic arteries
To effectively train your cardiorespiratory fitness it is recommended that you aim to participate in activities that cause your breathing and heart rates to increase for a minimum of 20 minutes duration 3 times per week. As you get fitter increasing it to 30 minutes 5 times a week will be an excellent progression.

MUSCULAR STRENGTH

This describes the ability of your muscles to push, pull, lift and carry heavy objects. Having strong muscles means that

  • your joints will be more secure
  • bones become stronger
  • reaction times are quicker
  • the likelihood of back injury is re-duced
  • you are physically more able to defend yourself
  • the more muscle you have on your body the faster will be your metabolic rate, mean-ing that it will be easier for you to burn off excess body fat.
In order to train muscular strength the muscles must be regularly (3 times per week – not on consecutive days) asked to overcome a high in-tensity resistance, muscular fatigue occurring after just 1- 10 repetitions. Exercises utilising your own body weight can be used for this (i.e. push-ups), alternatively resistance equipment can be used – such as found in your local gym.

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE

This describes the stamina of your muscles to continue working for extended periods of time. Having good endurance results in many benefits including

  • improved posture, resulting in better health and appearance
  • less fatigue experienced when accomplishing everyday tasks
  • changes in body enzymes making it easier to release stored body fat for use as fuel
  • an enhanced sex life
  • better muscular ‘tone’
  • greater physical capacity to enjoy a wide variety of sports and leisure activities.
To train endurance muscles must be asked to overcome moderate resistance for extended periods of time (muscular fatigue not occurring until at least at 15 successive repetitions have been performed). As for strength training body weight or specifically designed resistance equipment can be used to achieve this.

Victor Golowash
EVU Member Victor Golowash (74!) diving from a 3m board!

FLEXIBILITY

This describes the ability of your muscles to stretch, allowing for easy ranges of movement. Becoming flexible means

  • you are less likely to become injured should you trip or fall
  • better posture is accommodated
  • everyday movements become more comfortable to perform
  • joints are more able to move and therefore become healthier
  • the likelihood of back pain is reduced
Muscles benefit from being stretched daily. It is important to always be warm before you attempt to stretch or injury may result.

MOTOR FITNESS

This describes the efficiency of the nervous system, including its effects upon

  • balance
  • agility
  • reaction time
  • speed
  • co-ordination
all of which are vital to the quality of our everyday functioning.

Participating in a variety of activities (known as ‘cross training’) is the most effective way to ensure all aspects of motor fitness are trained. Cross training also has the advantage of minimising the risk of ‘overuse’ and ‘repetitive stress’ injuries as well as giving you the broadest range of fitness attributes.

TEACHING BY EXAMPLE

As vegetarians and vegans we are commonly looked upon as being weak, anaemic and pallid skinned. If we are to inspire those living a carnivorous and destructive lifestyle to adopt our way of life it is vital that the image we portray is one of vibrant health and robust vitality. Each and every one of us who practices this gentle and reverent way of living stands as an example of vegetarianism, weather we like it or not. It is well known that appearances count for more than words and that the most powerful way to teach is by example. It is with that in mind that I offer you my wholehearted encouragement and support to walk, run, jump, skip, pull, push, reach, stretch, lift and frolic your way to a healthier physique.

Prof. Rozalind Gruben
11 Rainbow Way, Storrington, West Sussex RH20 3NY, England,
Tel/Fax: +44 1903 746572