These are strange and stressful times, no doubt about it.
During such times, many people are experiencing more stress than they can handle.
As a consequence, they start to break down.
Their health suffers, and this shows up in many ways – aches and pains; digestive troubles; poor sleep; inability to relax; and more.
How does your body adapt?
How does it go wrong? How can you help it work better?
In the hundreds of talks that I’ve given to the Canberra community over the years, I like to give people a few easy things they can do to help them be healthy and feel great.
I’d like to share those with you in this article, as well as give you the reason WHY these activities have such an impact.
Bang for your buck
If you could choose just one organ in your body to look after, to get the best impact on your health, what would it be? Many people say, ‘heart’, ‘lungs’ or ‘gut’, which are all good answers, but not the most impactful organs to look after.
The answer? Your nervous system – that is, your brain, spinal cord and all the nerves that exit the spine and travel all over the body to control and regulate every single part of your body.
If you can improve the function of your nervous system, you’ll have your best chance at being healthy – the best bang for your buck (or reward for your effort).
What does the nervous system do?
In addition to controlling, coordinating, and regulating the function of every single cell and organ in the body (isn’t that enough?), your nervous system’s main job Is to help you ADAPT to your environment.
What does that mean? Well, here are some examples:
- Your heart rate increases to adapt to the changing energy demand of going up stairs or eating a meal.
- The tone of your blood vessels alters to adapt to changing postures, such as rising from a chair.
- Your muscles constantly adapt to changing loads as you move about your day.
- Your proprioceptive system (a huge collection of cells and organs spread throughout the body) constantly monitor body position, joint angles, muscle length and tone to keep you upright and moving in the most safe and efficient way.
- Your immune function monitors the both the external and internal environment and responds to threats such as invading bacteria, viruses, or mutating cells.
I could go on – there are so many examples! All this is done to help you ADAPT to your constantly changing environment to help keep you healthy.
In fact, one of the definitions of good health is your ability to adapt to that changing environment.
When you are healthy, you are better able to adapt to changes in the environment, whether they be chemical (eg. foods and drinks), physical (eg. sustained postures, heavy lifting) or emotional (eg. high workload, family stress), and not breakdown under those loads.
And guess what? Your nervous system is the system that coordinates all this adaptive activity!
What if my nervous system doesn’t work so well?
When your nervous system isn’t working optimally, then your body isn’t able to adapt to changes as well as it should. As a consequence, things start to break down.
To use a couple of those examples above, here are the sort of things that can happen:
- Heart rate and blood pressure can be outside of normal limits, or inappropriate for the needs of the body. At lower levels, this can lead to fainting and light-headedness. At the upper levels, this risks damage to delicate blood vessels, causing more serious health problems.
- When enough sensory information is not getting to your brain, it starts to make errors in body position that lead to injury and damage. This ultimately leads to aches and pains, and wear and tear on the body.
How does that happen?
The biggest influence on your nervous system function is movement of the spine.
Chiropractors used to think that this was a matter of nerves being ‘squished’ by misaligned bones, but modern science and research has shed more light on the real mechanism behind it. Here it is in a nutshell.
We are all loaded with sensors
Our musculoskeletal system – the skeleton and the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia that hold it all together – are heavily loaded with sensors.
The spine has the greatest concentration of these, even more so in the neck. When your spine moves, it generates an enormous amount of sensory input to the brain.
This does two things:
- It tells the brain where everything is in space, helping the brain to control all the body parts properly, in a way that is efficient and that prevents injury.
- Input to the brain also helps keep brain cells healthy. The stimulation they receive from movement of the spine acts like a nutrient to keep them functioning well.
Decreased input equals decreased control and health
Around 90% of the input to the brain comes from spinal motion. When your spine is moving properly, then your brain gets all the input it needs to stay healthy and do a good job of helping you to adapt to your environment. When it’s not moving so well, decreased input to the brain hampers this ability, and things begin to fail.
Five ways to improve spine, brain and your ability to adapt (ie be healthier)
At Canberra Spine Centre, these are the things our chiropractors tell our patients every day. Sometimes we can feel like we’re repeating ourselves, but it’s that important! Remember, this is about helping your body to function better, adapt better to stress and as a result, break down less and stay healthy.
Here they are:
- Walk – regularly and briskly. Walking moves and exercises every single bone, muscle, ligament and tendon throughout the spine. Walking fires those sensory receptors in your spine, feeding vital information up to your brain. Do it. Even if you can only walk for five minutes, that’s OK.
- Change your posture regularly. We spend more time sitting at desks more now that at any time in history, and it’s worse during lockdown! Get up on a regular basis (every 30 minutes) and do something different! That could be just reaching up to the ceiling, doing some twists, a quick walk, a few star jumps, whatever – just do it.
- Move your neck. Muscles in the top of your neck have around 400 times more sensory apparatus than those in your thigh. When your neck moves, it fires huge amounts of input up to the brain, having a huge impact on brain function. Simple rotations side to side, nodding and extending, and bringing your ear toward your shoulders done every hour or so will not only make your feel better, but help you be healthier.
- Your brain cells need oxygen. When you exercise, you’ll get more of this, but when you are sitting still, you’ll often not breath as well as you should. Simply take ten deep breaths every hour or so. You’ll feel more awake, energetic, and your nervous system and adaptive ability will improve.
- Get adjusted. Chiropractors improve spinal motion to help your nervous system function better. This increases your ability to adapt. If you’re already under chiropractic care – great. Keep your appointments. As spinal motion improves, so does nervous system function. We observe these changes in our patients every day.
Put these into practice. Often once you understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, it’s easier to do these things. Let us know how you go, and ask your chiropractor for more specific advice if you need it.
At Canberra Spine Centre, we help people improve their function every day to help them stay well and feel great.
If you or someone you know would like to know more about helping your body work better and adapt to stress (ie function better and be healthier!), please call us on (02) 6257 9400.
If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: www.spinecentre.com.au.
Also, make sure you read or watch the other interesting articles and videos we’ve posted recently.