IS CHRONIC DISEASE OPTIONAL?

By Elizabeth Rowan, DSOM, LAc

 

Aging is as inevitable as the seasonal change, but did you know that conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and cancer are not the inevitable result of growing old? They're strongly correlated with lifestyle choices. Simple and enjoyable practices can add decades to your life and reduce the need for medical intervention. It's easier to take full responsibility for our bodies once we accept the profound impact our daily choices have on our lifelong health.


With the sea of healthcare advice out there, most people don’t have the time or training to sift through all the conflicting evidence. Some of the advice is downright harmful! Even the most dedicated people may find it difficult to know which changes to prioritize. Fortunately, the foundations of health are well established. I will show you why a few specific changes are worth incorporating into your daily routine. These are the most important practices for anyone planning to enjoy a lifetime of physical health and mental acuity. If you’re already struggling with a disease process, these practices will accelerate your return to health. Since I recognize how hard it is to change old habits, I’ll also provide some strategies for overcoming resistance.

The most important principle is also the least understood. When you think about your body, you likely think about your organs, bones, and muscles. You might also consider things like blood vessels and nerves, but do you ever think about the connective tissue (fascia) that holds all this together? As it turns out, until recently most doctors haven’t given much thought to connective tissue either. This is unfortunate because it’s incredibly important! Fascia is continuous from the center of every cell in the body to the surface of the skin. It provides the structural architecture of the whole body, and even influences cell function.


In healthy tissue, the fibers glide past each other as the body moves. When it becomes damaged, as it does with any injury, fibers stick together to form what we call fascial adhesions. Adhesions are present to varying degrees in everybody. Some are subtle, like the stiffness felt upon rising in the morning, others are more severe, like surgical scars. Adhesions impair the function of any structures passing through the area. Capillaries are small and easily crushed, so blood flow is impaired. Sometimes nerves even get compressed, as anyone that has ever experienced sciatica knows all too well. The bad news is that we accumulate adhesions throughout life, especially if we tend toward sedentary activities. The resultant circulatory problems contribute to all disease processes because cells struggle to function.


The body is constantly rebuilding, and with discipline, much of the damage is repairable. The more we move, the more easily our connective tissue moves. Incorporating stretching and other physical activities into your daily routine will have a more substantial impact on your lifelong health and vitality than anything else ever could!

Despite this fact, you might be confronting some resistance. Maybe you spend hours sitting at work and barely have time to manage all your responsibilities at home. It may seem like there is no end of your To-do list. For most people “urgent and important” responsibilities continue to arise. We become adept at ignoring the little physical discomforts while we continue to focus on other things. When we live with a symptom long enough it can even begin to seem normal.


However, our symptoms are important messages that tell us how things aren’t working in our body. By responding appropriately, we can correct the problem before it gets out of hand. Without question, the people I have seen making the most remarkable recoveries are those that have committed to improving lifestyle and dietary habits. Rather than judging it as indulgent, set aside time for self care every day. It makes a huge difference! This is akin to putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Add it to your calendar. Find a class you enjoy. Enlist a friend to join you.


This may feel daunting, especially if you’re in pain. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Acupuncture utilizes the many properties of connective tissue to repair adhesions and restore circulation. A tiny needle prick at the toe sends instantaneous signals through the body. We can treat a hip condition by sticking needles in the feet and shoulders. We’re familiar with the organizing principles of the body’s complex network, and we know where to stimulate it to bring about the desired effects.


The type of bodywork I practice incorporates the same ideas. By applying gentle pressure with my hands, I can sense areas of tension and laxity in the connective tissue network. When I apply a gentle stretch, the impulse is distributed along the line of tension which results in all the fibers loosening. Fascia is highly responsive, so it doesn’t take much to bring profound results. In Chinese, this is called Ting 聽, Song 松, Hua 化 which means Listen, Loosen, and Transform. The character Song 松 can also be used as a noun. In this case, it refers to the pine tree: revered for longevity and steadfastness since it remains green and supple through the winter. It is strong, yet able to bend in the wind. This is a nice metaphor for connective tissue.


So, what does this all mean? If you’d like to “keep the doctor away” attend to your circulation, connective tissue, and oxidative stress.
 

Take delight in your body. If you enjoy dancing, dance. If rock climbing offers you a thrill, do it often. Find the activities that bring you joy and make time for them as if your life depends upon it. Your future self will thank you. If you're experiencing discomfort, listen to your body. If necessary, get help resolving the underlying issues. Chronic diseases don't arise out of the blue. Most people struggle with discomfort for years before a cancer diagnosis or heart attack.

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Take a walk. This simple movement, especially in the presence of trees, offers myriad benefits. It invigorates respiration and microcirculation. It mechanically stimulates the veins in the legs that pump blood back up to the heart. Walking stimulates lymph, thus promoting detoxification. It also calms the nervous system. You could start by taking a short walk every morning or after meals. Regular walking, especially in the early morning, is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to support cardiovascular health and prevent cancer.  

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Maximize the benefits of sun exposure while minimizing damage. A little sun every day is ideal. If you gradually build up to longer or more intense exposure you reduce the likelihood of burning. A diet rich in natural anti-oxidants and healthy fats will provide protection from the inside. Use reasonable caution and cover your skin before burning.   

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Keep moving! Whether you enjoy yoga or something less formal, regular stretching is essential for connective tissue function. Like yoga, taiji and qigong are ancient practices that unite mind and body while promoting strength and circulation. A simple taiji standing practice will release adhesions throughout the body. This is best learned with a teacher. Let me know if you’d like a recommendation.

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Bone broth. We often recommend bone broth for building blood and strengthening the kidneys. It provides readily absorbable minerals and the amino acid building blocks of ALL connective tissue. If you have any body pain or injury, bone broth is essential. For the most benefit, ask the butcher for joints because these contain more collagen. An instant pot can make broth preparation quickly and you can freeze what you won’t use right away. If homemade broth is impractical for your daily use, consider supplementing with an organic grass-fed collagen powder. It dissolves easily in warm water and provides many of the same benefits. One of the secret benefits of broth is that it heals the digestive tract. The same nutrients that repair connective tissue help repair the mucosa of the intestines. This also improves nutrient absorption from your food and strengthens your immune system.

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Consider food as enjoyable medicine. Sugar and refined carbohydrates promote oxidative stress and disease. If sweet treats brings you joy, and your body tolerates them, indulge occasionally. However, it's important to be selective. Sugar is hidden in most processed foods and sweetened beverages hit the body hard. Contrary to common belief, cholesterol and high triglycerides don't come from dietary intake of fats and animal products. Neither does fatty liver. These issues are a byproduct of a body struggling to metabolize excess carbohydrates. Whatever diet you choose, you can tip the scales toward health by reducing empty carbohydrates and filling your plate with brightly colored produce and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients and combat oxidative stress.

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Remember, we're here to help!

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