Do you know why exercise and movement is so important for muscle and nerve health? My doctor, who is also a long distance runner, asked me to make this simple observation: during Winter, when I am less active than Summer, my leg muscles shrink, and then they firm up the more active I am. Why does this happen?
In part, as my doctor explained, muscle shrinkage results from not exercising the tens of thousands of nerves in your legs. So now, as you get out and about during Summer, pay attention to your legs — how they start firming up gradually. In truth, the nerves and muscles are twitching for activity!
Aging Affects Nerves & Muscles
As a fit and active aging adult (I’m 71 years old), I am especially curious how my exercise benefits me. I have a reason, because at age 63 years I contracted Lyme disease (I have successfully recovered, thank you!) and I discovered how important it was to move my body. (You might want to read my first brief article about the value of exercise for the immune system as we age, here). Here are a few basic facts I’ve learned:
- Muscles need to receive a proper signal from the nervous system to tell them to contract, allowing us to move around
- Nerve loss is the primary cause of muscle wasting as we age
- As young adults, we have 60-70,000 nerves controlling leg movement from the lumbar spine.
- By our 70’s, we’ve lost around 30-60% of those nerves
You can see now that, as we age, we have some work to do to regenerate our nerves and muscles, and that effort is EXERCISE (of course, good sleep and rest, a healthy diet, and plenty of water are important, too)! The consequences otherwise are well known, especially if our lifestyle is more sedentary. (Metabolic Syndrome is the medical term that describes the significant effects on our body and health as a result of a sedentary lifestyle.)
Exercise Benefits Nerves & Muscles
The BIG QUESTION is: Can you regenerate nerves and muscles in your legs? The answer is YES! Here’s what science tells us happens when you MOVE and EXERCISE:
- Nerve regeneration is always happening in the body, often in a matter of days. Science shows that healthy muscles have surviving nerves that can send new branches to rescue muscles and stop them wasting away. I love the idea that my body is self-regenerating!
- Movement oxygenates cells — a key component of cellular regeneration and restoration. Remember that we receive vital oxygen in our air and water.
- Movement flexes the protective and flexible Fascia. This fascinating and tough type of body-sock that surrounds every organ and muscle naturally dries out as we age. It is invaluable for our overall flexibility and must be exercised and stretched via movement and good daily water consumption.
- Movement is vital for all connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles, fascia, buffering membranes, etc.), bones, and joints. Most felt pain in muscular-skeletal injuries originates from large numbers of nerve endings right at the bone (called the periosteum), and flares out from there into the connective tissues and muscles. Exercising these systems excites nerve regeneration.
- Movement moves cellular debris out into nearby lymph nodes for expulsion. In general, our Lymph System is key to the body’s waste management functions. Unlike the pumping mechanism of our cardiovascular system, the only way the Lymph System can “pump out” toxins and cellular debris is by movement.
- Movement affects posture and gait, and helps to create uprightness.
- Finally, movement revitalizes our mental state and brain — a storehouse of nerve responses mostly housed in a watery head. In short, good exercise makes us feel good, and helps excrete all those “feel good” hormones like dopamine.
Spring into Shape: 5 Helpful Tips
As an herbal practitioner dedicated to overall fitness, I am often asked about natural remedies that support good nerve and muscle functioning. Unfortunately, the FDA is quite adamant about not making claims regarding the effectiveness of plant-based medicines. However, history and anecdotal information most often support research findings. Here are five well-researched tips to support any exercise efforts. I have personally incorporated them into my fitness program. You may have your own special routine.
- First, get checked out.
Get base line measures of your overall fitness and health. Also look at your diet, water consumption, sleep habits, stress-inducers, and general mental state.
- Next, drink more water!
We are about 70% water as a human being. That is amazing and we should have enormous respect for its value to our overall health and its ability to supply us with needed oxygen! Quite naturally, the body tries to expel about 2.2 liters of water every day. So, this water needs to be replenished daily — a responsibility most people admit to failing.
Try to drink at least three quarts of water daily. Consider drinking the first quart upon waking up — make it warm so that it matches the natural heated temperature of water and blood in your body, and soothes your organs. Sip the other two quarts throughout the day.
- Support exercise with a good diet.
Food is the building blocks of energy and nutrients necessary for body regeneration. A diet that supports the more alkaline (not acidic!) nature and needs of our body works optimally with our exercise efforts.
Try to eat fresh organic produce because of its high nutritional content, compared to non-organic. Juicing also provides fresh live enzymes for cellular regeneration. Try to stay away from sugars, salt, processed meats and similar foods, bottled drinks, alcohol, caffeine, and the like.
- Support exercise with natural remedies.
I like to think of plant-based medicines as natural catalysts for immune system health. They are not cures so much as they are activators and supporters of natural healing responses in the body.
There are a few notable herbs that have been used for thousands of years by cultures worldwide. Our family loves herbs like Solomon’s Seal, Gravel Root, Horsetail and the like because centuries of historical use and documentation suggest restorative value for muscular-skeletal injuries and overall health.
A topical remedy, like our Deep Penetrating Salve or Quick Relief Spray, provides almost immediate targeted relief to problematic areas. I like to apply these after my exercise to immediately soothe any discomfort. An oral tincture, on the other hand, immediately courses through the bloodstream and moves to affected body systems.
- Support exercise and recovery with topical Magnesium.
Nerve health is critical to overall muscular-skeletal fitness, especially for aging adults. This is where the mineral Magnesium is vital. Scientists call it a “Master Mineral” because it controls thousands of enzyme reactions in the body, including other minerals (especially calcium). Magnesium is also responsible for cellular energy AND proper nerve functioning (especially for pain relief, muscle relaxing, etc.).
Thousands of research studies are published annually about the health benefits of Magnesium supplementation. Every hospital operating room has it immediately on hand for use in surgery to calm nerve responses, blood flow, and clotting. So, a bottle of Magnesium Chloride spray is definitely worth having in the medicine cabinet!
As a topical spray, Magnesium Chloride is absorbed by the body fully 100% within 20 minutes of application to a location or lymph node area. Research has determined that a targeted application is much more effective than an oral supplement that may naturally affect the GI tract and cause laxation. It would be beneficial, therefore, to administer the topical Magnesium to the legs, ankles and feet before exercising, and/or afterwards. This also helps with leg cramps, especially when applied immediately or at night before bed.
In summary, exercise is one of those lifestyle activities that costs little to nothing to engage in, and yet the benefits to the body, especially nerve and muscle health as we age, are significant. Now that you know what some of those basic benefits are, lace up those shoes and let’s go!
While we can’t give health advice of any kind, we sure do know a lot about herbs and are happy to speak with you at any time about their properties and proper usage.