Bodies In Balance COLUMNS

Movement, Muscles, Minerals, and More…

Now that summer is here our motivation to get out and move our bodies is dramatically increased. The concert of movement includes muscles, tendons, joints, bones, and nerves. It is the health and coordination of these players which allow us to hike, bike, swim, kayak, and so on and so forth. So let’s check out this system of movement and explore ways to keep it healthy.

When we exercise, our goal is to achieve leaner muscle mass and increased endurance…in fact a complete exercise program should include strength, endurance and flexibility. In the initial stages of a new exercise routine there is a normal process of muscle fiber damage and repair; and this process often creates soreness, cramps, or stiffness. As we continue to use and overuse this system more complex problems including worn or degenerative joints may arise. Keeping the musculoskeletal system in balance is not easy, but movement is essential so don’t take it’s health for granted.

Our muscles are an intricate organization of cells specifically designed for energy use in order to create movement of joints and bones. The energy necessary for muscular contraction and relaxation ideally comes from a nutritious diet of adequate and balanced fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The muscles prefer a fuel source of complex carbohydrates (whole grains and vegetables), although proteins are essential for muscle fiber building and repair. Vitamins and minerals also aid in cellular energy production. If you think of muscle cells as mini-factories, which take in carbohydrates to produce movement, vitamins and minerals are the factory workers making sure the process runs smoothly.

Two minerals essential for the contraction and relaxation of muscles are Calcium and Magnesium. When Calcium flows into muscle cells they begin to contract; with muscle relaxation (another key element to movement), Calcium flows out and is replaced with Magnesium. If you are experiencing muscle fatigue or cramping during or after exercise you may benefit from these minerals. Calcium can be found in leafy greens, grains, shellfish (especially clams and oysters), salmon and dairy products. Magnesium is rich in nuts and seeds, soybeans, grains, fish, blackstrap molasses and dairy products. If you use supplements you should be getting a 1:1 ratio of Calcium to Magnesium. Calcium is a widely promoted and often overused and unbalanced mineral; its suggested use for bone health is fairly one-sided overlooking the rich matrix of other minerals. Looking for a nutrient to help increase muscle energy? CoQ10 would be a good choice. This nutrient is an essential source of ATP production within all cells throughout the body, and although the body can produce it, deficiencies are possible. I recommend 100mg of CoQ10 in the morning with food.

Another essential to avoid muscle aches and pains is making time to stretch (flexibility). The most ideal time to stretch is when your muscles are already warm. Some gentle stretching can be done prior to a strength or endurance program. Once complete, however, those muscles are primed for a good round of stretching, so don’t forget to budget time at the end of your workout for this important aspect of movement. Never force or bounce a stretch, instead move into a position where you begin to feel tension or tugging and then use breathing and time to go further, not force. If you are unsure about the best stretches for you, there are many great classes, books, and professionals available to guide you.

A commonly recommended soothing treatments for ailing muscles that is both easy and safe is an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts are rich in Magnesium and by pouring two to four cups into a hot bath and soaking for 20 minutes you can relax both body and mind. If you have access to a sauna or steam room they are also an excellent deep acting treatment for muscle pains. If you are not at risk for stroke or have significant heart troubles, try alternating from the hot sauna to a cold shower to really get the blood moving. For an acute muscle injury or ache try rubbing some Arnica cream on the affected area and/or take a supplement called Bromelain. Bromelain is a pineapple enzyme which when taken away from food can break down inflammatory proteins, like those found in sore muscles. And as always drink plenty of water.

Let’s not overlook the joints; this is a point where two bones meet. There a variety of joints throughout the body. Some are simple like the attachment of the ribs to the breast bone, which experience relatively little movement. Some are complex like shoulders and hips which have a wide range of movement and responsibility. Joints are cushioned with fluid filled sacs, discs and cartilage depending on the joint. The ease and fluidity of movement of a joint is also assisted by good food choices, adequate water intake and proper movement. A top choice nutrient for joint health is omega 3 fatty acids, they help lubricate and reduce inflammation, a win-win. Adding 1000mg of a good quality fish oil can be an excellent therapy for joint problems.

When starting any new exercise routine set realistic goals and recognize your limits. If you do experience an injury, which does not resolve within three to five days, don’t suffer through it; go see someone who can help you heal. When you spend too long compensating for an injury it only compounds the problem. Exercise is a rewarding fountain of youth so get out and experience the benefits of movement today! Because as I like to say…DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply and MOVE your body EVERYDAY!!

By Tracy Erfling

Dr. Tracy Erfling is a naturopath physician in the Lower Columbia Region. Questions?