Before I get to the mistakes, we need to understand:
WHAT IS BLOOD PRESSURE ANYWAY AND WHY DOES IT GET HIGH?
(suddenly I had an image of an abdominal aorta smoking a doobie like the caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland)
We often think of food as our primary source of nourishment, but we get nourishment at a cellular level through movement. It’s often said that we are what we eat, but we are also what and how we move! Whole body movement (and moving well) is as much a biological requirement for health and healing as eating good food.
Blood is the carrier of all the food (oxygen) to each cell in your body.
Your heart is moving your blood through your arteries, but this is not where the cells get fed. The cells get fed from the capillaries, tiny blood vessels.
In a lot of cardio programs the theory is to increase circulation of blood by strengthening the heart, so that a larger amount of blood is being pumped through your body. However, there is another way to improve this circulation: Use Your Brain!
Yes, thinking. Sending a signal from your brain to your muscles, a process called innervation, creates a compression, and that compression, in turn, signals the smooth muscle of the capillaries to expand open (called vasodilation). This change in space invites more of the blood from the arteries to move into the smaller vessels, lowering the pressure.
Blood doesn’t necessarily flow evenly through your body; it flows to the areas you move the most. Most of us are only using 25% of our muscles, so the heart has to work really hard. The more muscles we use, the more the smaller blood vessels are open to blood flow, so the work of the heart can be shared with all 600 muscles in your body.
This is the simple mistake that is often made when using exercise to manage high blood pressure: forgetting to take into account how you use your body. Your simple daily movements affect your blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
We need to build movement, particularly walking, into our life throughout the day. If we started a diet where the premise was to get all the nutrition we need in one meal, everyone would think we were crazy-bonkers. This is exactly like doing a one-hour, high-intensity workout each day. Walking is ideal because it is our birthright to walk upright and, when we’re walking reflexively, we use all of our 600 muscles.
In addition, how we move and stand throughout the day affects the geometry of our blood vessels. In other words: slumping or moving/exercising with poor body alignment is bad for your cardiovascular health.
To quote Katy Bowman: “ The position of the bones changes the geometry of the blood vessels – when they’re not where they’re supposed to be, you are sitting on a cardiovascular time bomb.”
It’s like adding bends and kinks in a garden hose, which changes the way the blood flows. In ideal conditions, the blood flows smoothly, like a perfectly designed irrigation system for your unique body-garden. With extra kinks and bends that come from misalignment, sitting the same way all the time, and non-natural, repetitive movements, the blood knocks up against the blood vessel walls like a pin-ball and creates wall-wounds. The walls heal themselves with plaques that are like scabs on a cut and help heal the wound. Over time, if the wounding never stops, the plaques turn into a scar-like calcification and can block the vessels.
In mainstream fitness programs and guidelines there is often a disconnect between working on the cardiovascular system and working on the musculoskeletal system. We differentiate the systems of the body so that we can understand, learn, and communicate about them, but they are never working separately from one another.
So before you go chasing down the latest trend in cardio-aerobics-heart-healthy-exercise, find activities that help you tune into how you’re using your body in everyday movements so you don’t reinforce detrimental heart habits with your exercise program. I will be running a new program, Summer Heart Recharge: a 9-Day Blueprint for Anti-Inflammatory Living, where we will explore our cardiovascular system in the context of the health of our whole body and a simple protocol for restoring and preventing heart and inflammatory diseases.
This protocol begins with my signature three-step method:
- Restore the alignment of your bones through Restorative Exercise.
- Nourish your body’s tissues through whole body biological movement…namely, walking.
- Optimize your environment for health by doing simple things like transitioning to more minimal shoes and making sure your work environment is body-friendly. (This is going to be my next post, so make sure you’re subscribed to my mailing list and stay tuned!)
We will also be exploring the circulatory system at this month’s Mallacoota Health & Wellness Day
If you won’t be in Mallacoota for these events, I suggest beginning with simple awareness in standing. For a how-to, read this post and watch this blog for more tips.