We might think we know that water is good for us but do you also know that we need regular movement as well in order to get the water to where it’s needed?
At Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies we strive to treat our clients with an exceptional level of health care. Part of our mission is to educate each of you when we can about ways in which you can help yourselves to achieve greater wellness and vitality. For instance, our naturopath may be able to prescribe herbal medicines and educate you about diet and lifestyle. Our chiropractors may suggest supplements to help with muscular cramping or poor nervous system function. I am writing this article as the resident remedial massage therapist at Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies and as a Melbourne based Alexander technique teacher. Both remedial massage and Alexander technique are modalities which are aimed at helping the body function in a more effective and efficient way and to improve posture and muscle tone. All the therapists at Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies promote good hydration and movement and this article is designed to teach you why. So please read on to find out about hydration and movement – two no cost options to achieving better health – you can’t lose!
Let’s start off by remembering just how vital water is to the human body. 2nd only to oxygen, we cannot live without water for more than a few days. Water is necessary for all of the systems of the body to function and dehydration will cause a loss of function. With extreme dehydration the systems shut down and eventually lead to death.
I don’t want to talk about death (!) so let’s instead go through a couple of the systems to see why both hydration and movement are necessary.
The Digestive System and Metabolism
The digestive system allows us to break down the food we eat into its various parts; proteins; sugars; fats and so on; so that we can use it for energy. We call this process metabolism – a series of metabolic chemical reactions that turn food into a useable fuel, split into its various nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Water is the medium needed for all of these chemical reactions to take place. Our naturopath, Gabrielle Besser is the best person at Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies to talk to regarding the digestive system and its associated dysfunctions and diseases.
The Circulatory System and Delivery of Nutrients
So presuming that we have some water in the body for metabolism, we then need water in the bloodstream to allow delivery of these nutrients to the tissues that need them. The blood is approximately 92% water so even slight dehydration in the body will result in a reduction of the water content of blood which means that the circulatory system is not able to deliver nutrients as efficiently and therefore we don’t work as effectively because we’re not getting the energy where it’s needed.
Removal of waste
Another important function of the blood is the transportation of waste materials away from the tissue via the veins. As each cell uses the necessary molecules delivered to it, it creates waste products given off as part of the metabolic reaction. Waste products might include CO2 and lactic acid for instance. Once again, dehydration would cause the body to not remove waste products from the cells as effectively creating a build up of toxins in the body which is going to lead us to not feel very well. Anyone remember Britney Spears’ song ‘Toxic’? Never a good look.
Moving on slightly let’s look at the importance of movement in conjunction with good hydration.
The Lymphatic System
Working alongside the circulatory system to transport waste materials is the lymphatic system. To allow the molecules to cross over from the arteries to the tissue and waste products to return to the veins our cells are surrounded by liquid called interstitial fluid. Some of the excess interstitial fluid is collected by the lymphatic vessels as lymph before being returned to the veins.
The Pumping Mechanism
Whereas the heart pumps fresh oxygenated blood through the arteries and the arteries themselves have contractile tissue in their walls to squeeze the blood along, the venous and lymphatic systems require compression of the surrounding skeletal muscles (which occurs through movement) to pump the blood and lymph along their respective vessels. This is why moving our body is as important as water as without movement there is no skeletal muscle contraction and movement of venous blood and lymph. Learning good body mechanics is part of what happens in an Alexander technique lesson so please get in touch with Cal Savage if you’d like to make an appointment.
Valves, Veins and Deep Vein Thrombosis
Both the venous system and the lymphatic system operate in only one direction due to a series of valves along the length of the vessels which prevent the blood or lymph from flowing backwards. When we are immobile, even sitting at our desks for long periods, we get slow blood flow which we call venous stasis. One of the serious problems that can arise from venous stasis and lack of movement is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is essentially a blockage caused by pooling of blood between the valves. You may have heard of DVT in relation to long-haul flights and many of us are aware of preventative methods such as compression stockings and, most importantly, regularly moving about the cabin to keep the blood circulating but why is it we don’t take the same advice when we are at work all day? Often we may be spending upwards of 8 hours sitting at the desk. I’m regularly surprised that some of my remedial massage clients will ‘pop back to the office’ after their 7pm massage appointment – 8 hours sitting is a conservative figure – in fact, if we count the journey in the car or the train in the morning, the journey home at the end of the day and then to relax we might sit some more in front of the TV in the evening we’re really racking up the hours! At least with an Alexander technique lesson I can teach you to sit with more ease and comfort – but that’s not to say we should!
Kinks in a Hose
Our lifestyles, commitments and pressures have made us forget that humans were not designed to sit for extended periods – when you think about it logically it is not an effective way of hunting and gathering! When we are sitting for a long time we are essentially compressing the vessels making up the circulatory and lymphatic systems which is going to reduce their ability to work and therefore get the good stuff to its destination and to clear the waste away from the tissues. When teaching Alexander technique lessons I like to use a range of education techniques and I quite partial to an analogy here and there so try this one. Picture yourself sitting; we are creating several right angles through the body – at the hips, the knees and the ankles. Imagine that your blood supply is like water passing through a hose (the vessels) and the right angles we create and hold for extended periods of time are acting like kinks would in your garden hose and reducing the blood flow. Without wanting to sound like a stuck record, this will mean that we firstly don’t deliver nutrients and secondly don’t remove waste from the tissues as effectively and therefore increase the toxicity in our body (think Britney Spears).
Coming back to the lymphatic system once again, I have already mentioned that there is no pumping mechanism as part of this system but it relies on movement of the surrounding skeletal muscle to move it around the body. If the lymphatic vessels are not escorting the excess interstitial fluid away from the tissue it creates a build-up of fluid called oedema. There are other things that can cause oedema such as trauma or injury (you may remember swelling after a twisted ankle for instance?) but lack of movement will cause the fluid to build up which you will recognise as puffy ankles or puffy joints.
With a build up of waste in the tissues and a lack of fresh blood getting to the tissues, we create a build up of toxins. Waste build up in muscle tissue is called crepitus and creates a lumpy or grainy feel to the tissue – you may not be able to notice this but your massage therapist will! Crepitus will reduce the elasticity of a muscle and what you will notice is the other side effects of this which include reduced strength and decreased range of motion.
Changes in the range and freedom at a joint may also be due to a lack of hydration. Firstly of course because our muscles attach to bones which enable us to move a joint. There are other causes to bear in mind such as degeneration and a lack of or changes to the articular cartilage within a joint but you can also have a build up of crepitus in poorly lubricated joints from a lack of hydration. This may be apparent as an audible creaking or grinding sound or feeling in your knees, shoulders or hands for instance. To hammer home my point that water and movement are essential for the correct functioning of our body imagine now your dehydrated shoulder joint as a squeaky hinge in a door. When we put WD40 onto a hinge to lubricate the metal we then need to open and close the door a few times; we move the door to get the lubricant into the hinge. It’s exactly the same for our joints – hydrate with water and move the body frequently to get the good stuff to where it’s needed and to clear away waste products. That means getting up from your desk!
Hydration and movement are also important in spinal health. The chiropractors at Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies are good ones to talk to about spinal health – perhaps you have seen them in your office doing spinal health assessments as part of our corporate package? As a Melbourne Alexander technique teacher I am also concerned primarily with the delicate balance of the head on the spine and by learning good use of ourselves through Alexander technique is another low-cost option to better spinal health.
However, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Another quick bit of anatomy first – the spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. The spine houses part of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and if that isn’t working well, you don’t function well. We have a complex network of nerves which extend from the spinal cord and exit through fossa (gaps or holes) in the space between the vertebrae. The nerves innervate all the different parts of our body and it’s through the nerves that our brain is able to tell the body what to do. For further information regarding a correctly functioning nervous system please call the clinic to have a chat with our chiropractors.
Between the vertebrae are spinal discs. Spinal discs keep the vertebrae apart from one another (so the bones aren’t grinding together) and act like shock absorbers for the spine. Better shock absorbers are better hydrated. Spinal discs have a tough exterior called the annulus fibrosus which surrounds a more gel-like bit in the middle called the nucleus pulposus. To hydrate the discs it can help to think of them as sponges (see, I told you I liked analogies. N.B. I nicked this one from our resident chiropractor, Greg Bowers – thanks Greg!) A saturated sponge cannot take in any more water and you need to squeeze the sponge to exchange the dirty water it holds and to refresh it with fresh water. It’s the same with our spinal discs – the process of getting water into the gel-like substance of the spinal disc is a process called imbibition. It requires us to gently squeeze or massage the disc through movements of the spine. This movement allows us to get fresh hydration and all the nutrients it provides into the disc.
So I hope by now it is more apparent that both water and movement are essential for the health of muscles, joints and the spine through the necessary delivery of nutrients and the removal of waste. So let’s move on to how do we know we’re dehydrated? Well of course we may feel thirsty. However by the time we notice that we are thirsty we are already dehydrated. It’s better to keep yourself topped up by drinking little and often rather than guzzling a load when we feel thirsty. Good water habits are essential – keep a bottle on your desk and sip throughout the day – you’ll be more inclined to drink it if it’s there in front of you. And make sure you drink extra water if you go to the gym at lunchtime – you’ll need the extra water for your muscles to work so the better hydrated you are, the better your workout and the more effective your time spent in the gym! We can often mistake thirst for hunger too so the bonus is that keeping yourself topped up with fluids can help with weight loss as there is less tendency to snack unnecessarily! This is also going to help with digestion. With better hydration the easier it is for food to travel along the gut and the easier to pass stools – you should be getting logs not pebbles!
Water is the best form of hydration for the body but you can also count caffeine-free herbal teas towards your daily water intake. Too much caffeine will act as a diuretic (something which increases the rate of urination). The reasons for this is that caffeine is a poison and your body will speed up the rate of urination (among other things) in order to rid the body of the poison as quickly as possible. When this happens it can mean that we are losing too much fluids and essential minerals such as magnesium. If you are someone who suffers from muscle cramps it can be an indication of a lack of magnesium in the body and it may be worth reducing the amount of caffeine you drink before looking at supplementation. However, as I mentioned before, our naturopath and chiropractors are all able to provide excellent supplement advice.
Another sign of dehydration is postural hypotension. This is where you get a ‘head rush’ or dizzy spells when you change position, often when you stand up. Again, there may be other systemic reasons for postural hypotension such as low blood pressure but it may be due to the veinous return being compromised from dehydration which causes reduced cardiac output and insufficient blood getting to upper part of body when we change position.
Finally a simple indicator of dehydration to look out for is reduced mental clarity and tiredness – not enough nutrients getting to your brain will mean the brain is not working well and therefore the other systems also do not work as well as the brain is responsible for sending out signals to all the other parts of your body. So if you’re losing concentration when reading this you might be in danger of being dehydrated – have you had sips of water little and often whilst reading?!
As always at Melbourne Combined Natural Therapies, we welcome your phone calls and emails regarding the therapies that we do whether it be Alexander technique, remedial massage, myotherapy, chiropractic or naturopathy and are always eager to answer any questions you may have about your health or the care we are providing. Finally, thank you for reading – taking the time to discover more about how the body works and why we need to make constructive changes to our diet, health and wellness is the first step to better health and fitness and seen as the festive season is well under way, what better time to start helping yourself make it through to New Year fit and well?!