5 Practices to Impact Immunity & Joy

Today’s practice is #4 in our series of 5Ps….PLAY! Yes, it’s time to CELEBRATE and boost immunity and joy through movement!

Yes, moving joyfully can unleash an almost infinite number of physical and mental benefits.

And remember, you can CREATE a powerful movement plan even if you’re stuck at home. A flight of stairs and a yoga mat can become super useful tools on any given day.

Many patients who come to me are stuck. They have religiously tried all kinds of clinical treatments, pills, and tests, but are lacking that spark that makes life worth living. Play is one of the 5Ps that will make you feel healthier and more vital – and joyful – right away. It’s DESIGNED to create joy!

Play captures our sense of joy, and has a powerfully positive impact on both physical and mental health.

Play and movement are powerful. Some of us love movement, and some of us haven’t had a great track record with any kind of physical activity… yet!

The easiest way to implement play into your life is to find any type of movement that you consider fun and enjoyable, so that you don’t even focus on the fact that you are moving. You may try playing badminton or volleyball with friends, set up a scrimmage game of basketball, or chase your kid or pet around the yard.

One of the secrets of functional medicine is that your functional medicine movement plan is unique to you and built by you. So don’t let the fact that you may be trapped at home or may not have embraced movement yet. This is here for all of us, no matter what the circumstances du jour may look like.

We know now that a sedentary lifestyle is a real risk factor for disease and precursors to disease, and remedying this with play and movement is where it’s at.

Believe it or not, play involves engaging in the types of activities that we actually crave on some level. I have had patients come in who say they want to move but can’t. They may have a bad back, arthritis, or some other degenerative problem. They feel stuck and discouraged when they try to engage in physical activity, yet movement is critical and affects every dimension of our health.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a varied, plant-based diet [link Blog 3 here] and averaged walking eight to nine miles a day as they searched for food and shelter. Genetically and physiologically we are still hunter-gatherers, so our bodies are wired for and expect a lot of movement.

We get so many benefits from movement, such as getting better quality sleep, feeling more at ease, circulating nutrients throughout the body, flushing our lymphatics, reducing swelling and water retention.

Clinical studies provide strong scientific evidence that the chemistry of our brains and bodies change in response to movement:

  • Endorphins and other neurotransmitters are released when you exercise that help regulate mood, alleviate depression, and reduce anxiety
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factors that support the growth of nerve cells are released in the brain and improve cognition
  • Nitric oxide production by your blood vessels is increased and improves circulation and helps prevent heart disease
  • Human Growth Hormone production speeds up healing, builds muscle, and aids in repairing healthy brain tissue

Movement is like Miracle-Gro for our brains, stimulating the release of molecules that enhance brain function, regulate mood, improve circulation, and aid in preventing heart disease.

Movement is one of the most wonderful parts of life. From children who fearlessly run around on playgrounds to the elderly carefully putting one step in front of the other, movement is vital to life. We move more in order to help our bodies oxygenate and promote cellular health.

When you think of movement, what do you imagine? Try not to think of “exercise” if you’re not already working out. What about dancing? Swimming at the beach? Walking and chatting with a friend? Cleaning your house for a few hours on a Saturday?

Taking action does more than just help heal your body, it can also give you hope, and joy, combat anxiety and lessen depression. That being said, the action plan I help set up may look different for each individual.

You don’t need to run a marathon to start feeling better. Make movement joyful and make it yours!

If you are feeling stuck due to lack of motivation, chronic pain, fatigue, or even just a bad relationship with formal exercise, one of the first steps you can take is to ask yourself, “How can I move with joy?”

Maybe walking hurts your knees, but the idea of swimming feels exciting. If you have access to a pool you can place a foam belt around your waist and stride in the water as if you are walking. You don’t have to do water aerobics to gain benefit and it feels natural.

Maybe that elliptical machine that you purchased is being used as a clothing rack, but what if you can sell it and get a membership to a park or other place where you can walk?

Joyful movement can be very simple. Can you walk around the block with your grandchild? Can you go outside with the dog? Do you have a bicycle that you can use? You may find that it’s easy on your joints and feels like an adventure.

Making movement our own is one of the keys to functional medicine. Choosing your play is very much like buying a tailored suit, or a pair of running shoes that came from a shop that actually puts you on a treadmill and figures out your gait.

Personally, I ride my bike to work a day a week, four days a week, sometimes five. And that’s on a fat bike with studded tires in the winter for Alaska, and with regular tires in the summer. I made movement mine, and it feels great. I feel blessed to be able to move. I like to run on the weekends, and I also like to walk on the beach. But it’s personal, right? I have tried swimming, and felt like I was just drowning and spluttering, and wasn’t very good at it. So, I abandoned it because it wasn’t mine.

Once you start choosing the timing and types of movement that bring you joy, you will begin to feel better and better. Great things will start happening. You will experience increased vitality, and your body’s fundamental systems will kick in to set the stage for being able to benefit from supplements and testing if that is something you are interested in.

Like I said earlier, life is movement. All of life. Time only moves forward, whether we move with it or stand still, watching it pass us by.

Today, I hope you choose life and move forward.

Your friend,

Dr. Rob Downey