Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Scottish Doctors Are Now Issuing Prescriptions to Go Hiking

person hikingBeing active out in nature can have positive benefits for both physical and mental health. And now some doctors in the Shetlands have begun issuing “nature prescriptions” as part of an initiative to address health issues without drugs. We love hiking, so this is one prescription we’d eagerly look forward to having filled and refilled!

 

Read the full article, Scottish Doctors Are Now Issuing Prescriptions to Go Hiking.

Marvelous Madagascar

We’re going to present something a little different for this post, highlighting something near and dear to us: travel. Last month we spent 2 ½ weeks in Madagascar, a well-deserved break, especially for Sue who has been working very hard of late!

For those of you who are unaware, Madagascar is a huge island, roughly the size of France, so there was no way we were going to see all of it in the amount of time we had. We were keen to do a variety of activities, though, including wildlife spotting, hiking, and chilling at the beach. Fortunately, Madagascar has plenty of options for all of these. With a couple of exceptions, we followed the classic RN7 route from the capital Antananarivo in the central plateau down to the southwestern coast. What really surprised us was the extreme variety of landscape in just this small section of the country. We took in lush rainforest, lunar landscapes, pine forests, and white sand beaches. Madagascar really does have something for everyone.

Of course, the big something, probably what the country is most famous for, is the lemur. Madagascar is the only country in the world where you can find lemurs in the wild, over 100 different species of them, in fact. We managed to see only about 10 of these species, but certainly didn’t feel hard done by, as the ones we did spot were plentiful, beautiful and fascinating. Some of the coolest lemurs we encountered were the Indris, or Indri Indri, as they are known locally. They brought the concept of the dawn chorus to a new level, with their haunting cries  – described as a cross between a whale and a car alarm – being heard for miles. (Check out a video here) Fortunately, due to the time difference, we were getting up early anyway! Some of the other species we spotted were black and white ruffed lemur, mouse lemur, sifaka, bamboo lemur, and of course the ringtailed lemur. Some of these were shy and hung out high in the trees, whilst others such as the ringtails were quite happy to walk right up to us, even with babies clinging to their backs.

chameleon

 

Lemurs are not the only fauna that Madagascar is famous for. The country is also home to about half the world’s 150 or so species of chameleons. In our humble opinion, these are the coolest lizards out there, with their bulging eyes, zygodactyl (good word, eh?) feet, and beautiful colours. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the chameleon, however, is its tongue. On average, a chameleon’s tongue is roughly twice the length of its body. In humans, that would be a tongue about 10 to 12 feet long! And it’s not just big. A chameleon’s tongue can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second! Pretty impressive stuff. (See it in action here)

On the subject of guides, everywhere we went we seemed to wind up with more of these than anticipated. In addition to a driver and guide taking us around the country, every national park we visited supplied a local guide and sometimes an animal spotter or two as well. We came to realise that this is the Malagasy attempt to spread the wealth around. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and is largely a tip-based economy, so the more helpful bodies foisted upon tourists, the more money potentially makes it into the local economy. At first, we were a little put off by the number of people who seemed to be ‘assigned’ to us at every stop (as we are typically avidly independent travelers), but we soon realised the deal and settled into the routine. It just meant calculating a lot more tips. That said, salaries there are so low in Madagascar that even a Euro or two is a huge amount of money for many of the people, so ultimately it was still relatively inexpensive.We always try to include some hiking in our holidays, and this was no exception. We spent several days in Andringitra National Park, well-known for its spectacular mountainous scenery. There, we summited Pic Boby, the country’s 2nd highest (and highest-climbable) mountain. One of the highlights was drinking ‘rum arrange’ (the local hooch infused with various fruits or other aromatics, in this case, ginger) whilst soaking in the singing and dancing performances of our surprisingly-large posse of cooks, porters, and guides.

feetMoney is so scarce that many of the poorer people can’t even afford shoes. Being somewhat barefoot-obsessed, we found ourselves marveling at the ease with which these shoeless people went around their daily business. In particular, the runners of the two-wheeled rickshaws known as pousse-pousse, found in many Malagasy cities. We quickly noticed that none of the pousse-pousse pullers wore shoes. Even pounding up and down paved city streets all day long, the feet of these guys looked really healthy. Not a bunion to be seen! This should be a lesson to all of us. Whilst we don’t necessarily advocate going barefoot around the streets of London, getting out of our ‘foot coffins’ as much as possible could potentially do us a world of good.

Despite a lack of money, the Malagasy people seem to place a high emphasis on good food. Even though the typical local cuisine is reasonably basic – meat or fish and rice – it is generally well-prepared and tasty. Add to the mix the fact that the country was once a French colony, and you have a recipe (pun intended) for yet another great feature of the country: yummy food! Little did we know before arriving in Madagascar that French staples such as steak au poivre, crepes, foie gras, and duck confit would be gracing our plates so frequently. We ate plenty of the local dishes as well, our favourite being a stew of eel and pork served with (of course) lots of rice. The local wine we sampled was nothing to write home about, but the beer was cheap and tasty!

As is the case in so many developing economies, the poverty of Madagascar can be heartbreaking. At times it took great effort not to dole out coins, pens or trinkets to the frequent child beggars, some of whom were barely old enough to walk, yet still had their hands out for bonbons or cadeaux. But we believe a better way is to donate to charities that can help the people in a more sustainable manner.  Upon returning to London, we identified PSI as a reputable and efficiently-run charity whose stated  goal is to ‘make it easier for people in the developing world to lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire.’ Please feel free to join us in donating here. Then do yourself a favour and get yourself to Madagascar. You won’t regret it!
The Backs Etc Team

Jack and Sue

 

Why It’s Good To Be A Slacker

‘Eat a balanced diet’. ‘Ensure a good work-life balance’. Balance your budget’. Notice a trend here? Balance seems to be considered a pretty important thing. Indeed it is, and perhaps nowhere as important as its role within our bodies. Without it, many of our basic motor functions get pretty damn difficult. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from Labyrinthitis, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or Ménière’s Disease.

But even without suffering from one of those disorders, many of us struggle with poor balance. Our ability to balance is a combination of sight, vestibular (ear canals) and proprioception (our body’s ability to know where it is in space, even with our eyes closed). As we get older, our proprioceptive and vestibular systems decline, along with reflexes and coordination, resulting in diminished balance control. This is why so many elderly people fall down and break their hips or other bones. And that is one slippery slope we’d like to avoid!

So how to do that? Train your balance and coordination of course. The trusty old phrase ‘use it or lose it!’ applies here, I’m afraid. But the good news is that there are far more fun ways to train your balance than just standing on one foot. The brilliant folks at GMB recommend a programme consisting of jump spins, walking around with eyes closed (but shins beware!), as well as more advanced hand balancing techniques.

Here at Backs Etc., our training programmes often contain floor-based exercises that require a degree of balance control, as well as balance-challenging resistance exercises like single leg deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats. But one great tool that we’ve only recently started using is the slackline.

Jack on a slackline

Similar to a tightrope, the slackline is stretched between two trees or other anchor points with the aim being to balance and walk along it. Unlike a tightrope, though, the slackline is a flat webbing, usually around 2 inches wide, making it easier to learn than a traditional tightrope. As the name implies, the slackline is not tensioned as tight as a tightrope. Because of this, the line moves up and down and side to side as you walk on it. The real skill then is to anticipate these slight movements of the line and move your body to compensate for them, improving your balance and core strength. Anybody first attempting to balance on a slackline will experience a violent shuddering back and forth of the line. This is due to the brain trying frantically to overcorrect the sideways motion of the line. This is similar to the way a driver may oversteer the opposite direction when skidding, causing a car to spin out of control. Fortunately, slacklining is much safer than driving!

So, besides improving our motor control and balance, what are some of the other benefits of slacklining?

It’s a full body workout. I mentioned core strength earlier, but slacklining requires the complete use of your entire body, engaging all your muscles and focus to prevent you from falling off the line.

It can boost memory function. A 2011 study in the scientific journal Hippocampus said, “slacklining led to an increase in the structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for navigation and memory”.

It can improve your posture, help you jump higher, and improve lower-limb rehabilitation.

It’s inexpensive. You can buy a good quality slackline for £30-£40.

It’s portable. Take it to the park and stretch it between two trees.

It’s fun! (need I say more?)

It’s worth noting that slacklining is pretty challenging. I’ve been using ours for about a month or so and I’m still pretty bad. But I notice little improvements regularly, and that feels nice. It’s also encouraging knowing that every time I step on it, I’m making positive changes for my body and mind. Being a slacker has never felt so good!

 

Channelling Our Original Strength

OS logoI recently spent a weekend in the Midlands on the floor rocking, rolling and crawling. No, I wasn’t just suffering from too many pints of lager. Rather I was participating in two workshops, Pressing Reset and Becoming Bulletproof run by the folks at Original Strength. OS describe themselves as ‘a human movement education company teaching health and fitness professionals around the world to Press RESET.  By teaching how to help people move the way we were designed to move, we can help them restore reflexive strength and stability.  When we have our reflexive strength, we have a solid foundation enabling us to live life better.’ What this entails is going back to how we originally developed our strength and motor control as babies and young children, teaching our adult minds and bodies how to reset poor motor patterns and allow us to perform physically (and mentally) as we should be able to.

Tim Anderson, one of the founders of OS, is someone whose videos I have watched on YouTube for a couple of years now, so I was pleased that he was running the course. He is a warm, passionate instructor with a gentle southern drawl, and made the weekend extremely enjoyable and informative. He began by introducing the concept of reflexive strength, one of the key components of the system. He describes this as the body’s ability to anticipate and respond to movement before and as it happens and stability and mobility in harmony with one another.

The focus of the first day’s workshop is what Tim refers to as ‘pressing reset’, essentially engaging the original operating system preprogrammed inside every individual’s nervous system. Engaging this can be likened to pressing the reset button on a video game, rebooting (or refreshing) the central nervous system to build new neural connections, restore old ones, and make existing ones more efficient. The result is a healthier brain and nervous system which leads to a healthier body able to utilise the mobility, stability and strength it is designed for.

According to the OS philosophy, there are five big resets:

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing
  2. Head Control
  3. Rolling
  4. Rocking
  5. Crawling (or other contralateral, midline crossing movements)

Those of you familiar with the work we do at Backs Etc will know that we already incorporate these into our therapy and training programmes, so this course was a natural fit for me.

Proper breathing is where it all begins as, without a stable core, our brains will not allow our bodies to achieve the stability and mobility they are capable of, so the initial portion of the workshop is focused on developing good nasal diaphragmatic breathing techniques in a variety of positions.

We then moved on to the oh-so-important vestibular system. The OS system focuses on mastering head control to reset and strengthen this, so we did a number of head flexion, extension and rotational exercises, again in a variety of positions, supine, prone and quadruped.

The third big reset, rolling, is a fun one. Rolling is the beginning of the human gait cycle, and helps connecting the opposite shoulders to the opposite hips. There is also a lot of head control involved, bringing the vestibular system into the equation. There are a variety of different rolling patterns, some forward to back, but most moving laterally, driven by either the upper or lower body.

Then it was time to rock out. Rocking on hands and knees is a primal movement pattern that helps children build strength, mobility and posture. By modifying foot position we can also use rocking to improve our ankle mobility, or start on our elbows instead of hands to further mobilise the thoracic spine and build upper body strength.

crawlingThe last big reset, which ultimately ties everything together, is crawling. There are a myriad of variations of crawling, all effective in improving contralateral coordination, developing neural connections and building strength. We started with variations on the classic dying bug and bird dog exercises, progressing to commando crawling, hands and knees crawling, and ultimately leopard crawling (sometimes referred to as bear crawling or beast crawling in other methods). People who haven’t tried crawling may not realise what a tremendous workout it can be. Crawling across the length of the gym floor as slow as we possibly could, for 5 minutes, left every participant in the workshop huffing, puffing and sweating profusely. I routinely train my clients to crawl in a box pattern (forwards, sideways, backward and sideways the other direction) for two minutes, which often feels like an entire workout compressed into a tiny period of time. Good stuff!

The workshop on the second day, Becoming Bulletproof, was designed to take these resets we learned and advance them in ways that make them more fun, more challenging and incorporate various other fitness tools that we may have at our disposal. For instance, lifting one’s knees off the ground whilst rocking really fires up the lower body musculature and provides a great little full body workout.

Variations on crawling including axis crawling, a brilliant exercise one can do in a hotel room, for instance, that requires no space or equipment; crawling sideways with the feet pressed up against a wall is an awesome core burner that again requires no equipment. If you do have access to some gym gear, you can try exercises such as crawling pulling a chain or kettlebell.

We also played around with battling ropes and upside-down kettlebell carries, both tremendous workouts. One of the wackiest exercises we performed involved using a cup to scoop water out of one bucket and use it to fill another, all whilst holding a plank or elevated crawling position, showing that exercise does not need to be boring or mindless. In fact, putting play and fun into fitness was one of the big messages of this course.filling a bucket

And fun it was. Hard, too! I had major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for days after the weekend, even in places that I don’t normally feel it.

In conclusion, I found the OS training to be a great addition to the toolset we already use here at Backs Etc. We are huge supporters of what we call primal therapy and training in systems such as Original Strength, DNS, Animal Flow and Immaculate Dissection. If you’d like to learn more and/or start channeling your inner baby, get in touch. Let’s work together to help you reclaim your original strength!

 

Jack

Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.

 

Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day

Are you always rushing around? Take a few moments to meditate, breathe or just be alone with your own thoughts. By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us, says physicist and writer Alan Lightman.

 

Read the full article, Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day.

 

 

 

 

A Quick Guide To Fasting

fastingMore and more studies are proving the myriad of health benefits that fasting can provide. And these days, with the growing popularity of intermittant fasting, the 5:2 diet and compressed eating windows, many people are reaping these rewards. If you’re at all interested in fasting (and you should be!) here is a great little one page intro guide from the folks at www.gutgeek.com.

Read the article, ‘A Quick Guide To Fasting’