Exercise needn't be a chore. Find out how herbs can support musculoskeletal health and provide alternatives to conventional pain killers when injury strikes. And, a little added wisdom and insight from Ayurveda on how to stay in tip top condition.
Why should we stay active? There are many benefits to being active and simply staying mobile. Our body is fuelled by oxygen. Without it, we simply wouldn't survive. So, it’s important to ensure that we are able to get as much fresh air into our body as possible. Oxygen is transported around our body in the blood stream. Oxygen latches onto the iron portion found in our red blood cells, so that it can literally reach each and every one of our body’s cells.
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of the onset of major illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer by 50% and lower the risk of an early onset death by 30%. There is also research showing clear links between improvements in mental as well as physical health such as self-esteem, mood, sleep quality, energy and significantly reducing the impact of stress on our body. It’s estimated that we need to achieve 150 minutes of physical activity each week, and for the activities to be varied so that specific muscles aren't under stress or strain. So, another key point here, is to consider the benefits of mental exercises such as meditative practice and breathing exercises to calm the mind and improve oxygen supply.
However, we've all be party to the odd strain or sprain. Prolonged pressure and strain on the muscles, joints and skeletal system can result in inflammation, pain and swelling, negatively impacting upon mobility and capability. Unfortunately, many people reach for the conventional painkiller. Here is a little more insight on how they affect the body...
Conventional treatment strategies of musculoskeletal conditions often involve the use of various drug classes:
- Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs) – ibuprofen or aspirin - are used to relieve pain and inflammation. They work by blocking prostaglandins which are produced as part of the inflammation pathway and the stress response. They block the enzyme known as cyclooxygenase. However, by blocking this enzyme they leave the stomach vulnerable to ulcers and bleeding.
- Analgesics are drugs specifically designed to modify pain such as paracetamol.
- Steroidal anti-inflammatories such as corticosteroids mimic the effects of the hormone cortisol which helps to reduce inflammation within the body to provide quick relief from severe inflammation.
- Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMRADs) include drugs such as methotrexate and are generally prescribed to those individuals who may be at risk from permanent joint damage. They are designed to slow down the disease process, and so do not provide instant relief, but are more of a long-term treatment.
- Biologics are often used in combination with DMRADs and are biological response modifiers. These drugs are often genetically engineered from a living organism like a virus, gene or protein to stimulate the body’s natural response to infection. Essentially, they are used to target the proteins, cells and pathways that are responsible for the symptoms and damage caused by these inflammatory conditions.
Unfortunately, many of these drugs have associated side-effects such as hepatotoxicity, kidney damage and immunodeficiency so their long-term use must be weighed up in the context of each individual.
So, this is where herbs come in. They can really help. There are some wonderful natural ways in which we can help reduce pain, swelling and reduced mobility associated with muscular injury. Here is some Ayurvedic insight on how to support active health...
Ayurveda places importance on keeping physically active, but the key point is to conserve our inner energy and lifeforce ‘prana’ and keep to a regular routine of little and often. For example:
- Regular exercise that produces a mild sweat and for as long as we can comfortably breathe through our nostrils. Ideal exercises are: Yoga/Walking/Tai Chi/Qigong.
- No repetitive exercise that stresses specific areas of the body for prolonged periods.
Nutrition also plays a key role in musculoskeletal health and Ayurveda also provides us with some valuable insights:
- Increase intake of antioxidant rich foods such as brightly coloured fruits and dark green vegetables which protect us from inflammatory free radicals.
- Reduce intake of synthetically produced foods, fats and refined sugars.
- Increase our uptake of healthy fats to lubricate the joints and muscles such as hemp seed oil, ghee and virgin coconut oil.
- Reduce intake of non-organic dairy sources and meat which can be difficult for the body to metabolise and increase levels of internal ama.
- Perform regular detoxification or bowel cleansing practices to rid the body of excess ama and increase the digestive fire, or agni.
The key point is to reduce levels of ama, or toxic waste within the body, which essentially means reducing our intake of cold, heavy, wet and sticky foods that clog our body’s circulatory channels. Take a look back at module 2 and dosha appropriate diets to understand your personal dietary needs.