Friday, August 26, 2011

Stand up for longevity

Pilates and yoga are up and we’re all sitting down too much. Two seemingly disparate items from the news this week actually converge on one idea. And the feet and reflexology are in the mix too.

So, what am I on about? Here’s the news: We sit too much while watching television and it’s impacting our health and longevity. A study has shown that for every one hour of television watched, 22 minutes of one’s life is lost. According to Australian researchers, reporting numbers that are comparable to previous studies, those who watch 6 hours of television a day can expect to live 4.8 years less when compared those who do not watch not television.

In other news, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that yoga and Pilates studios are a good investment for the future, considering their increase in sales and profits over the past five years.

The idea that binds the two reports?  The exercise or lack of exercise of postural muscles, the muscles of the body that hold us upright as we walk and stand. Sitting too much, for example, while watching television incapacitates the body’s postural muscles. These muscles are tied into the body’s internal mechanisms that create cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Failure to give these muscles enough of a workout, the net result of prolonged sitting, creates a greater risk of these and other health problems as well as a decrease in longevity.

Where do postural muscles fit into yoga, Pilates and, yes, reflexology? The exercise of postural muscles is what these practices are all about.

The goal of Pilates is the strengthening of the core—or postural muscles. Yoga? Activation of postural muscles through its exercises. Reflexology? Reflexology’s techniques apply pressure to feet—a key signal we’re not sitting and central to postural muscle activation. Reflexology provides what may be a bit of a trompe l’oeil. While the artist’s technique fools the sensory receptors in the eye about what is being seen, the reflexologist’s work fools the pressure sensors in the feet about whether postural muscles activated. The nervous system is, thus, tricked into its estimation about activities of the postural muscles and the commiserate internal mechanisms. And, yes, research demonstrates that reflexology effects, among other things related to postural muscles, measures of cardio-vascular system and those related to diabetes.

So what’s with this increase in sales at yoga and Pilates studios and will reflexology as an investment opportunity be far behind? First, popularity translates into sales. It’s all about people responding to what their bodies need, a workout of the postural muscles. This is known as an archestructure, an innate drive to meet the physical needs of the body or “a felt or perceived function or structural feature of the nervous system, projected or unconsciously acted out in the life-style or the beliefs, customs and social structure s of the individuals concerned or of whole communities.” (Gooch, Stan F. Total Man, Ballantine Books, 1972, p. 299) Yoga, Pilates and reflexology enthusiasts are responding to something their bodies need by participating in what is, in essence, postural muscle exercise.

Next: when will investment come to the reflexology industry? Reflexology has already increased in popularity in many Western countries but if we lived in the Far East, we’d be looking at the explosive growth of a reflexology industry. Frankly, the only thing holding it back in the West is what one author refers to as traditions and expectations of how health happens. In the Far East, reflexology is a star.

It is estimated that 4 million Chinese provide reflexology services with the government seeing a shortage and calling for another million. The reflexologists practice at reflexology “parlors,” some chains with as many as 700 locations. Then, there are the medical practitioners of reflexology with “first class” reflexology licenses issued by the government working in clinics and hospitals. (By the way, the inclusion of reflexology in medicine is based on research. Consider the research monies spent to position the Chinese as world leaders in reflexology research, with hundreds if not thousands of studies that would meet NIH standards.)

Then there are the reflexology paths, special cobblestoned sidewalks, in parks where senior citizens line up twice a day to walk, considered to be a “fashionable fitness activity.” (Aside from traditions of Tap Shek (stone stepping), the Chinese frequently quote a study by the Oregon Research Institute demonstrated the benefits to seniors of such “enhanced walking.”) Rock companies offer and sell specific stones to be used for paths at one’s home. The Chinese government is currently funding paths to be built in outdoor sports facilities across the country as a part of its 10-year Fitness Program. (Imagine the construction mini-industry of path building.) Then, there’s the industry of manufacturing and selling reflexology products—mats and sandals available at any and all pharmacies.

The same could be said about the reflexology industry in other Far East countries. It’s hard to imagine a condominium complex in Singapore, a city park in Seoul or a national park in Malaysia without a reflexology park. There are reflexology kiosks in shopping malls. Japanese tourists travel to Taiwan for their specific reflexology practitioners. A Shiseido factory in Japan has found the reflexology path use improves productivity and lessens medical bill for employees.

We leave you with this thought: stand up, America. Your health and longevity will be the better for it. (A minimum of every 30 minutes is suggested by researchers) And, oh yeah, if you want to super-charge things, think yoga, Pilates and reflexology.

Barbara and Kevin Kunz

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