The human body is remarkable. You are constantly in a state of adaptation to ensure survival. Your body recognizes the changing surroundings and alters how it functions to be better suited for those changes. And it does so without you even having to think about it.
If you use a rake, your hands will be sore and likely even blister. Over time, with continued raking, your body will lay down extra thick, tougher layers of skin on your hands so you can better handle the work. These calluses are your body’s way of protecting you from pain and ensuring that you can do that kind of work.
If you use a particular muscle over and over to perform an activity, the body will increase the size and strength of that muscle, knowing that it will help you to be better at performing that task, with less effort.
While the body’s ability to adapt by building things up is well known and appreciated, there is an adaptive response by the body in the opposite direction. If something is unused, over time, the body will breakdown and dismiss specific functions and processes. If you’ve ever had a cast on your arm, you know what I mean. After six weeks, when that cast comes off, that forearm muscle is half the size of the other one. Why? Because the body adheres to a “use it or lose it” principle. The muscle atrophies (shrinks) because it is not being used.
A lot of what we consider sickness and disease is actually the body functioning in a smart and appropriate way. Why would the body expend energy and resources on keeping a muscle big and strong if it is not being used? It puts its energy and attention on whatever is being used the most and whatever is needed most.
Think about bones. There is a condition in which the density of the bone can weaken to a point that it is prone to breaking, called osteoporosis. Everybody talks about this thinning of bones as a natural part of aging. Guess what else typically happens as people age? They move less, lift less, and do less. So guess what the body says? We don’t need thick bones because we don’t do much activity. So instead of wasting energy, time, and resources on laying down thick bone that isn’t needed, it puts its attention on more urgent matters.
People are surprised when I tell them that when astronauts come down from outer space, if up there long enough, they will have osteoporosis. Now how could some of the most fit, best eating, most well-trained professionals get osteoporosis? Well… because they are in an environment where there is no gravitational pull, thus no pressure on their joint and bones, the body intelligently stops laying down bone. Why? Because they don’t need thick bone in outer space. But, once they land back on earth, and that gravitational force returns, the body instantly starts rebuilding and strengthening the bones.
Be aware of the body’s adaptive tendency and ability. If you are watching the news and being put into a fearful, anxious state, your body will release the hormones and chemicals associated with actual harmful events which lower the immune system and increase your risk of anxiety, depression, and feelings of despair. If you’ve been staying indoors, your muscle mass and bone density have weakened. Striving to be germ-free, avoiding all microbes, and hyper-sanitizing your environment lead to infections if exposed to pathogens as your body’s defense system becomes weaker.
This has been a time when the most important things we could do to help ensure our best outcomes to exposure to a virus have been actively avoided. Use it or lose it! It’s time to start using your body and building it back up.