Exercise is Just Physical Activity

Exercise is one of the pillars of maintaining lifelong health but the word exercise has subtle negative connotations. Exercise implies work and motion simply for the sake of staying healthy. A better term in the English language would be simply physical activity, as opposed to laying around and not moving. People who work at occupations that require a lot of physical activity do not need to jog or work out to satisfy the physiological need to use muscles. Jogging and working out can be excellent recreation but should never be seen as a substitute for chopping wood, pulling weeds, painting a house, or or chasing unruly children around the house.

Necessity of Moving Muscles

The human body, when compared to an inanimate machine, is an assembly of pipes, pumps, levers, double acting hydraulic cylinders, filters, sewer system, boiler, radiator, and a PLC, a Programmable Logic Controller. They all work together for their assigned purpose and when one is irreparably broken the whole machine is ready for the trash pile.

The heart is a pump that cannot function well in isolation; it requires help from muscles to move blood through the entire machine. The lymph vessels are part of both the sewer and sewage treatment plant. They are one-way pipes with no pump to move things along. Physical movement of the entire machine is needed to slosh the treated fluids up to the heart to complete the treatment. Lungs without the huge muscle called the diaphragm would be worthless, and without the lungs the muscles would shut down. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and mechanical ventilators can hopefully keep a person alive long enough to restore lung and muscle function.

The brain is the PLC. It has a lymphatic system and circulatory system too. Locked inside a protective skull, it relies on muscles in the middle layer of arteries to control pressures generated from the heart and other external muscles. It’s probably a mistake to liken the brain to a PLC or computer because it doesn’t seem to be easily programmable. Nevertheless it’s the master control center that receives both electrical and chemical signals from all parts of the body. It usually behaves normally, especially in younger people. Sometimes in older people the brain is counter-productive and doesn’t permit muscles to do their job.


The brain receives signals from the muscles and tendons and sends signals back to the muscles to tell the muscles what to do. This keeps a person in balance and moving appropriately for the task at hand. Inflammation and the pain it generates tell the brain that something is wrong so the brain limits the signals going to the muscles to help turn off the pain. Old people know only too well the reduced muscle strength and pain from conditions such as arthritis that limit their ability to move. This may mean their days are numbered or it could be a challenge to find a way to keep moving. One thing is certain: When the movement stops, everything begins to deteriorate rapidly, muscles, heart, brain, and all the rest.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain lasting more than 6 months and a fifth of Americans have it. The natural tendency is to rest to avoid the pain. This leads to a downward spiral of reduced muscle strength leading to more pain and to even more inactivity (rest).

In most cases of chronic pain, appropriate activity is essential to avoid the downward spiral even if it hurts. Doctors and physical therapists can often help to overcome the hurdle back to appropriate activity. Usually pain medication is not the best route. Anti-inflammatory agents, nutrition, proper hydration, good sleep, diaphragmatic breathing, and exposure to sunlight can all work synergistically to lower pain levels and permit resumption of activity.