Before you begin reading this section, imagine your body as a densely woven network of various elements or buttons that communicate with one another. You might like to think of your cells, organs and organ systems as the nodes of this network.
They send out and receive signals. These can be nerve impulses, hormones, nutrients and other molecules as well as perceptions of the surrounding environment. This creates a basic series of oscillations within the body, a form of activity which changes according to the pattern of signals received. This dynamic process keeps our body together and ensures that balance is maintained and any inflammation produces a sense of wellbeing.
During the very stressful phases of our life, a massive increase in those signals puts such extreme pressure on the body that the control mechanisms responsible for maintaining balance become overloaded, to the point where signal transmission and processing can no longer proceed in the appropriate way. This can lead to everything from false interpretation of signals to complete incomprehension. The balance of the body is then in grave danger of being lost.
Every strain, depending on the intensity and duration, may become a stress factor. A positive strain on the body like sporting activity should not throw us off balance but rather push our body to the limit. For if we want to get fitter in order to feel better, we have to push ourselves to the limit. But we have to learn how to do this in such a way that we do not over or underdo things. Repeatedly setting ourselves different physical challenges that take us to our limits keeps the connections between the cells, organs and organ systems of our body dynamic and flexible. This applies to the body as a whole, not just the muscles and the metabolic processes.
Communication is a matter of training, with all the players involved being included in the process.
A dancing body is a healthy body –
the Melody of the Heart
A good example of this phenomenon is the communication occurring between the heart muscle or myocardial cells. The heart does not beat on a regular basis. It beats to an individual melody for each of us. This is called heart rhythm variability. The more variable the rhythm of our heart, the healthier we are. If we allow insufficient recovery time, the variability will drop. This also applies to the other cells in our body. The membranes of the cells lose their melody. It is as though they only know how to hold one note.
The body as a whole becomes very rigid. When we are chronically ill, the human body increasingly loses its innate and distinctive melody. Measuring heart rhythm variability is a good way to determine our state of health. A rigid heart may already be an indicator of chronic inflammation, before any illness breaks out. I personally am a great believer in the benefits of monitoring heart rhythm variability.
Pushing the boundaries – hard but liberating moments
Once you have decided to improve your fitness, you cannot avoid the need to push yourself to the limit on a regular basis. Leaving your comfort zone without losing your equilibrium is a delicate balancing act. Have a look at the stress scale on page ... , so that you can sense at an early stage if you are pushing yourself too hard. You will have to stay well away from the sweet things in life in order to reap the reward of good fitness combined with a feeling of contentment and wellbeing.
In order to retain that sense of wellbeing and maintain our fitness, we cannot afford to stop exercising or training. The saying, “If you rest, you rust” is sadly all-too true.
WITHOUT CHALLENGES AND REGULAR EXERCISE, WE CANNOT ACHIEVE ANY CHANGE OR TRAINING SUCCESS
Training releases inflammatory impulses, i.e. tiny little injuries to things like our muscles, which stimulate the muscle cells to grown and multiply, and the same applies to our connective tissue. It becomes tighter, more elastic and thus more robust as a result. The vascular branches (little capillaries) in the various tissue of our body produce new shoots and improve the supply of oxygen to the body. More blood makes its way into the extremities. This lessens the susceptibility to injury and increases the potential for healing.
Our metabolism is activated, glycogen is broken down (stored carbohydrates in the muscles and the liver), the sensitivity of insulin tissue receptors increases, (see Insulin section) and our fat stores are burnt off when fatty acids are converted into a source of energy for the body.
Energy production and cell breathing
The mitochondria responsible for energy production and cell breathing in every individual cell also multiply. The buffer systems preventing free oxygen radicals from harming the tissue are optimised. Reactive oxygens compounds are produced by each combustion process (oxidation) within the body. And once again it is about achieving a balance between the benefit and harm of combustion (see carbohydrates). When those combustion processes get out of hand, the underlying inflammatory processes at the interfaces of the body in particular, like the mucous membranes, are boosted. In this way our stress system (see definition) is trained on the one hand and on the other it is put under more and more pressure until the symptoms of exhaustion appear.
All these adjustments and changes are necessary if we want to avoid chronic illnesses or halt the progress of an existing chronic disease. It is always a balancing act for each one of us to maintain our equilibrium on the verge of that imbalance. Having a keen sense of our own body and the ability to keep monitoring our progress through self-observation is the prerequisite for preventing the body reaching its tipping point, where a palpable state of inflammation is reached with all the familiar symptoms.
Do not jeopardise all your training efforts through illness or injury.
We all need sufficient sleep, relaxation and recovery periods. But how much is needed varies from one person to another. Eliminating sugar from our diet and going without industrially processed foods are two of the most important precautions we can take to improve our wellbeing.
You will already be well aware that Biestmilch is my baby and something I have been working on for a good two decades now. That baby has helped me gain all the experience I have documented in this book. So I believe Biestmilch with its incomparable healing power has earned the right to take up a bit more space in the book at this point.
I have been taking it for 20 years, and for me it is one of the keys to maintaining balance. Its influence on the stress system modulates the inflammatory processes within my body, which is why Biestmilch makes my body more dynamic and flexible, and thus more robust, in the face of a gruelling workload.
Fitness improves inflammation control
Controlling the inflammatory conditions within the body is essential to wellbeing and the feeling of fitness. Irrespective of the type of training you choose to do, continuity is of the utmost importance. But the more you pressure your body, the more stressed it becomes. The processes smouldering away under the surface are ultimately responsible for an increased susceptibility to sickness and injury. Both are an expression of systemic inflammation that is in danger of getting out of control.
If you succeed in staying within your own critical limits of exertion, where the stress of training does not impair your immune system, autonomic nervous system and/or hormone regulation, you will be rewarded with a body that can withstand a good deal of wear and tear. If you fail to listen to your body and its signals and permanently overload it, inflammatory processes may gain the upper hand and subject your body to state of chronic inflammation. Then all your efforts will have been in vain. Your motivation to change your lifestyle will be wasted. No matter how much you try, everything you do will require a disproportionate amount of strength and discipline. You will feel constantly tired and disheartened. If you haven’t already given up by then, you may become sick or suffer from burnout.
Here are a few indicators to help you determine whether you are still in balance or already overtaxing yourself:
Deep and restorative sleep
No mood swings, emotionally stable
Mood swings, crankiness
Degree and duration of tiredness and exhaustion (fatigue) appropriate to the degree of exertion
Permanently tired and exhausted
Duration and degree of muscle pain lasts no longer than 3 days.
Muscle pain that lasts for many days and makes any sporting activity tortuous.
Healthy appetite, no craving for sweet treats
Stable body weight or controlled weight loss
Loss of appetite, craving for sweet treats
Weight gain or no weight loss despite appropriate exertion
Normal temperature sensation, no periodic bouts of profuse sweating in the cold or freezing in the heat
Shivering, bouts of profuse sweating, fever
Sport was a defining feature of my childhood and adolescence.
My biggest passion was dancing. I did classical ballet for 10 years and trained very hard.
This was followed by university study, a period when I hardly thought about sport or even rejected the idea of it, with the result that I became a bewildered, sleepless and somewhat lost soul. I gained weight and then tried countless diets without ever reaching my goal weight. Unfortunately it took years of wrestling with my demons before finally realising that I simply have to exercise in order to find peace of mind.
In the early 1990s, I took up running after this long period of doing no exercise whatsoever. I still run these days and also do additional strength training and feel so much better for it. I often wonder how I lost all awareness of my own body during that exercise hiatus. As you can see, my medical studies did not help me understand my own body.
I am one of the lucky ones who suffer from no allergies, despite the fact that I was not breastfed. For this reason, I am not speaking from personal experience in this next chapter, but drawing on research findings and the personal experience of others.