The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

When Did Health Become Thinking Out Of The Box?

We're just back from teaching the medical school elective in wilderness medicine. Each year I teach there, working over my birthday. Same food as last year. But the creek was thinly iced - good for ice swimming.

Before lecturing, I worried that my information on health - stand up straight, eat right, exercise, "and all that," would be so known and obvious to the bright young medical students that it would bore them. Instead, it was called, "Out of the box." When did health become out of the box?

I spent years of my career in a lab as a serious, intensely number-checking research scientist. I worked to ensure that we knew what truly worked, and what was hype, unrelated, or just wrong. I made certain that what I discovered and developed for patients was squarely right, practical, and in the best interest of the patient (and fun too, which is health). All I pursued was The Truth. Matt Cartmill once said, "As a youth I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life. So I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet women."

Why is bypass surgery, angioplasty, stents, obesity, diabetes, and medications with uncomfortable, unhealthful side effects considered normal, while eating a vegetarian diet is labeled wacky and extreme when it is medically documented to stop and prevent heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other prevalent conditions that rob people of joy in life?

In my diving medicine lectures, I wanted students to see how the information worked and how it relates to many things in and out of diving, not just dictate lists of conditions to memorize. I showed slides, asking them to identify why an accident would happen on the way down versus up and why. I told them that if they understood, they would not have to memorize. I just wanted them to think. As my father once enlightened me, "Jolie, you're asking a lot!"

In the orthopedic lectures, I taught the same principles I tell in this Fitness Fixer blog of gaining great physical improvements without making pain and injury in the first place. After one of my lectures, students scattered for personal time, while a few stayed in the lecture hall, bent over laptops. They sat hunched, rubbing sore shoulders. Eventually one nudged the other, "Get the doc, she's right here." After some indecision, one student asked me to give him stretches to fix the pain of working at the computer. I told him you can sit and work without getting pain in the first place, and why didn't I show him that, instead of a stretch as an "antidote." He protested that the computer made his neck hurt. I agreed that the way he was sitting would do that, and repeated that you can easily sit and work in a way that doesn't cause the pain in the first place. More protests came, that as students they had to work on the computer long hours.

Medicine is not supposed to consist of allowing bad things to happen so that you can do a cool procedure to try to reverse it. Readers, do you want to try what I showed him and get a free house-call right now?
  • I moved his chair in close to the table where he was working. Move yours in close now.
  • Standing behind him with my hands on his shoulders, I gently pulled his upper body up and back to rest against the chair back. At home you can feel me guide your shoulders and upper body back.
  • Next, keep the chin gently in, not jutting forward.
  • We moved his computer back from the front edge of the table to make room to rest his forearms while using the keyboard. If you use a "below-desk" keyboard tray, it is often better to move the keyboard back to the desk. Don't crane your wrists, making a new problem. Relax and breathe.
  • I told them that at my own desks, I raise computer on a shelf, block, or book about 10 inches higher than desk level, and use a cheap external keyboard. Even without these helpful changes, you don't have to round forward over a laptop.
  • The seat back of the lecture chairs were concave - shaped to curve like the letter "C" so that you sat rounded forward. This is a common problem in many chairs, even some called ergonomic chairs. Another of the students mentioned he had a commercial lumbar roll at home. It was expensive and he didn't use it much because it was uncomfortable. I showed them how to use a small soft roll, which can be your gloves or light sweater, nothing fancy or expensive. Nestle it in the small inward curve of the lower back, then press your upper back, not lower back, against the chair back so that you can sit straight and lean back, instead of rounding forward. Pressing the lower back against the lumbar roll is a common way to make it useless and uncomfortable.

It turned out that most of the young, active, outdoorsy, academically talented medical students had muscle and joint pain. So did many of the top ranked physician faculty. Several told me they thought their pain was normal from their activities, from studying, their fallen arches, or body structure. They regularly took anti-inflammatory medicines and thought they needed special shoes.

You probably heard not to slouch since you were a child. That easy medicine hasn't changed. You heard to eat vegetables for health and an apple a day to keep the doctor away. I think only a few of the medical students I was teaching caught on, and will help others with what they learned. It can be so easy. As for the rest? Who is the one who is out of the box?

Are you doing unhealthy sitting without realizing it, during work, play, and exercise?:
Are You Making Your Exercise Unhealthy?
Disc Pain - Not a Mystery, Easy to Fix
Sitting Badly Isn't Magically Healthy by Calling It a Hamstring Stretch.

How to use your own muscles for healthy foot and ankle mechanics to prevent pain:

It's not the backpacks, but mostly how you carry them that makes or stops back pain:

All-in-one resources for healthier pain free life:
  • Fix Your Own Pain Without Drugs or Surgery. Chapters on fixing each kind of pain plus patient stories in every chapter tell how things work, why, and why not.
  • Health & Fitness THIRD ed - How to Be Healthy Happy and Fit For The Rest of Your Life. Exercise, food, health, fixing pain, functional built-in healthy life, family, mental, it's all here.
  • Healthy Martial Arts. Top level book for any athlete or those who would like to be.
  • Click the link

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Photo by fischerhuder

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.