Fitness After 50: Exercises for the chronically, mentally paralyzed – part one

VickiTruFitPromo1webBy Vicki Morgan, CPT

Immobility is depressing and de-motivating. It is internally, physically and mentally destructive.

And yet, despite our efforts to break free, some of us remain paralyzed and unable to move. Mental paralysis can be born of fear, anxiety, depression, grief, despair, medication or disease. Those who have never suffered from immobility have no idea what it’s really like. A sufferer usually can’t just “snap out of it” or “visualize” their way out of it.

Compounding the depression is the prospect that we may be a burden to those we love. Hopefully, those we love will press on, never ceasing to extend a lifeline to us as we wrestle with our fall into an unexplainable abyss.  At our lowest point, the best thing we can do for ourselves and those around us is to never give up hope. But if hope itself seems to elude us, there is one final thing.

We can lift a limb. A finger. A foot. A hand. From the folds of our couch, from the fortress of our bed, we can lift one limb. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well it is. It’s a lot. Consider what happens in your body when you lift a finger.

Muscles move on commands from the brain. So the moment you have a thought like, “I want to wiggle my finger”, your entire being responds. Thousands of nerve cells in the spinal cord, called motor neurons, are fired-up, so to speak.  They’re ready for action. That impulse travels down the cell’s axon to the muscle, and a chemical is released at the end. Muscles are connected to each other via long fibers by a ratchet mechanism, which allows the two parts to slide past each other and then lock into position. When the chemical impulse from the neuron hits the muscle, the muscle fibers ratchet past each other, overlapping each other more, so that the muscle gets shorter and fatter. Now you’re bending that finger. When the impulses to move stop, the muscle fibers slide back to their original positions.

How does the brain translate the idea of lifting a finger into a muscle command? In stages. In your brain, the commands in the neurons represent movements – like “wiggle the finger.” The cortex connects to a sort of router in the spinal cord that overlays the motor neurons. The router lays out each possible finger position in space. Each desired finger position is then detected and spit out like ticker tape. It translates into a collection of specific commands and is deployed to motor neurons and muscles for obedience.

So when you flop over in your bed from sheer apathy, you’re doing a lot more work than you think. Go ahead. Try flopping over. Then flop back again. And over again. Big sigh. Again. Lift your arm in surrender, then flop it back down. Do it again. And again. Lift a leg. Let it flop back down. Do it again. And again. Guess what you’re doing? You’re developing a good habit. You’re becoming addicted to those chemicals which assist in the movement. Albeit slowly, you’re becoming more reliant on the extra oxygen that it takes to move. So congratulations! You’re now exercising. Stay tuned for part two of this article, coming up next month. And hang in there.

Vicki Morgan A.C.E. is a Senior Strength & Fitness Trainer at Flex Gym and Fitness. She is also a professional blog writer and audio podcast producer. Consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. If you experience pain or difficulty, stop and consult your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to take the place of any treatment or activity your physician has deemed necessary. 

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