Juggling And Your Immune Memory

It is a rare person that doesn’t go through a long period in ‘middle age’ with little or no illness. The seasonal colds, even flues, disappear. The old allergies seem to disappear, the eczema disappears or improves; for the observant this seems like an amazing transformation. Too often it winds up, in the person’s mind, endorsing their, then current, ‘lifestyle.’ Hmmm…maybe that morning fruit smoothie and afternoon soy protein power drink are just what I needed!

Well, what is really going on is that their immune memory, their repertoire of immunological responses to insults is vast; they have the accumulated immunological experience of every childhood, young adulthood and their own children’s illnesses and near illness at their immune beck-and-call. As time passes, their immune memory fades; the kids aren’t bringing new immune challenges home, their friends too are in this immune ‘eye of the hurricane’ and so aren’t around as much re-challenging their immunity. How many times have I heard “I never get sick” from some guy in his 40’s, 50’s or even 60’s? Well, for now, ‘many’ will have to be as precise as I can be but I hope the point is made.

You can fix this- you can reacquire your vast youthful immune repertoire for the next 50 years- by being around the Grand kids, or by being an old guy with a young family- this has been my approach and I must report it is a lot of work just to avoid the later occasional cold (well worth it though).

But this is all a prelude to talk about juggling! And standing back-flips. And floor kips and bar kips and Karate, the Tango and touch football. Many of you will have read me or listened to me enough to know there is a thread here and one that I think will help you be healthy.

There has been a recent spate of books for kids to help them do the things that would have been everyday events in the lives of an older generation. “How to Build a Fire,” “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” “The Daring Book for Girls” are examples of this phenomenon. They explain in patient detail how to make a battery, sow a hem, build a campfire, build a snow shelter, paint your nails; you get the idea. My first reaction when I saw these books was…”You need a book for this?” Then of course a reverie of the changes in society, culture and urban sprawl set in…my next thought was “thank you for helping to recover simple self-sufficiency.” I must admit my third response was…”these guys are canny businessmen!”

Finally the doc in me went…oh yeah, I remember the open fields where we played flies and grounders and football and tag. Sometimes we fought and wrestled in the dirt. If you were suburban you had an empty lot or urban, you might have had a parking lot or torn down building site. In this setting everyone, even geeks, became to some degree or another an athlete.

Then middle age set in…while our immune memory was protecting us our childhood athleticism was also protecting us: from high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis, stroke and heart attack. Our hands didn’t have a tremor, our heads did not droop, as much at least, and our coordination was intact…man I caught those keys before they hit the ground. Am I good or what? Then one day we didn’t catch them; in fact we tripped trying to do so and may have broken our wrist or bruised our derriere. And then, final insult, we even caught a cold!

This past Saturday I was over at Mary Burks’ LifewoRx (http://lifeworxfitness.com/index.html); they had a new crash-pad which was perfect for spotting some of my kids as they learned how to do a standing back flip.  Then everyone wanted to try it too. They wanted to try even if it finally scared them enough not to try. By the way the bravest soul over there was a girl so this is not a macho story.

The fun, the terror, the desire of everyone there that afternoon reminded me of how exciting it can be to master a new physical challenge. Now ‘physical’ means the brain, the spine, the entire neurological, cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal set of systems. A standing back flip is a ‘bang!’ wonderful expression of athleticism; it is also a wonderful, wordless experience of joy. The same is true of juggling, a floor kip or a Tango.

As a young gymnast we talked about ‘stunts’ and ‘tricks’ in one way and a ‘routine’ or ‘event’ in another.  And this is the distinction I want to examine.  It is one thing to ‘hit’ a peachbasket on the parallel bars and another related but very different thing to have a successful routine.

Your coordination, like your immune repertoire, is renewable. Your strength and mass and bone density too. But sometimes just going to the gym or your favorite hill can be just one repetition too many. And then that can turn into months or years of not doing anything. Nothing. Just getting old and frail; even if you are only 30. Don’t think so, can’t happen to you? Well, take it from an old musclehead doc, it can. And here is where juggling or a standing back flip comes into the picture.

Pick something: juggle three balls, a standing back flip, ‘ward off left’ from your Tai Chi of yesteryear; then make it perfect. Make it that ‘bang!’ of physical joy.

You are not too old to juggle or even do a standing back flip. Now it is too late to become a gymnast, too late to be a great dancer but it is not too late to do a floor kip, juggle, ‘ward off left’, or any of a number of ‘bang!’ stunts or tricks of joy.

And here is the best part; simply wanting to can be the fuel of desire that can turn on everything else. Would you like to do a standing back flip? Always wanted to? Didn’t do it then and think you can’t now? Baloney!! You can. Now, you may need to lose 20 pounds of fat, you may need to strengthen that creaky old knee and become more limber; but shouldn’t you do these things anyway?

At least learn to juggle. Even keeping 3 balls up in the air for a full minute can be a real thrill.

Smile, Have Fun, God Speed,

Dr. Mike

PS If enough people are interested I will see that someone around here has a spotting belt so that you can learn to do a back flip. I’m going to do it…again.

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