Consider this scenario. A tree stands in a large backyard by itself. The owner of the house decides that the tree needs to go and gets out his saw and begins to saw through a small section of the trunk. However the tree is large and the effort is great to get through the entire trunk, and hence the owner decides to saw a bit each day until eventually the trunk is completely severed and the tree falls. On day 10, with the tree still standing and the trunk just holding together a big gust of wind from a storm hits the tree and subsequently the tree falls.
So what caused the tree to fall? Logic tells us that it was the wind as the tree fell when the wind struck the tree. But would the tree have fallen if the trunk was not already weakened by the actions of the owner who was progressively cutting through the trunk?
While it may seem strange to ponder, this scenario is very similar to how many health conditions develop. You see most health conditions have a history behind them that is often the driver that leads to the end result. Take type 2 diabetes for example. Inactivity is a substantial risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. In fact a study looking at 4000 people and the duration of time spent sitting, found that those people who sat for 12 hours or less per week decreased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 75%. Comparatively, those who sat for 25 or more hours a week had a significantly elevated risk of diabetes as well as other cardiovascular and metabolic conditions.
It is important to note that the results of the study were not based on 1 week of activity monitoring, but rather the accumulated effects of such lifestyle choices. Just like the tree trunk, our bodies accrue the damage associated with our habits and behaviours. It may take years for these to manifest into a medical condition such as type 2 diabetes but ultimately the more damage we accrue, the closer we get.
This is also the case with movement and injury. Many a person has described the moment their back “went out on them” leaving them in crippling pain. Often a simple movement such as reaching down to tie up shoelaces is the culprit, however such a common and low load movement pattern is unlikely to be solely responsible for causing such extreme back pain. A faulty movement pattern – such as bending through the back rather than recruiting the hips – that is repeated over time will again cause damage to accumulate. The final movement that caused the problem is what is affectionately known as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
This information presents some important points to remember when looking to improve your health. Firstly it draws attention to the importance of persistence with lifestyle changes. Most chronic diseases develop over years and as a result can take a substantial amount of time to respond to change. Secondly, it makes us realise that those actions that we use most often are the ones that have the greatest impact. Exercise is a great tool for increasing the amount of movement we do each day, however, if we exercise for 1 hour and sit for the remainder of the day we still end up leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Finally, it gives us motivation to create and continue to change. Having the ability to influence your own health destiny and have a positive impact on your wellbeing helps to put into perspective the control we have over our health outcomes.