No matter where your ancestors were from, they all shared something in common: they were all fit, and we have inherited their genes. Hunter-gatherers and then farmers worked herds and were free from many of the health problems that plague current generations.
The concept of an “exercise program” would have been foreign to even our grandparents, whose daily lives involved much more physical activity than ours.
I am not painting a rosy picture of the past–there were plenty of other public health issues, but inactivity was not one of them. We eat too much and do too little, whereas our ancestors did a lot and (sometimes) ate too little!
Physical activity is the basis for good health. We were born with the capacity for boundless energy and if it is not built into our lifestyle, we must create a sustainable exercise program to ensure that our bodies remain strong.
Each of the systems that make up our bodies benefits from frequent movement. Hearts become stronger, lungs expand, digestion speeds up, bones regenerate and muscles build mass. We need strong bodies in order to exercise and we need to exercise in order to be strong!
Herbs can play an important role in maintaining the strong bodies required for sustained physical exertion.
Every now and then, an herb is touted in the media as a magic potion for endurance or weight loss, but there are no quick fixes. Don’t be tempted to take herbal diuretics to lose weight. It’s much more important to remain well-hydrated during periods of intense exercise.
Regular use of some of the herbs listed below can strengthen and maintain different body functions, making exercise easier and increasing endurance. Use them freely as tonics in whatever form suits you best – teas, tinctures, capsules etc. Don’t continue taking any herbal medicines indefinitely: use them for a few weeks and then take a break.
For the Heart: Hawthorn, Motherwort
For the Circulatory System: Ginkgo, Garlic, Cayenne
For the Respiratory System: Mullein, Coltsfoot
For Joints and Muscles: Alfalfa, Parsley, Horsetail, Seaweeds
It isn’t just our physical well-being that depends on exercise. We need to remain physically active for our mental health as well. We all know the pleasure of physical exhaustion at the end of an active day, and how sharply that contrasts with fretful nights when stress keeps us awake! One theory is that a lot of stress is caused by unrequited “fight or flight” responses. We no longer literally flee…
Herbs also have a role to play in post exercise, though you should not be routinely pushing your body to the point of pain or damage.
Arnica can be used to treat sprains and bruises, and wintergreen can be used to treat sore or strained muscles. In cases of serious over-extension, there are many reliable anti-inflammatory herbs, such as wild yam or licorice, and pain relievers such as willow bark and wintergreen.
At the time of this writing, Victoria Jungwirth was the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants, living in a remote corner of Marquette County where she and her husband built birch bark canoes. She was also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.
Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2010 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2010, Intuitive Learning Creation. All rights reserved.