Monday, May 30, 2011

Plasticity - A Key to Lifestyle?

Focus. Breathe in. Chest strains desperately, sucking in only a trickle of air. Unconscious of tent enclosing his head, sides dripping humidity, but feeding him life giving oxygen. Releasing breath, gasping in again, previous breath forgotten, concentrate on the next one. Nothing else matters...only one more breath, one more breath, one more breath. Sleep? Only forever. Concentrate, one more breath, then the next one, the next one...
Periodically a nurse looked in on the young asthmatic with concern. At 3:00 am she called the intern, who administered a shot of adrenaline. There was an immediate easing in the boy's desperate gasping, relenting to a heavy wheezing, in and out. The child soon dropped off to sleep, his first sleep since admission 2 days ago.
The year was 1957. Corticosteroids had been introduced several years previously, but were not yet in general use in British Columbia's interior. Puffers (inhalers) were not available. A shot of adrenaline (epinephrine) could temporarily alleviate a severe asthma attack by over-stimulating the entire body, and incidentally causing enough vasodilation in the lungs to ease breathing, but epinephrine didn't exist in the many forms and concentrations now available, and too many shots, too close together, could be more dangerous than asthma to the over-strained cardiovascular system of a six year old asthmatic. Once the stimulant effect of the adrenaline wore off, the asthma attack returned and stayed until it had run its course.
When your prime imperative is the next breath, and you know that failure to concentrate, means failure to breathe, over the course of time there develops an ability to focus on importance (whatever that is to you) and a corresponding ability to block distractions
"Get him exercising regularly or he'll be bed-ridden for life," the young physician informed his mother. Advice diametrically opposed to what other physicians had advised regarding her 12 year old son. Exercise will bring on attacks and endanger his life, they said. But severe attacks continued. THAT advice wasn't working.
He was enrolled in a District basketball program. Lack of skills and lack of breath made basketball a struggle and that year he missed 46 days of school, his most ever. His parents worried that perhaps they'd made the wrong decision, had worsened the situation. But after the summer break, at the boy's insistence, he was allowed to play the sport in grade 7.
Now, the determination he had applied to breathing for survival in hospital, he applied to pushing his body to stand the strains of basketball.
Even so, the mile run for grade 8 basketball try-outs was an ordeal that recalled his hospital stays. Breath sucked in to straining lungs, legs being willed to keep pumping forward, despite numbness and fatigue. The result? Finish a distant last behind 40 other boys.
In grade 10 he had his last asthma attack. In grade 12 he ran a mile in 5 1/4 minutes. At the age of 40 he discovered he was pre-diabetic. By age 60 he was still pre-diabetic and, in many ways, in better shape than he'd been at 40, an example of the power of Plasticity.
Plasticity is the body's ability to change in response to internal or external environmental changes. Alter the physical stressors on your body, alter your body's nutritional input, and you WILL change your body. That's good news and bad news.
The good news is that plasticity can alter your body in ways most physicians neither acknowledge nor understand to over-come physical limitations. The bad news is that plasticity can alter a strong, healthy body, in ways the FDA and major food manufacturers neither acknowledge, nor wish you to understand, to create physical limitations.
Neuroplasticity, the ability of the human brain to change neural structure in response to new experience and information is one of the hottest, most exciting areas of current brain research.
New research on neuroplasticity is demonstrating that, not only can neural pathways be modified and new ones formed between existing neurons, the brain is can even generate entirely new braincells. This neural regeneration, formerly believed to be impossible after age three or four, has now been shown to occur even up to the age of 70 and beyond.
Change the mental stressors on your brain, alter input, and, as with physical plasticity, you WILL change your brain. For better or worse.


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