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Gravity: Enemy or ally?

Dear Chuck, when it comes to health, it seems as if gravity is our enemy, causing baggy eyes and drooping body parts. Is there any way besides surgery to reverse the curse? – “Groping With Gravity,” Glasgow, Scotland

One self-proclaimed nomadic Internet philosopher wrote, “I want to lose weight by eating nothing but moon pies, which have significantly less gravity than earthier foods such as fruits and vegetables.”

Now that’s funny. And wouldn’t it be great if it were true?

When it comes to gravity, however, the truth is closer to what Hall of Fame basketball legend Michael Jordan once said: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. … My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”

That’s the key in reversing and utilizing the power of gravity. Gravity grips all our lives and seeks to pull us down, literally. But gravity is free, so why not also use it to our advantage by turning it from a perceived weakness into a strength?

Let me show you how two people – a fellow health enthusiast and I – have done that.

A prolific author and our friend, Rick Newcombe, testified to my wife, Gena, and me how at 60 years of age – though in great physical shape – he was lifting a heavy briefcase into the passenger seat of his car, when he felt a painful pop in his shoulder. An orthopedic surgeon told him that he had a tiny rotator cuff tear. So he tried many things – including physical therapy, acupuncture, light dumbbells and a couple of cortisone shots – but nothing provided ultimate relief.

While considering surgery, Rick read about the natural remedies in “Shoulder Pain? The Solution & Prevention,” by Dr. John Kirsch, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has been practicing medicine and surgery for 35 years. Rick tapped into Wolff’s law, developed by German anatomist and surgeon Julius Wolff (1836-1902). It states that bone in a healthy person will adapt to the loads it is placed under.

Rick discovered that he could remodel his shoulder through his own hard work, as opposed to a passive solution, such as surgery or massage therapy. Using gravity and his own weight, he followed Dr. Kirsch’s advice and started hanging from a bar for 15-20 minutes a day. Rick sometimes would use his full body weight, but most of the time, he put his feet on a stool, hanging completely for only the last five to 10 seconds of a 30-second hang. After just 30 days, Rick noticed remarkable improvement. He had a full range of motion in his shoulder, and the impingement had been reduced dramatically – all because he investigated and took advantage of gravity and natural healing alternatives.

The utilization of gravity and free weights (including ourselves) is one reason I’m a big advocate of resistance training. Livestrong.com says resistance exercise “can be done using the body parts in opposition to each other or another static force – or by using weights or machines.”

In a former article, “Resistance Training: A Fountain of Youth?”, I discussed how there are multiple benefits of resistance exercise besides muscular ones, including improved executive cognitive function (i.e., abilities necessary for independent living) and even economic savings on health care.

One of the reasons I have endorsed the Total Gym since 1976 is it utilizes body weight and gravity to produce some of the best resistance training I know.

Most people know that I endorse the Total Gym. What they might not know is how I was introduced to that great exercise machine.

I actually learned about the Total Gym by chance. I had pulled a rotator cuff lifting weights, and I was going to have it operated on. About that time, I got a call from Larry Westfall and Tom Campanaro, who had just developed their machine for rehab centers.

They told me that the Total Gym could rehabilitate my shoulder and that I wouldn’t need the operation. I was skeptical, but I decided to give it a try. Tom and Larry came to my home, set up the machine and showed me the exercises they wanted me to do. They said to try it for six weeks and see how I felt. So I did.

In six weeks, my shoulder was healed, and I was able to resume my jujitsu training. I remember thinking to myself, “I feel stronger and more flexible.” I finally realized it was my exercising on the Total Gym that had done it.

I called Tom and Larry and told them that it not only had rehabbed my rotator cuff but also had increased my strength. They said, “Sure, because of the elongated movements on the Total Gym, it builds up not only muscle strength but also tendon strength.”

That was 1976. I’ve been working out with the Total Gym for 35 years, and it’s as much a part of my life as my martial arts training, which I’ve been doing since 1960.

Though not negating the need for surgery in some situations, my friend Rick Newcombe and I have experienced healing and increased strength by regarding gravity as our ally and not our enemy. And I believe that a host of readers can, too.