By John Polley
Blanket statements like this usually annoy me, but I really mean this one. I mean it because variety makes variety better and variety makes uniformity better too. Variety enhances mental, emotional, and physical outcomes and experiences, for all humans. If you’ll join me, I’d love to share with you why…
Before we get into this, let’s establish a salient point. I’m not suggesting that you get better at doing a specific thing by doing lots of other things, without doing that specific thing repeatedly over a long period of time. However, can doing other things complement, enhance and perfect that specific thing, whether it be mental, emotional, physical or all three?
Oh, yes indeed!
Starting with mental variety, is it possible that variety in ideas and language mitigate or prevent disease? The ongoing Nun Study by David Snowdon suggests YES! Of all the nuns studied, 80% of those who were deemed to have a lack of linguistic density in their twenties, developed Alzheimer’s disease in old age. However, of those nuns considered to have great linguistic density only 10% went on to develop the disease.
We can balance this with the concept of the “daydream effect” (Mann & Cadman, 2014). In other words, we experience huge increases in creativity as a result of being bored. Therefore, mental experiences from passive/boring through to stimulating/creative all have benefits to our mental ability.
Looking at emotional variety an “emodiversity” study of over 35,000 people found that people with a “high emodiversity score” had lower rates of depression, even lower than those who scored higher in purely positive emotions. Our adaptability was greater according to the variety in range of emotions experienced (Quoidbach, et al., 2014).
As you can imagine, we’ve only scratched the surface of variety as it applies to mental and emotional worlds. Let’s scratch the physical surface now too.
Variety in the Physical Realm
Davis’s Law states that our tissues lay down along the lines of stress. In other words, our physical patterns create strong highways and byways through our body; which is good, right? Well, yes and no…
My professional golfer clients, for example, build lots of fascial tissue around their torso from all the rotation, which is very elastic rotating one way and far less the other. Contrast this with the demands on a cyclist’s body with very little movement in the upper body, which means less tissue and movement capability there, but huge amounts of muscle and fascia built in a linear fashion in the lower body, the ‘movement driver’ in this case. Each body has adapted to the demands placed upon it, but does this mean it’s healthy, useful or optimal?
The tissues of our body have been mapped beautifully by people like Thomas Myers with Anatomy Trains and Prof Stephen Levin with his concept of biotensegrity. Essentially, what we now understand as the way we are physically organised and indeed, function, is as a multi-directional arrangement of our soft tissues which form an elastic matrix of continuous tension. When healthy and balanced, this tension maintains open, stable joints and allows for end range motion in all three dimensions.
So, what do you think happens with a narrow band of movements, performed day in and day out? Let’s just say it isn’t equilibrium, strength and physical freedom!
What other physical variability markers are considered beneficial? Well, the list is long, but here are a few:
- Heart rate variability, or the time lapse between each heart beat is considered far healthier if it varies, rather than has a metronomic consistency.
- Training strength in three dimensions, contribute to what is ‘complete’ strength in humans. Two of my coaches were heavily into traditional lifting and gave it up for a few months to master 3 dimensional strength training. They both returned to their traditional training at a higher level!
- Mobility – speed of movement, angles of movement, with what force to create the ‘safety’ required for increased range of movement is all about varying the input and area of the human to place that input.
- Play – essential! Angles, speeds, force profile, range of movement, mental engagement, emotional response – all benefit the human on all levels. Get it into your training week now!
- PTAG mostyle – find out if you, or your clients are traditional, hybrid or progressive movers for best knowledge of what variability will work best.
- Hormones – these respond according to the stimulus. Example: steady state cardio improved the learning ability and behaviour of school kids in John Ratey’s book Spark by driving up levels of the hormone BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor). HIIT, done correctly, drives up IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1) and HGH (human growth hormone). Different intensities means different hormone profiles. Vary the input, vary the response.
- Environment – a fantastic way to vary the input is to do the same thing in a different environment. I run on soft sand quite regularly. It’s so different to hard surfaces and creates such a different response in my body, mind and emotions.
Putting It Altogether
Therefore, training in a variety of ways benefits the tissues of our bodies so they become stronger, more resilient, and adaptable. Moving with variety also has a knock on effect in that it trains the brain to learn new things kinaesthetically, creating new neural pathways and increased resistance to health disorders, especially in later life. Varying training according to movement personality then creates emotional connection and improved levels of positivity, reducing stress and improving quality of life.
Variety truly is the spice of life. Try something different today!
Leven, S. M., MD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.biotensegrity.com/
Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Creativity Research Journal, 26(2), 165-173. doi:10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
Myers, T. W. (2014). Anatomy trains: myofascial meridians for manual and movement therapists. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (2013). Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little, Brown.
Riley, K. P., Snowdon, D. A., Desrosiers, M. F., & Markesbery, W. R. (2005). Early life linguistic ability, late life cognitive function, and neuropathology: findings from the Nun Study. Neurobiology of Aging, 26(3), 341-347. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2004.06.019
Quoidbach, J., Gruber, J., Mikolajczak, M., Kogan, A., Kotsou, I., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Emodiversity and the emotional ecosystem. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(6), 2057-2066. doi:10.1037/a0038025
John Polley (JP) is the founder of BE FREE movement lifestyle wellness in North Beach, where he specialises in helping people move as effectively as possible. His client base stretches from people with previously debilitating conditions like osteoarthritis, through to professional sports people. His methods are similarly wide ranging, from hands onbodywork following the principles of the myofascial lines, through to complex and challenging fitness training techniques, all designed individually for each client’s needs. His mantra is “train or treat the human being, not the human body”.