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How do People Become ‘Diseased’?

Disease doesn't happen happens over time in response to largely controllable factors. As personal trainers we need to ensure our clients are always moving along the 'health continuum' in the right direction.

When we talk about a ‘disease’ what we are really talking about is some cells in our body that aren’t doing what they are supposed to.  This breakdown in cell function is essentially ‘disease’.

Cells don’t stop doing what they are supposed to overnight, they deteriorate gradually.  For instance we don’t suddenly stop processing sugar properly, but rather our cells over time stop detecting or processing it as well as they should. 

What leads to this gradual deterioration in function is a change in the environment and the demands that are placed on the cells.  For example if the cells that line the capillaries (endothelial cells) are scoured by salt and then abundant cholesterol is laid down into the damaged areas arteriosclerosis begins.  It could also be a change in the nutrients available to the cells when they try to repair themselves.  Or, it could be damage to the cells DNA because the environment is full of free radicals because there aren’t enough anti-oxidants around to mop them up.  Fundamentally the way we eat, exercise, drink, sleep, stress and the carcinogens we expose ourselves to affects our health, cell by cell, day by day.

personal training unhealthy livingSo, if our health is the sum total of our cells collective function then someone who is unhealthy has cells that aren’t in a good way or are in a bad environment with only time keeping them from eventual capitulation.  And, we can measure in some ways the environment and/or the cells function to detect the ‘risk factors’ of eventually getting a disease.  For example if we took someone’s BMI at '32' we could say they are obese and their cells will be taking a hammering.  If we looked at how well a person’s body could cope with a known bolus (intake) of sugar we could comment on the function of their insulin.  We could also measure their cholesterol levels and HDL/LDL ratio to get an idea of the fats in their blood stream.  In this way we are looking for evidence that the environment the cells are in is problematic and/or the cells are beginning to fade in function.

Here is a continuum which can be used to represent the journey our cells take from healthy to diseased. personal training unhealthy continuum

Notionally a cell is healthy when it is doing exactly what it was designed for.  With a change in risk factors (environment) a cell may then become unhealthy as its function deteriorates showing early signs of disease by not producing as much as it should, as often as it should, or not responding in the normal way.  For example a blood vessel wall may not be as pliable, or the tissue in the respiratory tract may not remain relaxed and respond with inflammation to triggers.  At this stage we can respond by ‘tidying up’ our habits and getting back on track to healthy living.

If we don’t act, we may then see symptoms of a disease with some or all of the cells becoming damaged beyond repair.  This means we will need to fix up our habits to ease the load on the damaged cells and may mean we need medications or other forms of intervention.

There can also be ‘collateral’ damage as the body operates as a closed and linked internal system and downstream effects occur when one set of cells isn’t working efficiently.  For example with Diabetes the sugary blood is harder to push through the finer capillaries of the body so eye, feet and hand problems become an issue as does cardiovascular disease. 

Eventually there is enough of a problem that the cells that are diseased can cause death.  In this case the problems in one area can cause a complete breakdown in one or more of the body’s vital life support functions.  It can be cancer starving the body of nutrients and killing off other functioning cells as it migrates through the body eventually causing liver or kidney or heart failure.  It could be a stroke or heart attack where either the brain or heart is starved of oxygen long enough that our blood isn’t pumped around and we die.

All a little morbid but entirely accurate and it is in this continuum that we operate.  What drives our health status at any time is our healthy or unhealthy behaviours.  So, when we work with our personal training clients to have them exercise, reduce fat and sugar intake, lower their stress, reduce their body fat – we are moving them along this continuum in the right direction. 

Here is a worked example showing you progress (in both ways) along this continuum.personal training healthy/unhealthy continuum

Overall society is fighting a losing battle currently as our environment and focus is one of ample supply and ample consumption.  That said, there are some sectors such as ours that can provide the ideal support and guidance to anyone willing to change their behaviours and improve their health, fitness and overall quality of life.

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