Life at NMC has taken on an extra-terrestrial feel as the start of May signals the beginning of the annual Muscle Month Challenge. The aim is simple – to encourage people with Neuromuscular Conditions to challenge their own activity levels.
Neuromuscular Conditions, an umbrella term for a group of genetic muscle, nerve and metabolic disorders, are more common than you may think, affecting over 70,000 individuals in the UK. They range in severity, onset, and presentation with some conditions diagnosed at birth (such as severe forms of Muscular Dystrophy) and others not apparent until adult life. Regardless of their origin, the issues they cause present challenges to health and function in every individual, affecting that person’s independence, mobility and quality of life.
The Neuromuscular Centre in Winsford, Cheshire, is a national Centre of Excellence for adults with Neuromuscular Conditions. Providing ongoing, specialist physiotherapy; employment and training; advice and support to 1,000 individuals (and their friends, families, and carers) affected by Neuromuscular Conditions. NMC is a charity and its services are completely free-to-access for its service users, many of whom regularly from travel from across the country (and beyond!) to access the wealth of knowledge and expertise available.
Despite the variability of these conditions, their unifying feature is muscle weakness. This is often progressive and evidently leads to changes in functional activities such as walking, climbing the stairs, washing & dressing etc. Individuals affected by Neuromuscular Conditions are often less mobile, less able to access active exercise, and therefore more at risk of secondary health problems in the future.
How does this relate to the Space to Earth Challenge and British astronaut Tim Peake and his mission aboard the International Space Station? Well, the changes seen in muscle conditions are not a million miles (or 460km…) away from those observed by astronauts in space. The reason for this is our body’s natural tendency towards energy efficiency. Muscle tissue is expensive for our bodies to maintain, it costs energy in terms of calories (something the body is always trying to conserve!) and the maintenance of muscle tissue (and bone) is only kept up where the body detects it is needed. In the same way that a thermostat will maintain temperature only when it detects a need, your body operates a kind of ‘mechanostat’, maintaining or building muscle where repeated use stimulates this need; this is why body builders are able to gain muscle bulk by repeated weight lifting. This is also why astronauts need to do so much exercise when in space!
In space, the lack of gravity reduces the stimulation the body would normally receive from weight-bearing activities and so our thrifty systems will start to take away muscle tissue and bone it perceives as costly and unnecessary. This mechanism is reproduced in Neuromuscular Conditions, where reduced weight-bearing activity (and reliance upon powered mobility aids such as wheelchairs etc) leads to a reduction in muscle mass. This is where NMC comes in.
The best research indicates that exercise (at an appropriate intensity and frequency) is beneficial for individuals with muscle conditions; not only in providing a stimulus to maintain muscle strength, but also improving whole body fitness, and reducing soft tissue tightness and pain. In fact, the benefits of exercise to the human body are too numerous to mention! Best research also indicates that you should never give a Physiotherapist an excuse to get more exercise done! It’s for everyone’s good…honestly…
We’ve been asking (politely, while smiling) our clients at NMC to think about their own levels of activity and to set themselves a challenge! This can take the form of a specific time or distance (taking inspiration from the Spaceathlon milestones) or simply doing a little more active exercise than usual. We have clients aiming to cover a half marathon distance on our bespoke, wheelchair-accessible arm and leg pedals; swimming the length of the ISS in the hydrotherapy pool; and rowing to the stratosphere! Some are even doing three elements to their Spaceathlon challenge, linking it with the triathlon theme. The aim is for the whole NMC community to contribute to the almighty cumulative distance of 460km – the maximum distance between the Earth and the ISS!
As it’s (nearly) the start of summer and the sun is shining, there’s never been a better moment to get more active! So if you’d like more information, or you’re interested in participating to raise funds for the NMC, please contact Amy in Fundraising Office on 01606 861733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about the NeuroMuscular Centre please visit www.nmcentre.com
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