The Optimum Performance Concept
When they talk about their physical goals in work or in sports, people usually say they would like to do their best, meaning, reach their maximum output. It is a matter of achieving their absolute limit in speed, strength, endurance or skill and combining the elements with accuracy. This is no different than an athlete training for maximum performance in the Olympic Games.
The difficulty with focusing everything on maximum performance is that only a single goal, getting the highest results - fastest, biggest, quickest, longest, or most graceful - is considered a superlative or acceptable achievement. Maximums do not take into consideration other aspects of body performance which often prove to be just as important to the individual. Emphasis upon the demands for maximum performance is frequently portrayed with the thought that "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
Imagine for a moment a "maximum" performance in the car industry - the perfect automobile. It is incredibly graceful and the aerodynamic, functional lines make it a thing of beauty. It accelerates from zero to 60 miles per hour within a few seconds. It brakes, corners and steers with a fineness that would permit a nears-sighted 75-year old to compete at Le Mans. The suspension is so smooth that a passenger can pour liquids without spilling a drop. The car requires only minimal maintenance while averaging 50 miles per gallon in city driving. Best of all, it is the vehicle of the common man at a price of $5000. If all that sound impossible, it is. Incorporating all of these "maximums" into a single automobile exceeds the ability of any designer or manufacturer. Instead, the individual shopping for a car must choose the attributes he or she feels are most important.
Therein lies the problem. Some goals are partly, if not wholly, incompatible with others. An automatic transmission uses more gas than a standard shift, but it does make driving easier. Sleek aerodynamic lines add grace and reduce drag, but they can also lessen head room. High performance engines provide power, but require constant care. The solution is a compromise, a willingness to make tradeoffs. This same spirit of compromise, of accepting something less than a single maximum, should govern the operation of the most important machine in our lives - our body. Reality must be applied when comparing ourselves to Olympic athletes or, with the progression of age, mimicking various youthful physical activities. For example, there is no need to have an endurance capacity equal to the current Gold Medallist or the strength level equivalent to the World heavyweight record holder. Likewise, senior citizens may resist relinquishing their drivers' licenses despite their slower reaction times, poorer eyesight, and/or hearing, as well as frequently suffering from some type of chronic disease which may further reduce their strength, joint mobility, or even cognitive processes such as memory or decision making.
Instead of a maximum, what most people really want from their bodies is to "optimize" their performances and lives. They seek the most efficient use of energy, of bodily action consonant with productive output, health, and enjoyment. Many people are beginning to appreciate that certain types of exercise add to the vitality of the cardiovascular system, lessen the risk of heart attack, and make it possible to live longer and more active lives. In other words, the willingness to sacrifice 20 yards on a drive off the golf tee may mean that the golfer's feet will be able to walk the entire course without being tortured during every step. The desire is to play a couple of hours of winning tennis, stroking the ball with pace and purpose, but not if the extra zing means a tennis elbow that will be sore for several weeks. Sensible joggers prefer to run six rather than ten miles a day in 40 minutes if the latter leads to tender knees and shin splints. In other words, human beings must compromise between anatomy (the structural components) and physiology (the bodily processes). A correct balance between the two, at all ages, will assist in optimizing bodily efficiency.
In addition to the desire for our "internal environment" to be physical fit, pertinent questions should be posed about our "external environment". For example, is it really necessary for that designer chair to cause a bone ache deep in the buttocks after sitting for five minutes. Cannot a person spend a day laboring over a desk or piece of machinery without feeling as if a rope had been tightly tied around the shoulders at the end of the project? Why must a weekend with shovel or rake inevitably produce low back pain on Monday? Why is it that some individuals who are 50 years old seem able to work and play as if 10 to 20 years younger, while some 30-year-olds act as if infected with a malignant decrepitude? The answer is that, as with the anatomy and physiology achieving optimal coordination, so should the whole human organism coordinate better with its environment.
Perhaps these examples could be dismissed as the minor aches of a hypochondriac society overly concerned with its comfort. But the overall health facts for the United States and many other modern civilizations appall even those jaded by constant warnings of disaster. Some 25 millions American adults suffer from heart disease; a total of 75 million Americans are afflicted with chronic disease. On any given day, more than one million workers do not show up for their jobs because of illness, and sickness prevents a million of these from returning in less than a week. Twenty-eight million Americans have some degree of disability. Perhaps not coincidentally, a quarter of the population is classified as overweight. At least three million citizens have diabetes, and half are unaware of the problem, and the U.S. accounts for most of the deaths due to cardio-vascular disease. The health profile of the future, the condition of the youth of today, offers no comfort. About one of five youngsters still cannot pass even a simple test of physical performance. More than nine million American children under the age of 15 have a chronic ailment. From one third to one half of all U.S. children are over weight and one third of America's young men fail to meet military physical fitness requirements, which are not terribly high.
In pursuit of technological achievement, Americans have almost eliminated the one major element besides food and rest needed to sustain the human body - physical activity. This has lent impetus to a subtle yet deadly disease which has reached epidemic proportions in this country and others. Cardiovascular disease is often referred to as hypokinetic disease or lack-of-motion disease.
Unfortunately, degeneration with Americans begins earlier rather than later. One study indicates that middle age characteristics start to show at approximately age twenty-six. The peak age for heart disease among American men is forty-two years. In Europe, it is 10 years later. A corporate wide employee health survey conducted by a large computer manufacturer indicated that smokers have 25 percent higher health care costs and 114 percent longer hospital stays than nonsmokers. People who did not exercise have 36 percent higher health care costs and 54 percent longer hospital stays than people who did exercise. Overweight people have 7 percent higher health care costs and 85 percent longer hospital stays than people who are not. In general, people with poor health habits have higher health care costs, longer hospital stays, lower productivity, more absenteeism, and more chronic health problems than those who do not.
Some questions both workers and their companies should ask are: (1) How many heart attacks, strokes, cancers, or coronary by-pass operations did your company pay for last year? (2) How much better would profits have been if heart diseases had been reduced 10, 20, or 30 percent? (3) How much would corporate profits increase if employee health care costs were reduced by 10 percent?
One large U.S. corporation developed a comprehensive wellness program at numerous sites. During the first year, grievances decreased by 50 percent, on-the-job accidents by 50 percent, lost time by 40 percent, and sickness and accident payments by 60 percent. The corporation estimated at least a three to one return per dollar invested.
What is required for such an optimum way of life is a scientific analysis of the way people live and use their bodies. Only after such a quantitative examination can a concept of cost be determined or ascertain whether there is a better way to do something which is more efficient and less damaging to the body. For instance, rapid weight loss may result from running long distances, such as 15 miles a day, fasting drastically, or performing aerobics for five hours a day. However, such excessive training regimens may be as detrimental to the body as sitting all day in an easy chair and simply ignoring one's obesity.
Evolution, culture, and the changing demands of existence have tended to develop forces and stresses upon the body which are not necessarily in harmony with the basic design and structure of the human equipment. Standing upright, humans employ one pair of extremities for support and the other pair capable of tremendous versatility. It would seem that of all animals, man, fortuitously assisted by the evolution of his brain and other organs, optimized the use of his body. Unfortunately, the human body has had to pay a stiff price for it's upright posture. Human vertical posture is inherently unstable, therefore, humans must devote more neuromuscular effort and control to maintaining balance than four-legged animals. There is a tendency to lean forward, which adds to the ability to move in that direction, but increases the risk of falling. A complex neuromuscular process is constantly at work to prevent man from toppling. Many things may interfere with this balancing act, such as consuming too much whiskey or walking on an icy sidewalk. These interruptions of the flow of information to and from the brain center which coordinates the balancing process and can result in staggering or falling. This postural condition creates a constant strain on all the muscles employed to retain balance and upon the set of bones forming the spine.
The spine is basically a tower of I-beams which supports the skeletal frame and, in order to remain in good health, proper mechanical alignment is essential. Any deviation from this mechanical alignment will result in pain relating to non-alignment, such as low back or neck pain. The vulnerability of the back is threatened frequently by work, recreation situations, and furnishings, since their uses subject an already tenuous upright position to undergo increased stresses As the body compensates for alignment problems by creating excess bone tissue and neural pain, certain arthritic conditions may be the result.
Correction or prevention in tools or activities may assist in the optimization of performance and in more closely aligning the biological with the chronological age. Clearly, optimization and compensation may conflict within the human mechanism since a logical idea may violate physical principles. Based on this introduction of merely a few of the internal and external challenges to the human organism, the need for adequate and accurate assessments, improved tools, and human behavioral modifications becomes more apparent.
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