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Martial arts were a large part of my early life. I loved the work outs. They were perfect — and I had strength, balance and interval training in those classes — which I now know are excellent for improving nerve growth factors in the brain and improving cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness. Plus, I loved the precision of doing forms, the sparring in class and even more, the thrill of competitions. I especially loved full-contact sparring, and even competed at nationals for the Pan American Trials in 1978.
Martial arts gave me more focus, an inner drive to excel and discipline. A lot has changed since those years. I become a physician, trained in internal medicine and practice in a traumatic brain injury clinic. In addition, I developed progressive multiple sclerosis and spent four years in a tilt/recline wheelchair, too weak to even sit in a desk chair.
Fortunately for me, through my own research into multiple sclerosis and chronic disease, I decided to focus on creating as much health as I could in my life in an effort to continue walking the few steps that I could for a bit longer. To the surprise of my physicians, my family and me, my diet and lifestyle program changed my life. Within a year I went from being unable to sit up in a chair, to walking easily without a cane and did an 18 mile bike tour with my family!
While I have recovered much of my function, I still cannot do the forms that were once my daily routine. I can however still do stretching, balance training and a few stretching kicks. My side kick is only a few inches from the ground, but it feels more heroic than all the tournaments I did early in life.
As a physician working in a traumatic brain injury clinic I take care of people who suffer the ill effects of concussions. It has sensitized me to the need to protect our brains. In retrospect I had (and gave) too many concussions back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Although I caution people to protect their heads and avoid concussion injury in their practice of martial arts, I still endorse training in martial arts as long as people are no longer focusing on making punches or kicks to the head. It is a marvelous training of the mind and the body — and that is exactly what you need when facing any challenge. You have discipline, balance training, stretching, strength training, intervals and, most importantly, purpose — all the key elements for physical training that I recommend every day to my patients as they recover from illness or injury.
I have a large following of people who are working to recover their health from chronic disease. We call our self Wahls Warriors in this journey. We are all in the fight of our lives: reclaiming our health or striving to keep it in a world that drives too many people to sit all day with little to no exercise, consume sugar and white flour and few vegetables, and lead lives with little or no purpose.
I believe participating in martial arts can be a vital part of restoring exercise and purpose to our lives. And when you combine that with a healing diet, there’s no stopping your inner warrior.