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September 20, 2018

When The Body Does Obey The Brain

Capacity building is synonymous with sub-Saharan Africa. Almost everywhere you go, you hear of the lack of capacity to do various things. At the individual level, capacity building is meant to enhance the skills and knowledge that people have in order to promote development and reduce poverty.

At the public institutional level, it is about modernising existing institutions to enable them to adapt to change, be more accountable while fulfilling their mandate in response to the needs of citizens.

One thing that Africans do not seem to lack capacity to do is dance. Any meeting of people especially where the groups do not know each other well is preceded or ended with a dance of sort.

It could be in a village somewhere were grateful recipients of aid show their gratitude with a ‘traditional’ dance or school children combining poetry with dance.

The donors then join in with some awkward non-rhythmic movements. Or it could be at a function where more prosperous middle-aged Africans are in attendance and the DJ puts on music by a renowned African musician and everyone glides on to the dance floor.

Not only does each individual couple seem to connect to the music, but the group as a whole appear to have elements of a choreographed Bollywood dance.

Even the movement of the handkerchief to dampen sweat off the brow is a dance move in itself. The word lifestyle takes on a new meaning at times like these.

 Dancing is not only a social activity. It is also a form of exercise, classified as ‘moderate activity’. It is recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily.

Because dance is weight bearing, as an exercise it helps build bones, improves agility and balance. Different forms of dance can call for significant strength especially where men are meant to lift, propel and safely catch their dance partners. Fortunately for most African men such dance routines are not common.

African women are also saved from fractures and bruises. Nevertheless good dance moves require a strong core, that is, the muscles of the abdomen and lower back.

A strong core enables a dancer to have control over the muscles of the legs and arms, which though bigger, get tired quicker. The control is muscular in allowing some of the strain of movement to be carried by the core rather than all the weight passing on to particular leg muscles for example. Dancing also requires neurological control to coordinate the muscles to the beat of the music.

Much of this control occurs in the brain, where a substance called dopamine acts as a messenger between two brain areas - the substantia nigra and the corpus striatum - to produce smooth, controlled movements.

When the levels of dopamine are too low that communication is disrupted and instead of smooth coordinated movements, muscles begin to move independent of central control.

Parkinson’s disease is the diagnosis where the patient suffers from fine tremors especially of the hands, has stiffness, moves slowly and has impaired balance, which later develops into a shuffling gait.

The exact cause of Parkinson’s is not known. It is currently believed to be triggered by a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to environmental factors such as toxins, illness, and trauma. Since the exact causes are not known, the condition is at present not preventable.

The disease is most often diagnosed in persons aged 60 years old or older. As symptoms worsen, it can become difficult to walk, talk, and complete simple tasks like buttoning a shirt.

Because Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disorder without cure, early diagnosis is important as various support measures including drugs can be provided to reduce the effects of the condition.

Drug therapy is aimed at increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain either by replacing the absent dopamine or prolonging the effects of the little dopamine present. Other than medicines, lifestyle changes including physical, occupational and speech therapy are beneficial.

Life expectancy of patients with Parkinson’s is no different from non-sufferers so the support they receive is crucial to improve the quality of life because eventually the disease affects every facet of life from social engagements to basic routines at home.

Many patients suffer depression because of the lack of control they have over their bodies. The brain is fine, the body is not. The typical African, lacking capacity to do many things often wants a simple rhythm to life.

Their leaders spend time singing a song that all is well. There is nothing better than seeing happy faces and bodies moving to the pulsating beat of an energizing song.

The external message is that the person and the group they belong to are happy and life is good. But to create that coordinated movement requires the human body to engage in a series of complex activities, much of which medicine has yet to decipher.

To decode what is really going on requires that we invest in knowledge more than drums to understand why sometimes the body does not do what the brain tells it to do.

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