What the heck is "movement" anyway?
You may be thinking to yourself, "I've got this in the bag! I move all the time. I walk to my car, I park at the back of the lot so I get some extra walking in, I go to the gym 7 days a week. How much more do I need? The answer to this question may not be what you want to hear. You actually need a lot than you think! We also need to take a good, hard look at HOW we move.
The modern understanding of exercise is the idea of taking an hour out of the day to go to an exercise appropriate environment (be it a gym or the great outdoors for a bike ride or run), doing the deed and returning to "normal" life of sitting behind a desk and working our butts off (but not really) behind a computer. While I have nothing at all against this (hey, am I not a group fitness instructor and personal trainer??) what we do with the rest of our days matter greatly. Not only this, but how we move is also enormously important.
Looking back to the wisdom of our ancestors, we see they moved constantly. This movement was often in the form of walking several miles a day, climbing, wrestling/fighting, throwing, jumping, bending, lifting, pushing and pulling for hours and hours on end. They often encountered situations requiring high intensity exercise, like sprinting away from a predator or chasing that night's potential meal, but movement at this intensity was usually short-lived. It was rare, however, that they had the opportunity to sit, let alone sit in the same position, for extended periods of time. They didn't have the cushy couches and fluffy pillows we have now that beckon us to lounge for hours on end. Nor did they have the time.
You may be asking yourself, why should we look to them for advice? Our DNA, governing our bodies and brains operating systems, have changed very little if at all since the time when human beings were hunter-gatherers, and from an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are programmed to move frequently, fully and in a variety of ways. This potpourri of movement signals our DNA to build a robust, lean, strong, energized, fully functional body equipped with a mentally sharp mind. In addition, our ancestors definitely did not have the amount of chronic disease we have now. Acute sickness, yes, and fortunately modern medicine has taken care of a lot of this, but we've mastered the chronic sickness space in a bad way, and the situation is only getting worse.
Let me offer you another way to look at it is this. Our bodies adapt and become fully capable and skilled at what we do most of the time. What did our ancestors do? From the moment they arose in the morning until it was time to settle down in the evening, they were on the move ensuring the tribe/family had enough food to avoid starvation. The intrinsic motivation to move was directly related to survival. They in fact, needed to be as conservative as possible with their energy, so as not to burn up more than they brought home in the form of food. This is called Optimal Foraging Strategy (OFS) and all living beings to adhere to this in order to survive.
We now pay expensive gym memberships for this, pay for trainers to show us what to do, how to do it and for how long and set aside a “special” hour or so a day to get in our “workout”. We have no need to conserve our energy as walking to the fridge, or picking up the phone for take-out require little more than a few steps and perhaps a bonus tug of the refrigerator door. Is the picture becoming clearer? You can now begin to see why we have become so riddled with health issues - cardiovascular disease, “diabesity” osteopathic issues, just to name a few. It has now become easy to take in much more energy (food) than we put out or use (movement).
I can just hear you all now, “I work out 7 days a week! I do HIIT training, strength training (which in all honesty most of us do NOT do enough of), cycling classes, etc. How much more can I do?”
I’ll answer that question with a few others. What kind of body do you want? How healthy, lean and capable do you want to be? If you’re shooting for just above average, don’t mind extra body fat, joint stiffness and pain, read no further than the end of this paragraph. This, friends, will eventually lead to less energy, more resistance to moving and more body fat, which will lead to more stiffness and pain. Get the idea? You will be spiraling down in the direction of modern day diseases of convenience or diseases of captivity.
When compared to the way our ancestors lived and the way our bodies and brains are designed be challenged, we live in an environment that dulls the senses, weakens the body and disrupts our potential health. Consider the temperature controlled perpetual “spring/summer” like environment we live in, and the stairs that do the climbing for us (escalators). Hunting and foraging has also had a complete makeover. For most of us, it now consists of few steps to the fridge. Conveniences abound: running water, plumbing, cars, paved roads, flat surfaces to walk on, no rough terrain to challenge agility or balance and so much more. These are convenient from the perspective of conserving energy and lowering the potential discomforts of life, however NOT convenient for those of us striving to remain healthy, lean, strong, mentally sharp and emotionally well balanced.
Our bodies require a certain amount of environmental stress, or load (pressure). Some examples? Cold, heat, physical challenges that elevate heart and breath rate, strenuous lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing, etc. When combined with stretches of down time where we can be in a calm and physically relaxed state to rebuild and fully recover, our bodies adapt by becoming stronger and more efficient at dealing with these stressors. Getting to the gym, even 7 days a week, is not enough because for the majority of the population, the rest of the day is spent sitting behind a desk. The world of health science now recognizes another category of people aside from the well known 1. active and 2. sedentary and it includes MOST of us. This group is categorized as the active sedentary. We “workout” up to 7 days a week, but then spend 5-10 hrs a day sitting or standing in one place.
Enough about the problem. How are we going to remedy this?
Movement, of course! Movement is a huge category, with exercise and even sports being only a small part of it. Our bodies are capable of millions of movement options and thrive from a vast array of frequent and full ones. This approach to movement can be integrated into our day at anytime anywhere. You do not NEED to go to a gym and exercise to experience robust health, a lean strong functional body, and a robust immune system. You DO however need to begin thinking of movement differently and becoming more proactive about it. Just as we should be eating a variety of foods of different colors with each meal, our movements should be equally colorful and varied.
Here is an example from my own life: I am fortunate enough to have a job that has me on the move most of the day. Yet, in the past when I had been at home in front of my computer or reading, listening to podcasts, etc., I would sit at my “desk” (dining room table). Inevitably, I felt stiffness and pain in my joints, along with the ensuing lack of desire to move brought on in this scenario. Fast forward to what I do now. I have stand for my laptop that functions as a standing desk or a floor desk. I spend a good amount of time in a squat, cross legged, in a split etc. while working. When standing, I am shifting in and out of multiple positions as well. Position changing is key! I also hang a pull-up bar in my bathroom doorway (ten steps from where I am working), keep a kettlebell close by (20 steps away) and keep a 20 minute timer running. Every 20 minutes, I take a 60 second movement break. This can look like a 30 second hang from the pull-up bar, 30 hanging leg raises and 20 bodyweight squats. The beauty of the movement break is not only physical. It also helps to maintain focus, and fosters creativity and productivity.
Keep an assortment of moves in your back pocket for your breaks. Although repeating the same thing beats sitting or standing in one position, changing things up is by far a more better solution (and much less boring). There are many movement experts sharing their movement creativity and expertise out there. Find someone or a few sources you can trust, and get to work! (One of those people I’d recommend is the one writing this blog post)!
Contact me if you’d like a consultation. I do this privately for individuals as well as on a corporate level.
(Full disclosure: We are affiliates of a few of these brands listed above. While we make a small profit if you make a purchase using our links, it is at no extra cost to you. We have tried each of these products, honestly believe in them and would otherwise never recommend them).