How much time do you spend thinking about how you move throughout the day? If you're not getting the health results you want, your movement is likely a huge factor!
Both your quantity and quality of daily movement come down to a matter of convenience. Today, moving more to accomplish daily tasks is perceived as an inconvenience. If you can outsource the effort to a device, why bother with the work yourself?
We now have access to devices serving the sole purpose of making our lives easier, from electronic kitchen appliances to phones, to vehicles. These devices externalize the work of our muscles, effectively outsourcing the work of our body. And we tend to rely more and more on these devices as we age.
“Upgrading” our products results in doing less work throughout the day. This is promoted by advertisers as a sign of status, progress, and luxury. A device that results in less work is the ultimate end goal and we encounter this message everywhere we turn.
However, these "conveniences" come with a major downside.
Humans were intended to move. Our movement impacts not only our physical health, but our mental health and overall wellbeing as well.
The focus of my work is to facilitate healthy aging through movement. In my years of practice, I have noticed a key difference between individuals who age well and those who don't. Those who don't age well have a noticeable shift in mindset and they view movement as inconvenient rather than a necessary part of a full and healthy life. Health coaches are on a mission to help people reverse this mindset as it contributes to declining health over time.
Further complicating the issue, over the last 30 years or so we continue to interchange the terms “movement” and “exercise”. However, these are not interchangeable. Many of us feel we need to go to the gym to get an hour of exercise in, only to spend the rest of our day avoiding movement with daily activities.
Through the modern construct of “exercise”, mindfulness is no longer a regular part of movement as individuals depend on external factors to determine their success with movement programs (such as weight loss, PR times, etc.) Instead, we can keep it simple (though simple is not always easy) and start to build more movement into our daily lives by trading out perceived conveniences for inconveniences. Over time, this slowly eliminates the need for separate “exercise”. This may seem counterintuitive but contributes to better health in the long run.
I guide my clients to a better quality of life by helping them initiate and maintain a regular movement practice. Developing an understanding of the 3 guiding principles of a movement practice will get you started on the right foot.
Movement is a physiological requirement for humans like food and water. Similar to food, our movement should be of high quality and offer a variety of “movement nutrients”. However, modern life and our environment often result in repeated movement patterns and a lack of variation in our movement. We tend to look at movement as something we need to get out of the way or block off time for rather than something done all throughout the day.
Everybody needs to move in some way every day. Just as our diet must consist of a variety of vitamins and minerals for us to stay healthy, our movement needs variety as well. Repeating the same movement patterns day in and day out can starve certain cells of our bodies and lead to muscle imbalances over time. Underutilizing muscles creates immobility in certain parts of the body. So, daily movement is vital to making sure all of our parts are moving well.
Movement science focuses on the importance of daily “exercise” and what defines the best type of exercise. However, we've forgotten that “movement” is not the same as “exercise”. Exercise was created in response to the negative consequences of our modern environment on the human body. As conveniences continue to make our lives easier, our bodies suffer from the effects leading to ever-increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. A new field of exercise science was created to undo these effects and the byproduct was an emphasis on daily exercise.
However, exercise does not exist in a vacuum. The daily recommended MINIMUM of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day doesn't “undo” the effects of being sedentary for the other 23.5 hours of the day. The purpose of using exercise should be to work toward incorporating new mobility and strength into larger natural movements that are used regularly throughout the day. For example, our calves tend to become tight and weak from the shoes we wear, excessive time spent sitting in chairs, and lack of uphill walking. The implications of tight calves include balance issues, changes in walking patterns, and inability to squat. Therefore, the calf stretch is often the first move I teach new clients in order to restore ankle mobility. Lengthened calves lead to better squatting, balance, and the ability to build bone density. Squatting regularly uses a range of ankle mobility that resulted from the calf stretch, so squatting throughout the day would eliminate the need for calf stretching.
At this point, you might find yourself wondering why should you care about squatting. Later in life, squatting becomes a life-saving skill and may be the determining factor in your ability to get on and off the floor after a fall.
The field of movement science has become very polarizing and definitions of “movement” have become more narrow. This makes our society feel as though we are separated into “exercisers” or “non-exercisers” rather than all people being considered “movers”. All of our movement differs, some of us use movement as a means to get around our homes and communities while others are competing in the highest levels of the CrossFit Games. The commonality, however, is that movement is essential to everyone.
Movement matters for everyone from those competing in the Olympics to the most medically compromised individuals. Whether your goal is to be able to safely walk to and from your bathroom, or deadlift hundreds of pounds your movement matters.
With all of that being said, some movement is always better than no movement. However, not all movement is created equal. The human body functions best if we walk 3–5 miles distributed throughout the day. Our circulation, immunity, and strength of our bones depend on the function of our muscles for beneficial activities like walking. Riding a bike is not the same experience as walking for your body. Riding a bike, however, is objectively better for you than spending that time on a couch. By a similar token, walking on a treadmill is not the same as walking overground. Recognizing that not all movement is the same is an essential component of being a better mover.
Movement is both complicated and simple at the same time. There are more nuances to movement science than most of us realize. It is not as easy as defining movement or exercise as “good” or “bad”. It all depends on your goals. If your goal is to win the Tour de France, then practice by riding a bike. If your goal is to improve the bone density of your hips, walking overground with your lower body in a certain alignment is the best choice. Learning how to work toward your goals depends on having a basic understanding of movement or “physical literacy”.
Now that you understand the basics of movement you can start to build your own movement practice. Understanding that your body adapts to how you move is the first step. From there, you can start to make observations of your own movement to learn where you need to make changes. How can you get moving today?