Today, moving more to accomplish daily tasks is viewed as an inconvenience. 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. “Upgrading” to their product results in doing less work throughout our day. This is promoted by advertisers as sign of status, progress, and luxury. A device that results in less work is the ultimate end goal and this message is thrown at us from every direction.
However, convenience in this case comes with a major down side. 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 career as a physical therapist is to improve a person’s quality of life through movement. Over the years, I have noticed a common theme among medically compromised individuals who depend on management of their conditions through the healthcare system. The mindset has shifted and movement is viewed as inconvenient rather than a necessary part of a full and healthy life. We are now left to help people reverse this mindset as this 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”, the mindfulness has left our movement as people depend on external factors to determine their success with their 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 while slowly eliminating the need for separate “exercise”. This may seem counterintuitive but contributes to health in the long run.
We can get back to a better quality of life by starting a movement practice. There are foundations of a movement practice we need to explore.
Movement is a physiological requirement for humans like food and water. Much like with 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 now tend to look at movement as something we need to get out of the way or block off time for rather than something that is performed all throughout the day.
Every body 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 deficiencies over time. Underutilizing muscles creates immobility in certain parts of the body.
Movement science focuses on the importance of daily “exercise” and what defines the best type of exercise. However, somewhere along the way may have 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 modern conveniences continued to make our lives easier, our bodies suffer from the effects of convenience leading to ever increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and other chronic disease. 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 does not “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 then used regularly throughout the day. For example, the calves of modern humans have become tight from the shoes we wear, excessive time spent sitting in chairs, and lack of uphill walking. The implications of tight calves include balance impairments, changes in gait patterns, and inability to squat. Therefore, we need to calf stretch in order to restore ankle mobility which will lead to better squatting. Squatting regularly uses a range of ankle mobility that resulted from calf stretching, so squatting throughout the day would eliminate the need for calf stretching. And why should you care about squatting? Later in life it may be the determining factor in your ability to get on and off the floor after a fall.
The conversation 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 all of these individuals.
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 at maximum capacity if a person walks 3–5 miles per day. Our circulatory system, immune system, and strength of our bones depend on using our musculoskeletal system for the purpose of walking. Riding a bike is not the same experience as walking for your body. Riding a bike, however, is objectively better for your body than spending that time on a couch. By a similar token, walking on a treadmill is not the same as walking overground. Starting to recognize that not all movement is the same is an essential component to being a better mover.
Movement is complicated, and yet such it is such a simple concept. There are more nuances to movement sciences than most of what is portrayed. It is not so easy to define movement or exercise as “good” or “bad”. It all depends on the context of your goals. If you 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 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. Starting to recognize that our body adapts to how we move is the first step. From there, you can start to make observations of your own movement to see where you would like to make changes. There are many ways to start a movement practice, how can you get started today?