Movement is Critical to Health
How many of us exist in life doing little to no movement each day? In the world we live in we often have extreme periods of inactivity and often fail to move functionally throughout the day. These days we have an abundance of cars, lifts and escalators meaning our bodies are saved from any exertion such as walking. We no longer have to walk to the supermarket, we can park right outside the front door. We don’t have to take the stairs, the escalator is so much more convenient. Even shopping trolleys now mean that we can push our food in front of us rather than using our arms to carry it. The development of vehicles and technology has been designed to help us and make our lives easier. However, through its creation, it has made things so much easier that we are now far less active and far more sedentary than we ever have been in the past. This has become increasingly normal with a 20% reduction in physical activity in the UK over the past two generations.
Years ago, prior to modern day life, the homo sapiens was a hunter gatherer. We walked and ran long distances in pursuit of our next dinner. We used our bodies to climb, scrabble and jump over rocks and trees. We’d hunt, lift and carry our food and fetch our water. We’d swim in lakes and across rivers and haul wood to build a fire. Nowadays, due to modern conveniences, many functional movements seem to no longer be important. We are now able to ask why bother jumping? Or climbing? Or running or walking along a long trail? These functional movements suddenly seem pointless and foreign when we spend our days sitting at a desk, working on a computer in a nice ergonomically supportive seat. Typical days can involve getting out of bed, sitting to eat breakfast, sitting in the car on the drive to work before taking the lift to your office floor and sitting in the office at work for eight hours. You may get up and walk to the toilet or the kettle and back a few times but then it’s back to sitting – and no doubt, you sit to eat your lunch. At the end of the day – you’ve guessed it – more sitting as you drive home from work, then you sit to eat dinner, sit to watch some TV to relax – phew what an exhausting day – and then go to bed where you lie for hours before getting up and repeating the same process all over again. Repeat this five times a week and it represents a pretty common pattern for many.
Our bodies are designed for highly complex, adaptable movements yet a sedentary lifestyle fails to challenge our bodies in any way. At what point in the week does it enable you to take your joints through their full range of motion? Load your body? Walk a decent distance? Challenge your balance? As we move less and less and use our bodies less, moving from one sedentary activity to another, it seems that we as a society have developed a huge level of detachment and disconnect from our bodies.
Exercise versus Movement
With the best will in the world, many of us do try to break up the week by regularly attending the gym or by going for a run a few times each week. All credit to you if you do and I would agree that this is far better than doing nothing. However, if you believe that exercising in this way will undo and overcome the negative effects of being sedentary all day then you are contradicted by a firm body of research. Research indicates that intermittent vigorous exercise is unable to overcome the detrimental effects of sitting all day. Also consider the impact heavy exercise has on your body after staying relatively static and inert all day. Pushing your body into sprinting on a treadmill, doing high intensity interval training or pushing out a heavy weightlifting circuit after remaining sedentary all day is not the key to better health. It asks your body to go from zero activity to high intensity all within a short period of time between leaving your workplace or home and putting your trainers and gym kit on. Pushing out reps and stressing your body is also often performed in a non-specific and non-functional way. Using machines and isolated exercises to workout does not translate into an ability to lift, jump and move functionally or practically. If you exercise purely for the sake of achieving an exercise goal whilst not enjoying the process it’s also highly likely to be unsustainable in the long-term. Exercising for a few hours each week in your time off therefore unfortunately doesn’t come close to undoing what we are losing by sitting and remaining sedentary throughout the rest of the week.
From the moment we are born, movement is incredibly important for enabling us to learn. Babies and children use movement extensively to promote learning which in turn optimises brain development. Our bodies are highly complex and are capable of a huge range of different movements. Every time you run, jump, climb etc, the soft tissues and joints in your body must work to keep you upright, bend, balance, stabilise, regulate your breathing and keep you moving. If you look at a wild animal, you’ll never see it exercising four times a week to lose weight or to get into better shape. Animals don’t exercise to achieve an exercise objective, instead animals move in the way that they are supposed to. It isn’t a chore and the movement is natural. This is why movement, as opposed to exercise is important. Much research now points to the benefits of regular, daily movement rather than lone bouts of exercise to sustain good health.
Whilst the picture of a typical sedentary week paints a rather bleak picture, increasing movement throughout a working week can be easily achieved. Understandably, it isn’t feasible to disappear off to the park or the beach all day whilst telling your boss you’re off to ‘walk…run…climb over the sand dunes’ etc but focussing on moving regularly in your normal day to day life is entirely doable.
Before you start, think about how much you move each day. How much time do you spend walking or standing? How long do you sit for each day? Then consider whether there’s room for a little or, likely, a lot more movement in your day….
- Lose the Chair
When you’re sitting in a chair next, consider the shape of your body in that chair. In a typical positon, your back is supported and your hips and knees are likely to be at a right angle. Your body has formed a chair position. With this in mind, have you ever seen any animal assume this position in nature for several hours a day? I thought not.
Our bodies should be perfectly able to sit comfortably without support. We should be able to sit on the floor in various unsupported resting positions such as squatting. At home, it’s entirely feasible to move off the sofa in the evening and practice sitting on the floor in a more natural sitting position. Think squatting, crouching and sitting with your legs extended, the possibilities are numerous.
- Consider Your Desk
There has been a surge recently in standing desks as people fight the demand of having to sit all day. Standing desks can certainly be better than sitting all day, however arguably, any posture if assumed for several hours each day will not equate to you feeling good or having a good posture. This quest for movement isn’t about never sitting down at all. It’s about making sure that you don’t sit for long periods of time. If you have a standing desk, rather than aiming to stand all day, make sure that every twenty minutes you move and change position. The same goes for a sitting desk. Make sure that every twenty minutes you get up, stand up and move.
- Set Your Alarm
If you’re desk bound for much of the day, set your alarm every twenty minutes. Every time your alarm goes off make sure that you move in some way. It may mean standing up for a moment, stretching your neck or shoulder muscles, reaching down to touch your toes or walking to the filing cabinet. Every little bit of movement counts.
- Forget Laziness
Yes. Lazy. Nobody likes that word but couldn’t we all move a lot more if we didn’t feel lazy at times? The next time you’re at the supermarket on a sunny day, rather than circling around the parking bays looking for a space close to the doors, park in an empty and distant part of the car park and walk. Aim to head to the opposite end of the beach instead of sitting right next to the café as soon as you step out of the car park. Even if you don’t feel like it, use the light summer evenings to go for a walk along the coast path. Once you’ve started you’ll no doubt be glad you’re not sitting at home.
- Break Inactive Habits
Take the lift or the stairs? Drive to the shop or walk half a mile? Take the steps or climb over the rocks? Choose the most active way of getting somewhere or doing something and in no time at all you’ll naturally be moving more.
- Take the Opportunity
Work movement into your day. Stand up and walk every time you take a phone call. Stretch your arms above your head every time you make a cup of tea. Be opportunistic with your movement. Move, move and then move some more.
- Prioritise Movement
Not enough time to walk to work so you’ve just got to drive that one mile? Aim to leave the house half an hour earlier so that it gives you time to walk to work. If you prioritise your movement you are going a substantial way to prioritising your health.
- Realise How Movement Makes You Feel
Use movement to consider how your body feels, how your body moves and how it responds. Movement can help you reconnect with your body. Take your arm right above your head. Pull your knee towards your chest as far as it’s able to go. It’s likely your joints haven’t been taken to the end of their movement range for a long time. If you can get outside and move it can also help you to connect with nature.
We only have one body and this body is highly efficient. If you don’t move much, the body will make it easier for you to not move. However, if you do move, the body will allow you to move more. Movement should be natural and enjoyable. Find and engage in activities that encourage you to move more. And then quite simply, move.