Why we need more movement and less exercise

“You don’t really need exercise to stay healthy, you need movement to stay healthy”.

Katy Bowman, Biomechanist and Author of Move your DNA

Exercise and movement are often thought of as the same thing, but it’s helpful to distinguish between the two. 

Exercise is a modern invention. For most of human history we didn’t exercise. In a nutshell exercise is stress (good stress if done correctly) on the body and comprises the activities we do for the purpose of getting fit. We stress our body with the purpose of it adapting to the stress to get fitter and stronger than before.

Movement is ancient. Movement was here way before exercise and for most of human history frequent movement has been a part of human life. Movement includes all the other activities we do, such as walking or carrying things.

All or nothing approach

Physical activity levels in the UK have significantly reduced in the last few decades, which is now statistically a causal factor in 1 in 6 deaths. 

The fitness culture subliminally programmes us with the ‘belief’ that if you don’t exercise hard, it doesn’t count. Either go hard or go home. Exercise is meant to be painful. A punishment for eating that extra piece of cake whilst nobody was looking…

High intensity exercise can be great, if it is aligned with your personal goals, you allow for proper recovery and you have the movement skill and conditioning to do it.

But if we have been inactive for prolonged periods, it is likely we are deconditioned and maybe even in pain. If you jump straight into running or a high intensity class, you are likely to get injured and/or be in even more pain!

And this can lead to thinking that moving our body is just not for us. Exercise is just not for me. And so we avoid moving altogether!

But the danger with movement avoidance is that it makes your pain and deconditioning even worse…

Source: MovNat

These two extremes of ‘all or nothing’ neglects what we physiologically need the most: natural human movement.

Movement is a biological necessity

Extremes of inactivity followed by sudden intense activity is not natural. 

If you don’t think we have a biological need for natural movement, just look at a child. They instinctively squat, crawl, climb, jump in muddy puddles and are playfully curious about moving in the world. They don’t need to be told how to move. They don’t need to go to the gym to learn how to move. It is hardwired in them to know how to move.

That is, until the education system and the working world programmes them to go against their nature and be sendentary and glued to screens.

Hence, the deconditioning cycle above begins, contributing to chronic pain and inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer.

But neglecting our biological need for movement comes at a mental as well as physical cost.

Movement plays a major role in our emotions, how we feel and our thought processes and decision making. Our mind and body are one and the same, the body is the brain and vice versa.

Benefits of movement

Movement stimulates the growth of new neurons and increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that support emotional well-being, motivation and response to stress. Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki explains how movement has a protective effect on the brain, which makes it less susceptible to depression, neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline.

Research has found that people who expend more energy by moving around, even just by walking to the restroom or fidgeting, are thinner and healthier regardless of whether they also exercise.

Moreover, in a European breast cancer study, of all the activities and exercise in which women partook, household activity – including housework, home repair, gardening, and stair climbing – was the only activity shown to significantly reduce breast cancer risk, not exercise.

Another study found that people who fidget a lot do not suffer the same morbidity risks from sitting as people who rarely fidget.

What’s more, movement increases the production of mitochondria (tiny organelles that provide our cells with energy), thus, the more you move the more energy you have.

These studies suggest that an increase in non-exercise movement is essential for overall health.

Exercise is optional, but movement is essential

Your body will naturally adapt to whatever you do or don’t do. If you don’t move, the body will become better at making sure you don’t move in the form of pain and stiffness.

If you move, your body will become better at moving.

So movement is essential. More than that, movement is medicine. 

But our hectic working lives and culture make it difficult to get enough movement.

So what is the solution?

Build the habit of movement snacks

Having worked in a desk job for years, I know how hard it is to fit in movement during the day. It is more socially acceptable and expected of you to stay sat down for hours than to take breaks to move around. 

But it is possible, and you don’t need to make big changes. The key to changing your habits is to start small.

This is where movement snacking comes into play. Movement snacking simply means doing small bouts of movement whenever an opportunity presents itself in your day. No gyms, no special clothes or gear required.

Here are a few tips.

I would recommend picking ONE of the below and focusing on that. Read through the list and pick out one that you feel confident you can start doing.

It can help to use specific triggers to get into the habit of regular movement snacking. For example:

  • Set a reminder on your device or put up post-it notes on the bathroom or kitchen
  • Waiting for the kettle to boil – do 10 squats or lunges
  • Waiting for your toast to pop-up – get on all fours and bear crawl
  • Brushing your teeth – stand on one leg or do some calf raises
  • Walk at least part of the way to work or the supermarket
  • Drink loads (preferably filtered water) – this will make you get up to go to the toilet more 
  • Standing in a queue – squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. Imagine you are stopping your credit card from falling out. A surefire way to make sure you squeeze hard!
  • Fidget – fidget like a stroppy five year old if the situation allows
  • On the phone? Walk whilst talking
  • Cooking dinner? Dance to some music
  • Sit on the floor – sitting on the floor encourages you to change positions and fidget more. It’s probably no coincidence that in cultures where people sit on the floor regularly, they tend to stay mobile well into old age.

Happy moving.

If you are tired of being a zoo human and would like a bit of guidance on how to implement this into your life, please send me a message at chris@evolveyourhealthpersonaltraining.com and I would be happy to help you.

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