Did you know that many of your body systems depend on regular, whole body movement to work their best? Human bodies are adapted to our former lives as hunter-gatherers, living outdoors and spending our days searching for food and shelter. Our ancestors moved all day, every day – walking around 3-6 miles, squatting, digging, carrying and climbing. When they rested, they rested on the ground – no comfortable couches – so they even had to work harder than us to do nothing!
Because our bodies evolved in the context of constant movement, our body functions depend on getting movement input. For instance, our bones lose density if we don’t load them with regular walking. Stuff moves through our digestive system better when we move our core muscles frequently. Our cardiovascular system distributes oxygen more effectively to muscles that have to work. All systems that would have worked perfectly when we were hunter-gatherers, and that are failing in many modern humans. So what are the issues?
We don’t move enough
These days, most North Americans sit for 13 hours a day – so we are seriously missing out on the quantity and quality of movement our bodies are designed for. That’s where exercise comes in. We know we need to move more, so we designed spinning classes and Crossfit and yoga. But even the most dedicated exerciser is lucky if they get to the gym 5 days a week! That’s only a tiny fraction of the time our bodies actually need to move.
We don’t move the right way
Plus, going to the gym is completely different for our bodies than the all-day natural movement our ancestors would have enjoyed.
First, the intensity is all wrong. It’s typically an hour or two of something hard and intense, followed by a large amount of nothing, and then another intense hour. Totally different from constant, relatively less strenuous tasks like foraging, walking and even most hunting. This can be really stressful for our bodies and leads to many sports injuries!
Second, most of our exercises actually only move a small percentage of our tissues, in a small variety of ways. Remember spinning class? You’re using lots of big muscles, but you’re doing pretty much nothing from the waist up except for breathing hard! Exercise is site-specific – if you’re not moving something, it’s not getting the benefit of your hard work.
What’s more, our bodies are amazing and actually adapt to what we do the most frequently. So if we are people who sit in chairs and wear high heels, our muscles actually change their length and shape to allow us to be better at sitting in chairs and wearing high heels. That’s fine, except that then when we try to do other things – like walking or squatting – we are actually no longer able to carry out these movements in ways that are good for our bodies. If we keep doing these activities, they can actually be damaging for us – even though we’re doing them in order to be healthy. Crazy, right?
10 Ways To Move More
The good news is that adding more movement is often easier than you think. Even relatively small amounts of extra movement can make big impacts on your long-term health, which is awesome!
Move More At The Office
- Get a standing desk (and actually use it!). Here are some standing desk tips to make it more body friendly – because just switching from sitting to standing isn’t necessarily going to help you that much.
- Schedule walking meetings and phone calls. Sometimes you need a boardroom and sometimes you don’t! If you don’t, instead of sitting down at a coffee shop, go for a walk while you talk!
- Take frequent eye breaks. Every 20 minutes or so look out of a window for 20 seconds.
- Transition out of your high heels into minimal shoes.
- Plan movement breaks into your work schedule. Even a 2 minute break every hour can make a big difference to your body! Set an alarm or try using the Pomodoro productivity technique. Use your break time to stretch, especially your shoulders, hips and core.
Move More At Home
- Try less furniture! Skipping furniture is an amazing way to gain strength and mobility without taking any extra time in your day. It’s also free and easy!
- Plan family movement activities for your free time. For instance, take your kids to the park and play on the monkey bars and climbing structures with them. Or go for more hikes (and try balancing on logs and climbing trees). If you live in the city, create a garden or join a community group that gardens or picks unwanted fruit.
- Schedule movement into your chores. For instance, by walking to the store whenever possible, folding your laundry by squatting or kneeling on the floor, or shoveling snow by hand.
- When you drive your kids to school, park early – maybe a mile away. Then walk them to school and walk back to your car. Movement for all of you!
- Plan a movement friendly work wardrobe that allows you to stretch, climb and move and which doesn’t compress your midsection.