Prioritizing convenience saves time.
Prioritizing movement creates more time.
What a time to be alive. From food-delivery and shopping, to online dating and more, it is now seemingly possible to have anything delivered right to your doorstep. Although this is a great way to save time, the downside of living in such an on-demand society is lost movement. Convenience is the driving force behind our increasingly sedentary lifestyles that are simply not countered by spending 3-5 hours/week in the gym (which would account for only 1.5-3% of weekly hours). While the goal of convenience isn't to downplay how much movement matters, it is an inevitable side-effect to modern life.
So why does movement matter and how can you avoid the trap of perpetual convenience? It starts with having the right mindset. As we age we expect to encounter certain obstacles, and when these expectations start to become reality, we act as though we've reached a point of no return. The truth is that incorporating daily movement makes it possible to dramatically delay or reverse the onset of most age-related health concerns even if you start late: How you live and move creates a significant difference between biological age and chronological age.
"It is as if what is good in us is most easily activated or accessed through movement" - Kelly McGonigal, The Joy of Movement
Does health naturally decrease with age? Or does health decrease due to a lack of movement?
Naturally, some health markers will decline in old age, but blood markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol- markers of biological age vs chronological age- should not naturally worsen.
Research shows that daily movement matters, regardless of how you get it. You can accumulate movement through lower-intensity walking or go to an exercise class and get higher-intensity movement there, but what matters most is that you move your body daily. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that:
- People who got less than 20 minutes of activity each day had the highest risk of death.
- People who got 60 minutes of activity daily cut their risk of death by 57 percent.
- People who got at least 100 minutes of activity daily cut their risk of death by 76 percent.
It's common knowledge that exercise is good for health, but the suggestion here is to reframe that idea. Instead of thinking in terms of structured exercise, think about how to move more within your existing lifestyle.
When you use your body daily, whether through walking, running, playing or anything else, health is not only maintained but improves. As research with 84 hotel room attendants shows, your mindset alone on how you view movement and health can have a direct impact on health parameters such as weight, blood pressure, and body fat. If you know you do daily things for your health, your health will reflect it.
Has a lack of movement lead to increased rates of mental health?
Humans evolved with daily movement and there is no debate it was designed to do so. In today's society we move less and less starting from earlier ages in western culture. As movement has decreased, rates of mental health have increased. New research shows strong consistent evidence for the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle (elevated screen time) and depressive symptomatology, psychological distress, and poor mental health status among adolescents. Research quoted in The Joy of Movement demonstrated that 88% of adults told to reduce their step count expressed depression and less life satisfaction within a week of the reduction. Other research shows a link between time spent sitting and feelings of anxiety: something to be aware of in a population where up to 90% of us are predominantly sedentary.
There are many hypotheses for why movement improves mental health, including how regular exercise may boost mood by increasing a brain protein called BNDF that helps nerve fibres grow, and multiple other studies citing that just 20 minutes of aerobic activity can stave off anxiety. Exercise is often used as a treatment for depression and in some cases has proven to be just as effective as medication or can serve to necessitate lower dosages.
If you are dealing with anxiety or mental health issues, movement is a tool you can use to fight symptoms and thrive daily.
"Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells -- some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives." - Frontiers, May 2018
Is joint pain an expectation we've created for aging?
Most people associate joint pain with "getting old" and believe that joints are ticking time bombs built to degenerate and cause us grief. Yes, we do gradually wear down overall as we age chronologically but the rate at which this occurs is largely a result of how we live and move. Research has shown us several important things about joints:
- Cartilage undergoes atrophy in the absence of movement. Daily movement therefore promotes joint health.
- There is no strong evidence to suggest that vigorous low-impact exercise- let alone daily low-intensity movement- is associated with an accelerated rate of development of arthritis.
- Exercise has a growth effect on bone, muscle and tendons, not a deleterious effect.
- Joint Movement, creating Intra-Articular Pressure, is linked to fluid transport providing nutrients to joints.
- Being overweight can cause knee pain, but moving well does not: losing weight spares joints. That said, movement matters for everyone, big or small and health is not about how lean you are but rather how much lean mass you have to support your structure and your body's various metabolic processes.
As noted earlier, beliefs dictate much of our actions: If beliefs are based on the false information that joint pain is expected, outcomes will be predictably poor. Daily movement matters for pain-free joints and long-term physical function & freedom.
Increased Body Weight
Should humans naturally expect to gain weight with aging?
There are, of course, many reasons for weight gain, but a lack of daily movement is at the top of the list for our society at large.
"Physical inactivity has become so prevalent that it is common to refer to exercise as having “healthy benefits,” even though the exercise-trained state is the biological normal condition." - Jean-Philippe Chaput
People fall in love with black and white answers such as "Abs are made in the kitchen" or "Sugar is killing us", but the human body is far more complex than such simple dismissive statements. While nutrition certainly does play a key role in weight management or loss, movement is not to be overlooked for its impact on metabolic processes and communication in the body.
Research has shown that physical activity is a stimulus that contributes greatly to energy balance and to the regulation of homeostasis within the body. More than just for burning calories, daily movement stimulates the release of enzymes, increases cellular sensitivity to hormones, facilitates substrates transport through membranes and several other metabolic functions that are paramount to the maintenance of a healthy body weight. In short: healthy active muscles positively influence ALL other tissues in the body through cellular signalling.
Summary and Action Items
Movement is one of our Five Pillars of Health for good reason. However, we would be remiss not to mention that it plays heavily into the other five pillars: movement can help you connect with your community, can provide time to take care of yourself, can further breed good nutrition choices, and can help you think more clearly and creatively to live with purpose.
In summary, research continues to support that movement matters for:
- Encouraging physical and mental health and reducing all-cause mortality risk factors.
- Decreasing joint pain and delaying onset of physical decline.
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Ensuring overall quality of life.
Incorporating movement does not have to involve a commitment to tripling your gym time but can instead be accomplished through simple daily actions to decrease sedentary time. We all have 168 hours in our weeks with (ideally) around 112 of those being conscious. If work, relaxation, and other time all look similar from a movement perspective (sitting, static postures, etc.), start seeking out small changes. Open up your calendar and schedule in the following:
- One walk at lunch every day for 20 minutes.
- One weekly walk for errands (ex: grocery store), and leisure walk through nature reserve or park (even if you have to drive there).
- One hour of play (for example chasing your kids or throwing a disc in the park with a friend).
These are just a few examples of ways you can add movement and joy to your life without overhauling your schedule. If health matters to you, movement matters as well. Get outside and move it so you don't lose it!