For Optimal Health After 60, Focus on Movement Instead of Exercise

How much time do you
spend thinking about how you move throughout the day? If you’re not getting the
health results you want, your movement is likely a huge factor!

Movement comes down
to a matter
of convenience
. Today, moving more to perform 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.

But what these
devices are doing is externalizing the work of your muscles, outsourcing the
work of your own body. “Upgrading” your products often results in doing less
work throughout our day.

However, these
“conveniences” come with a major downside.

Humans
Are Intended to Move

Your movement impacts not only your physical health but your mental health and well-being as well. The focus of my work as a physical therapist is to improve a person’s quality of life through movement. Over the years, I’ve noticed a common theme.

The mindset has shifted, and movement is viewed as “inconvenient” rather than a necessary part of a full and healthy life. The first step in taking your life back involves reversing this mindset that contributes to declining health over time.

For optimal health,
you can keep it simple (though simple is not always easy) and start to build
more movement into your daily life by trading out perceived conveniences for
inconveniences.

Over time, this
eliminates the need for separate exercise to compensate for a sedentary
lifestyle. This may seem counterintuitive at first but contributes to better
health in the long run.

Adopting a regular
movement practice
is a great place to start. A basic
understanding of the guiding principles of a movement practice will help get
you started on the right foot.

Principle
#1: Movement Is Essential

Movement is a
physiological need for humans, like food and water. Like food, our movement
should be of high quality and offer a variety of “movement nutrients.” But
modern life and our environment often result in repeated movement patterns and
a lack of variety.

We tend to look at
movement as something we need to get out of the way rather than something to be
practiced and performed all throughout the day.

Everybody Needs to Move in Some
Way Every Day

Much like 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 your body and
lead to muscle imbalances. This leads to immobility in certain parts of the
body. Start to think of movement as essential, and you’ll make it a bigger
focus of your day with practice.

Principle
#2: “Movement” Is Different Than “Exercise”

Movement science is
focused on the importance of daily “exercise” and what defines the best type of
exercise. But somewhere along the way, we’ve 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 amenities continue to make our lives easier, our bodies suffer from the effects of convenience leading to ever increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.

A new field of
exercise science was created to undo these effects and the byproduct was an
emphasis on daily exercise.

The daily recommended minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day doesn’t “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 finding new mobility and strength, allowing
you to use larger natural movements throughout the day.

The conversation of movement science has become very polarizing and definitions of “movement” have become narrower. This makes our society feel as though we are separated into “exercisers” or “non-exercisers” rather than all people being considered “movers.”

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 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.

Principle
#3: Not All Movement Is Created Equal

With all of that being said, some movement is always better than no movement. However, not all movement is created equal.

Your body functions
in its’ healthiest form if you walk 3–5 miles throughout the day. Your
circulation, immunity, and the strength of your bones depend on the function of
your muscles for beneficial activities like walking.

Other movements
cannot replace your body’s need to walk; however, they can be used as a
supplement. For example, riding a bike is not the same experience as walking
for your body, though this is an objectively better activity than spending that
time on a couch.

By a similar token, walking on a treadmill is not the same as walking overground. Recognizing that not all movement is the same is an essential component of being a better mover.

Movement is
complicated, and yet such a simple concept. There are more nuances to movement
than most of us realize. It’s not as easy as defining movement or exercise as
“good” or “bad.”

It all depends on
your goals. If your 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.

Now that you understand the basics of movement you can start to build your own movement practice. Understanding that your body adapts to how you move is the first step. From there, you can start to make observations of your own movement to learn where you need to make changes.

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