Why do we exercise?
To lose weight? Improve our body composition (more muscle, less fat)? To prevent injury? Increase our longevity? Because it makes us feel good?
These are all reasonable explanations for why you swipe your card and hop on the treadmill (or elliptical or weight machine or…) several times a week. But is it working? All the way?
I mean, have you ever thought about why you need to exercise?
We’ve grown up being told that it’s important. If you talk to some doctors, trainers, random guys on the street, exercise is basically the answer to life, the universe, and everything (they’re wrong, it’s 42). But, did your great-great-great grandmother go for regular runs and never miss a spin class?
Let’s go back a little further, or a LOT further, to the hunter gatherer roots from which we all come. There was no “exercise,” only movement for the sake of life and survival and play. Even following our progression through history, most of the military training and physical education until the late 19th century looked much more like the movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors than the gym-goers of today.
Jumping, free running (think parkour in the woods, probably with significantly fewer risky flips for show), climbing, crawling, carrying heavy loads were all part of what was considered essential through most of our human history. And sitting in lots of different positions wasn’t part of stretching or a yoga flow, it was part of every day life pre-chair (only a few hundred years ago).
Exercise the way we know it is a byproduct of the slow rise of our current sports systems and the health and fitness market. And, yes, it may be a great way to produce the next home run slugger or world class sprinter, but it’s not really serving the rest of us. Not all the way.
I 100% believe in a need for “exercise” in the modern lifestyle. I, for one, sit in a chair in an office 8-10 hours a day and sit in my car 45 minutes each way to get there. It’s unlikely that, without exercise, I would develop the muscle and strength (they’re 2 different things) I need to thrive in my life. BUT….
Exercise is a modern attempt to replace the MOVEMENT that is missing in our daily lives and it does a poor job providing us with everything that our lifestyles are missing.
We human being have loads of joints and muscles that move in a ridiculous number of different directions and combinations. How many do you use in most workouts? Not a lot. How many in your normal day-to-day? Probably even fewer.
How often to do you reach your hands far above your head vs how much time you spend in the keyboard position (shoulders down, elbows bent 90°, hands in front of you)? How often to do rotate or twist? How good are you at sitting without a chair to hold your body up (I’m not talking wall sit here, I’m talking about not collapsing into a chair and letting it do all the work of keeping you upright-ish)? Can you get up and down off the floor easily or not? Do you have certain movements you avoid because of pain?
And finally: when you’re done exercising for the day, what do you do? Because a daily bout of exercise does not make up for a life otherwise spent mostly sitting. Science says so (https://bit.ly/2TXpa6n, https://bit.ly/2HFfYNu)
This isn’t intended to be all doom and gloom. I want to drive home to you the logic behind the idea that exercise is not everything. There are some AMAZING benefits to it, and I personally think that it’s fun but in the to-do list of “being a well human being” it only checks off a few lines. For the rest, we need MOVEMENT.
I’ll talk more about how movement and exercise relate and differ and how to get more movement into your exercise in an upcoming post but, for now, here are some ways you can get moving today.
- Take walk breaks. Every 30 minutes, if you can. Just get up and walk for a minute or two. That’s it.
- Adjust. If you have your perfectly ergonomic desk set up and tend to sit in that one position most of the day, try NOT doing that. Make little adjustments all day. Sit on the front edge of your chair. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. If you have the option to stand, stand for a bit. Change positions as frequently as you can without disrupting your office and your work.
- Try some desk stretches. A quick google search will get you a long way here.
- Don’t sit on the couch when you get home. Opt for an evening walk instead. Start a garden. Do some yoga. Make dinner from ingredients instead of a box. Play with a kid in your life. Just don’t sit all evening.
- When you do sit down to read or chill with the TV (cause we all do, c’mon), try sitting on the floor. If it’s too much at first, slowly adjust to being able to by sitting on some stacked up cushions or pillows and slowly working your way further toward the ground.