Movement is an essential component of health. Movement supports every function of our body, such as digestion, immunity, and circulation. It supports brain health and cognitive function. It also influences our mood and emotional health for the better.
Yet American culture is firmly rooted in sedentary behavior (other nations are not immune) despite the efforts of public health, medical, and fitness professionals. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), fewer than 50% of Americans meet the minimal recommended amount of 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise. Of adults 65 and older, only 16% get that much exercise.
Being sedentary has become the default way to live. Most people are unaware that this is an ingrained cultural habit. Someone who chooses to be active, for example walking to a destination when they have they option to drive, or using a rake when they can afford a leaf blower, may be seen as unusual. Being sedentary is normal. Movement is seen mostly in limited ways: as a beautification program, to prevent heart disease, or as a competitive hobby, such as running a marathon. Yet it is much more fundamental and necessary.
It hasn’t helped that the health and fitness community has emphasized exercise rather than natural movement, intensity over fun, and fear of disease over joyful enthusiasm. Here are a few suggestions for restoring movement to its rightful place in your life.
- Become aware of the bias against movement. Noticing how much being sedentary is the default behavior will give you more control over the options you consider and the decisions you make. You won’t be as likely to go on auto-pilot and make unconscious choices based on the movement-averse cultural model.
- Start by choosing activities that you enjoy. Is running on a treadmill at the gym really your number one choice? Think outside the box. This is actually a really tough one, because you can’t look this up on the internet or in a book, or ask a fitness guru. What do you like to do? Only you know. It may be tennis or tai chi, tango or tree planting, swimming or soccer, walking meditation or walking with friends. Maybe it is house and garden projects and playing with the kids. Consider what is possible and look inward for guidance. What ideas give you that tingle of possibility? You may have to experiment before you discover what brings you joy and makes you feel alive.
- Take it easy. Going from a sedentary lifestyle to an epic workout is likely to result in soreness and injury. Swinging from neglect to abuse of the body is not a recipe for health and joy. Do what feels easy. If you stick with it your body will strengthen and you will be able to do more later, if that’s your goal. In my experience, most people who say they don’t like to move actually don’t like to do activities that are too intense for their fitness level, rightfully so.
- Include movement that goes beyond formal exercise. Make it fit into your life, not around it. Plan active fun with your loved ones so you combine your social, family, and love life with your active lifestyle. It can be as simple as walking to a café with a friend instead of each person driving to the destination. Or play in the park with the kids and the dog. Walk in instead of taking the drive-through.
- Set up your environment so that day to day active choices are easy.Some decisions are big, such as choosing to live in a neighborhood where you have the option to walk or cycle to destinations you frequent. But there are plenty of simple actions you can take right away: Make sure your house has options for movement other than sitting in chairs. Can you keep a space free of clutter so you can get down on a mat and stretch? Wear clothing and shoes that allow you to breathe, walk, and move freely. Keep equipment in good repair, such as bicycles and baby strollers, so you can head out anytime you want.
- Help the next generation. Some kids have a lot of energy, which is often seen as excessive rather than healthy from the viewpoint of our movement-averse society. The tendency is to encourage kids to be still for long periods of time, to learn the sedentary norm as early as possible. Yet focus and learning are not synonymous with not moving. Studies even show that cognitive tasks are enhanced if performed while moving versus sitting still. It is much easier to adopt healthy habits early in life than to change your ways later on. So give kids the opportunity to move as much as possible in fun and varied ways, and join them when appropriate so you can reap the benefits too. They will have a chance to adopt a movement-rich lifestyle that will support them their whole life.
- Get political. Data shows that communities that have access to walking and cycling trails, pedestrian areas, and parks, are much more active than their counterparts that lack such amenities. This increased physical activity influences the citizens’ health as much as if they quit smoking or started eating vegetables. So get involved at the local level so your community will benefit from becoming more movement friendly.
- Be kind to yourself. If you have been inactive, your body may not feel wonderful when you start to pay attention to it. There may be fits and starts. Strive toward your values while accepting imperfection. It will be a journey of persistence rather than instant gratification. Take a patient and loving attitude toward yourself.
- Get support from experts. Professionals such as movement coaches, massage therapists, acupuncturists, life coaches, or fitness trainers can be a big help. They can provide information and guidance, help you problem solve, and provide healing modalities to overcome injuries and faulty movement patterns.
So embrace movement and discover the health and vitality that is your potential as you live your life to the fullest.