Actually, I hate moving. I like to snuggle up in a cozy spot, preferably with a conveniently placed sunbeam, and not move from there until my bladder is bursting or I’m desperate for some coffee.
This is a Bad Thing.
Why? Because movement affects every function and process of the body. You’ve heard of healthy inside, healthy outside? The converse is also true: healthy outside, healthy inside. Internal movement relies on smooth muscle contractions, strong blood pressure, effective breathing, and external movement. Take, for example, the process of getting oxygen into your blood. If your chest or rib cage is stiff, you won’t be able to inhale deeply which will reduce the amount of oxygen you take in, increase blood pressure, and build tension in the organs that should be massaged by the diaphragm.
Now, I’m not talking about exercise, as in, that hour you spend swimming or doing cross-fit or lifting weights. Those things are all good, but they don’t cancel out the harmful effects of not moving often through the day. In fact, six hours of uninterrupted sitting cancels out the positive health benefits of an hour of exercise, even if you’re fit and have a regular exercise routine. And these days, we do a lot of sitting.
In the car or bus.
At our desk at work.
At home on the couch.
Our bodies are not built for that. They’re built to MOVE.
So, what is movement exactly?
Movement – What is It?
Movement includes all the ways your muscles, tendons, and bones are designed to move. If you do not frequently move your joints and muscles, they will lose part of their functionality, resulting in stiffness, weakness, difficulty moving in certain ways, and even pain. Use it or lose it.
It’s a myth that movement naturally reduces with old age. Movement reduces with less movement. The less you move, the less you will be able to move. Seniors that stay active are more likely to keep the ability to be active.
Here are the different types of movements a human is designed to make:
- Lateral movement– bending and moving side-to-side.
- North-south movement– bouncing, rebounding, and jumping (think parkour).
- Flexion and extension– increasing or decreasing the angle of a joint, e.g. extending and bending the knees or elbows.
- Abduction and adduction– moving a body part towards or away from the midline, e.g. Lifting the arms or legs to the side, away from the body, then returning them to their original position.
- Shaking movements– like the song and the thing you’re not supposed to do to a Polaroid picture.
- Resistance movement– using external force (like lifting, pushing, or carrying a weight).
- Aerobic movement– movement that increases heart rate and oxygen demand.
You should be making all these kinds of movements on a daily basis. If you are finding any of them difficult and you are not seriously injured or ill, you probably just need to practice the movements until they become easy again.
Why is Sitting Bad?
As you may already know, a lot of scientists have done a lot of studies and this is what they’ve found:
- Death. The more you sit, the shorter your life will be, even if you exercise regularly. That’s right, for every hour you sit, your life expectancy decreases by two hours. Research has also found that sitting for more than three hours a day causes 3.8 percent of all-cause deaths. The World Health Organization lists inactivity as the fourth biggest killer of adults worldwide, responsible for 9 percent of premature deaths. So, get busy moving, or get busy dying.
- Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease. External movement affects cardiovascular function and insulin management. Lack of movement makes the cells in the body resistant to insulin, the chemical which tells your body when you need sugar. This is called diabetes, and it is a chronic illness. Sitting for extended periods also increases blood lipids, a risky state for someone with diabetes. People who spend most of the day sitting are twice as likely to develop diabetes and heart disease, even if they exercise regularly.
- Stiffness and Pain. The less you move, the less you want to move. Energy and the ability to move is reduced. The body follows a ‘use it or lose it’ approach, which is why not moving enough causes stiffness, discomfort, and even pain. Many people suffer from back problems, most of which can be traced back to sedentary lifestyles.
- Poor blood flow. Lack of muscle contraction hinders blood flow. One study found that a single hour of sitting impaired blood flow to the main leg artery by as much as 50 percent. Blood delivers nutrients, oxygen, and energy to the muscles and the tissues surrounding the joints. It also removes all the icky waste stuff that has collected in the area. Without this blood flow, pain and deterioration of the tissues is sure to follow.
- Difficulty Concentrating. Muscle activity and oxygen keep your brain alert. When you sit and stop using your muscles, your brain may stop too.
- Weight Gain. Taking in more calories than you burn leads to weight gain. Very few calories are burned if you’re spending most of your time sitting.
- Arthritis is degeneration within the joint capsule. If joints do not regularly move through their full range, nutrients and protective cells are not moved into the joint and waste is not moved out. This contributes to the breakdown of the joint.
- Osteoporosis is an imbalance between the osteoblast cell (bone building cells) and osteoclast cells (bone breakdown cells) activity. Lack of movement and exercise predisposes individuals, typically females, to osteoporosis. Inactivity prevents the signal to the bones to remodel and rebuild, leading to a decrease in bone density.
- Anxietyand Depression are associated with physical inactivity, because the endorphins that stimulate positive feelings and decrease stress and anxiety are not released when sitting.
- Tumours and cysts.External movement is needed to pump lymph and fluids through the body. Without this movement, fluids tend to accumulate and stagnate, resulting in tumours and cysts.
- Cancer. For example, exercise speeds up the transit time of toxic bowel waste through the colon. If this waste spends too much time in the colon, there is an increased risk of colon cancer.
Convinced yet? Let’s look at the positives of movement.
Why is Movement Good?
Photo Credit: Kerrythe the Mac
Oh, let me count the ways:
- Uninterrupted sitting prevents your body from interacting with gravity, which speeds up cell degeneration and aging. Movement increases the force of gravity on your body, counteracting this degeneration and even reversing or delaying some age-related changes. One study showed that women who sat the longest on a daily basis were found to be about 8 years older (biologically speaking) than those who moved more.
- Regular movement delivers lots of yummy nutrients to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and tissues surrounding the joints. It also removes waste from these areas, keeping them flexible and pain-free.
- Movement causes the muscles to contract, loads connective tissues and bones, increases respiration and circulation, and releases hormones and cell signals. This causes the body to repair itself, clear out waste, strengthen tissues, and keep all functions and processes in tip-top condition,
- Activity uses stored energy, such as fat or glucose, which prevents weight gain. It also sends new energy into the muscles instead of storing it.
- The more you move, the more you want to move. The endorphins that are produced through activity are addictive, so you feel more energetic and able to be active.
- Ever heard of ‘embodied cognition’? It’s the phenomenon of how movement sharpens the brain’s learning, processing, and decision-making functions. Movement supplies oxygen to the brain, helps new neurons grow and thrive, maintains existing brain structures, and stimulates the production of BDNF (a substance that supports learning and memory). It also helps the brain recover from injury or inflammation.
- Simply taking a five-minute walk for every hour spent sitting has been found to ameliorate the heart disease risks associated with chronic sitting.
- When you don’t have the mental or emotional energy to control your thoughts and focus on the positive, movement can save the day. Endorphins, your body’s messengers of happiness and well-being, are released during activity, creating a natural feeling of well-being and reducing stress and anxiety. Movement is also a form of meditation as it forces the mind to focus on the body, rather than stressful thoughts. Synchronized movement – such as walking with a friend, dancing, or following the movements of an exercise instructor – have been shown to increase feelings of self-esteem and cooperation.
- Activity creates changes in body temperature that trigger the areas of the brain that initiate sleep. This makes falling asleep easier and promotes smoother transitions between sleep cycles.
- Resistance training has been proven to assist in the treatment of metabolic disease, cancer, neuromuscular disorders, HIV, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Movement directs blood flow away from the digestive organs and into the muscles. This causes food in the digestive tract to move faster through the intestines, reducing the chance of constipation.
- Regular activity increases the T-lymphocyte, white blood cell, and lymphocyte count in the body. This means you have plenty of powerful immune system soldiers to fight off infections.
- There are two types of fat in the body: brown fat and white fat. Brown fat burns energy instead of storing it, so that’s the kind you want to have. Exercise actually turns white fat into brown fat, improving your overall metabolism and health, even if you don’t lose weight.
- Movement reduces the risk of:
- Heart Disease. Engaging in activities that increase the heart rate strengthen it and make it more efficient.
- Chronic Illness. Resistance training has been shown to reduce the incidence of chronic illness and even assist in its treatment.
- Resistance and weight-bearing movements (walking, jogging, and carrying, lifting, pulling, or pushing a weight) stimulate osteoblast cells to remodel and strengthen the bones, increasing bone density and greatly reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
- Walking or doing light resistance exercise reduces blood lipids and improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Just 3 minutes of movement every 30 minutes can reduce blood lipids and decrease your risk of diabetes and cholesterol problems.
- Studies show that active women have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer.
Just standing rather than sitting appears to be a much healthier way to work. Within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol are activated, immediately benefiting the cellular functioning of your muscles. Studies have found that standing up once every hour has a stronger effect on cardiovascular and metabolic health than walking for 15 minutes.
Even if you are struggling with chronic illness or are elderly, consider adding standing and walking to your routine. Walking 20-25 minutes per day may add 3-7 years to your life. As little as 2.5 hours walking per week can lower mortality by 20 percent, even if you are overweight. Walking for 1-2 hours per day has also been shown to cut the risk of stroke in men over 60 by one-third.
How to Do It
It’s never easy to change your habits. The key is to make small changes gradually. Just standing up every 10 minutes can be more effective than taking a walk. Remember, it’s not how long you stand up, but how many times you stand up that is important.
Here are your daily goals:
- Sit less than 3 hours.
- Stand up 35 times. (Not in a row; it has to be spread through the day)
- Walk 10,000 to 15,000 steps.
- For every 30 min of sitting, be active for 3 minutes.
How can you accomplish them? Start by setting a timer to buzz every 30 minutes. Then stand up and do one of these things:
- Five jumping jacks.
- Stretch your arms above your head, breathing in, then slowly bend over and touch your toes, breathing out. Repeat until your body feels relaxed.
- Five squats.
- Practice your dance moves for three minutes.
- Take a walk down the hall and back.
- Run up and down the stairs.
You can also add movement to your routine by trying these tricks:
- Walk over to a co-worker to give them a message instead of using the phone or email.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Park your car further away from where you need to be.
- Take the scenic route when walking to your work area or around the shops.
- Hold stand-only office meetings – this also discourages unproductive chit-chat, so it’s a win-win!
- Get a pedometer or a pedometer app on your phone and aim for 10,000 to 15,000 steps per day. You could start by measuring how many steps you actually walk in a day, then slowly increasing that by a few hundred steps each day.
- Use an exercise ball for a chair. This forces you to use your core muscles to balance and work against gravity. You can also bounce on it occasionally.
- Stand up whenever you answer the phone.
- Organise your workspace so that you have to stand up to reach certain items, like stationery, files, or the printer and telephone.
- Get an adjustable workstation so that you can work while standing up. You may find it too tiring to stand all day, so alternate standing with sitting. Start with 10 minutes of standing for every hour of sitting. Keep your knees unlocked and flexible so that you don’t cut off circulation and feel tired.
- Walk or bike instead of drive.
- Get off your public transport one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
- Plan fun weekend activities like hiking, biking, swimming, playing with your kids, dancing, or rock climbing. Get outdoors whenever possible.
- Sit on the floor instead of on the couch. Shifting between sitting on the floor and standing involves much more muscle and joint action.
Don’t make excuses! We have an answer for all of them anyway.
- I don’t have enough time. Really, 3 minutes every 30 minutes to stand up, stretch, walk around, is impossible? No, it’s not, don’t be silly. Anyway, we’ve already learned that more movement increases productivity, so those 5 minutes will pay off.
- The weather isn’t nice for exercising or walking. So, do Zumba in your lounge. Stretch in your office. Watch a Ted talk while you march on the spot. There are like a million exercise routines on YouTube.
- I don’t like exercise. Do you like diabetes? Heart disease? I don’t. But it doesn’t have to be exercise, just movement. Walk outside and look at the flowers. Put on a great dance song and boogie it out. Jump up and down. Play twister. Take the stairs. Touch your toes.
- I’m injured. It’s true that acute injury needs rest in the early stages of recovery. But most recovery has happened in the first three months after the injury. If you’re still experiencing pain, chances are you need to teach your body to move again. Movement helps the injured muscles and bones to heal and regain strength.
- I can’t afford a gym membership/I don’t have anywhere safe to walk/I don’t have space at home. Do you have space to get dressed? Then you have space to move. Just boogie on the spot, squat, stretch, balance on one foot, jump up and down, march on the spot.
Now you know why you should move and how to incorporate it into your daily routine. So, don’t be a couch potato – get ants in your pants! Let us know how it goes over the next weeks and months by commenting below.