Increase Movement for Better Life

man walking to work past a rental bike rack
June 5, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

If you don’t exercise regularly, as in doing a routine set of activities that will lead to health benefits, don’t beat yourself up about it.

There are plenty of other ways to achieve health benefits—far less demanding than jogging, lifting, Zumba dancing, and the like.

It’s all about movement.

Here’s the key: Jogging for a mile to burn calories is movement that qualifies as exercise.  Walking a mile is movement, not exercise—but still does us a world of good.

You see, when you get down to basics, exercise is really just a type of movement.  We plan out a set of deliberate movements with targeted outcomes: improved mobility, strength, or cardio fitness, for example.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that our simplest, everyday movements—not just dedicated exercise—can bring good outcomes.

Some of those outcomes have recently been proven by studies of commuters in the U.K. and Canada:  increased happiness, significantly lower percentage of body fat, and reduced rates of obesity.

Why exercise isn’t the main issue

I’ve written before about the damage a sedentary lifestyle can inflict.  That’s really the heart of the issue.

A person who exercises for an hour a day devotes only 4 percent of their total time to being non-sedentary.

The other 96% of the time, the exerciser’s habits are almost always just as health-threatening as the non-exerciser’s:  sitting in the same type of office chair all day with hands on a keyboard, sitting at the same type of dining table or lunch counter with hands on food, sitting in the same type of car with hands on wheel, wearing the same type of unhealthy shoes, and so on.

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Katy Bowman, a well-respected biomechanist and the founder and director of the Restorative Exercise Institute, studies the relationships among cultural habits, movement, and disease.

She puts it this way:

“… while the exerciser tends to look better in person, they don’t look that different on paper, especially when compared to humans who move (but not exercise) more than we do.”

Easy does it: how to increase movement

Many of the non-exercise ways we can increase muscular strength, improve joint function, stimulate circulation and improve posture—some of the many benefits of simply improving movement—don’t even require a dedicated time or place.

They require only a mindful change in our everyday habits.

Here are a few simple ways to incorporate more movement—and movement-associated practices, like shoes, into your life:

  • Get less shoe. The more padding, insulation and other “features” in your shoes, the less your feet function as they should. After all, our bodies evolved over eons of walking barefoot, which calls on every muscle, nerve, and joint to function fully and harmoniously.  Lacing up too much inhibits healthy movement. The closer you can get to barefoot, the better.
  • Ladies, ditch the heels.  You know they’re bad for you—balance, posture, muscle length and fitness.  Just say no.
  • Work standing. A taller workspace that makes you stand instead of sitting means you’re asking your bones and muscles do what they’re made for: minute changes in balance, shifts of weight, and the like. You can also get a chair that lets you sit in new, different positions.
  • Break up sitting sessions.  Many of us just don’t have much choice when it comes to work.  We have to sit.  If that’s you, make a point of standing, stretching, walking around the workplace at least once an hour.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving. Especially with your new minimal shoes, walking or biking are obviously healthier modes of transport, for both your personal health and the planet’s.
  • Commute by train or bus.  If you can’t walk or bike to work, take public transportation. Recent studies in Canada and the U.K. have determined that non-driving commuters are happier than drivers—and have a reduced risk of obesity.  Makes sense: If your local commuter train or bus doesn’t stop right outside your door, you need to walk to get to it.

Don’t take good health sitting down

Many of these recommendations might seem intuitive.  Of course getting up off that couch or getting out of that office chair make a difference.

What’s new here is that those recent studies I mentioned have put real-world, real-time data to work—to prove what we all think makes perfect sense, and to exactly define the specific health benefits we can expect.

So get moving. It’s part of taking good care.

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