Exercise is good for us. There are numerous studies extolling its benefits.1 Understandably, one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to exercise more. However, for some, exercise is a four-letter word. We know that it’s good for us, but it can be boring, tedious, time-consuming, or downright painful. Some might even have a genetic propensity to hate it.2 Thankfully, your genes aren’t your destiny and perhaps it’s time for a new perspective in the new year.
We use the word exercise to describe a period of time over which we purposefully move with the desire to reap the benefits of moving. What if we were to talk about movement instead of exercise? Movement is any motion made by the body. What if we were to consider movement nourishment – like food – the provision of a substance necessary for growth, health and good condition? Movement, like food, needs to be of sufficient quality, quantity, and variety to meet the body’s needs. If your movement “diet” is balanced and complete, it will contribute to your overall health.
“Exercise is the modern man’s equivalent to nutritional supplements. In the same way supplements should not be bulk of your diet, exercise should not be the bulk of your movement profile.”
- Katie Bowman, biomechanist and author of Move Your DNA
For the bulk of human history, man hasn’t exercised. Movement was incidental to our needs and dictated by our environment. If we wanted to survive, we were in almost constant motion. We walked or ran to get from point A to point B. We chased, hunted, fished, and foraged for our food or worked in fields to grow it. We chopped and gathered wood to cook our food and to keep us warm. We built our homes and fought to protect them and our loved ones.
Over the millennia, we have changed our environment to one of convenience and comfort. In the process, we have reduced the need for movement. Even if you worked out for 1 hour every day of the week (which hardly any of us do), 96% of our lives is spent in sedentary activities like: riding in a vehicle, reading, sitting, using the computer, watching TV, and sleeping. Along with other changes in our environment – increased pollutants, depleted soils, the ingestion of processed, calorie-dense-nutrient-poor foods, non-native electromagnetic fields, and ubiquitous stress – our lack of movement contributes to diseases of modernity (obesity, diabetes, autoimmunity, and cancer).
Wouldn’t it be N.E.A.T. if we found more ways in the day to move? N.E.A.T. is an acronym that stands for Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. N.E.A.T. activities are non-exercise activities that occur during the day like standing, walking, cleaning, cooking, lawn work, playing with the kids, or chasing down a mugger (the last one isn’t really recommended). The number of calories expended in N.E.A.T. can obviously vary widely from person to person, but can be up to 2000 per day.3 Get creative. Don’t park in the spot closest to your destination. Walk to work. Take the stairs. Set an alarm on your phone to get up and walk for every 45 minutes. Get a standing, or better yet, a walking desk. Sit on an exercise ball instead of your regular office chair.
My lovely wife at her standing desk.
Moving in different and novel ways affects more than just the calories you burn. A 10-minute walk can boost cognitive performance. 4 Dancing can reduce anxiety and relieve depression – especially if you saw me dance.5 Consider furnishing or arranging your house differently to encourage different types of movement.
Our bed positioned on the floor to promote novel movement. (Also, it’s no small feat moving all those pillows.)
Exercise can be a great “supplement” to a depleted movement diet, but let’s take another step in the right direction this year and work in more movement throughout your day.
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