Movement vs Exercise
There's a reason that I chose non-exercise movement, alongside food and unwind as one of the pillars of my healthy lifestyle philosophy. The fact that it starts with "n" and conveniently created "fun" as an acronym was pure coincidence. 😉
Exercise gets all the attention. Everyone is focused on getting exercise, and while exercise is important and undeniably plays a role in healthy living, non-exercise movement is equally important, and for many, a much easier starting point. The other perhaps somewhat inconvenient truth, is that even if you are a regular exerciser, a daily gym session does not adequately compensate for the effects of 8 or more hours of otherwise sedentary behaviour. Thus the recommendation from the American Heart Association to "Sit less, move more."
So for all of you out there who either hate exercise or have limitations that make exercise difficult, the good news is making small efforts to increase your non-exercise movement can have significant impacts on your overall health and longevity.
I'm a huge fan of Katy Bowman and much of what I have to say on the subject of non-exercise movement is highly influenced by her work. One of my favorite concepts from her book Move Your DNA, is that our bodies are not "out of shape", they are in precisely the "shape" they should be in based on our movement patterns. Ouch!
Given the fact that we spend a good portion of our time seated in comfortable cushy chairs that don't require our bodies to work to hold themselves up, it should come as no surprise that our backs, posterior chain (aka glutes, hamstrings, etc.) and core have grown weak over time and are no longer capable of certain movements or tire quickly tire when we stand or sit on hard flat surfaces for long periods of time. And this is just one example of how our bodies have naturally adapted to our environment and typical movement patterns.
By way of another example, check out this YouTube video of an amazing girl born with no arms who has learned to use her feet to do all the things most of us do with our arms and hands such as eating, brushing her teeth and driving a car. Did you know that our feet have 26 bones (one quarter of the bones in the human body), 33 joints and more than 100 muscles and tendons? They are capable of way more functionality than most of us will ever use. I'll save the details for another day, but suffice it to say, wearing pointy toed, heeled shoes and walking on paved, flat surfaces our entire lives has prevented us from developing the wide range of movement, balance, functionality and abilities that our feet and bodies are capable of.
As you can see from the examples above, exercise is but a small portion of the total movement options available to us.
Here are my 9 favorite ways to add non-exercise movement to my day:
Walk as much and as often as possible, especially when doing things you need to do anyway. Need to grab one or two things from the grocery store? If it's only a few blocks away, why not walk instead of jumping in the car? Is your mail in one of those SuperBoxes? Instead of collecting it while driving by on your way home from work, park the car then go for a walk to grab it.
Stand more often. So much of our daily activities are spent sitting - driving, working, eating, watching tv, etc. Look for short moments to take standing breaks. How about each time you receive a notification on your phone you stand up to read it, and remain standing for a few more minutes. Watching tv? Stand during commercial breaks. Taking 3-5 minute standing breaks every hour can measurably counteract the effects of sitting.
Make it a habit to take the stairs no matter where you are. Taking the stairs at work is one option, but how about when you're at a hotel, in a parkade, or any multi-level building?
Instead of bending over, squat down. You'll save your back and increase the strength and mobility in your hips and legs. Squatting was once a very common position for humans, although the prevalence of chairs has made it rare in today's modern society. Once you start doing this, you'll notice there are many opportunities to do so throughout the day - retrieving items from a cupboard or drawer close to the floor, picking something up off the floor, putting on your shoes, doing laundry, etc.
Sit on the floor. Sitting on the floor requires you use your core to sit up straight and it requires a certain amount of flexibility in the hips and ankles. Even the act of getting down to the floor and up again provides unique variety of movement. Once you get practiced, see if you can do it without using your hands. Turns out, according to a Brazilian study, being able to do this is a predictor of life expectancy. Watch this short video to learn more and get your score.
Store regularly used or spare items in less convenient locations. For example, instead of keeping spare rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom cupboard, keep only 1 spare roll in the bathroom and the rest elsewhere. (Just don't forget to replace it immediately 😲) Or keep items like potatoes or rice in the basement instead of the kitchen. Sure this is less efficient, but we have a ton of convenience in our life and could all use a little less in the name of improved movement and health.
Take a short break with micro workouts. Ok, so this one may be a bit more like traditional exercise, but you don't need special equipment, or have to change your clothes, and you won't get (too) sweaty. A couple times over the course of the day, take a 3-5 minute break and do a few rounds of exercises. You can do some body weight strength moves like squats, lunges and push ups, or try some cardio moves like jacks, jogging on the spot or skipping. Not only will your body benefit from the movement but so will your brain, and you'll also return to whatever you were working on with renewed energy.
Grow a garden. You'll get plenty of non-exercise movement planting seeds, hoeing weeds, digging in the dirt, and harvesting vegetables or picking flowers. As a bonus, lots of these involve being close to the ground so you can practice squatting and getting up and down without using your hands!
Go green. Reduce your eco-footprint while increasing your movement. Wash your car by hand in the driveway. Pass on the harmful chemicals found in weed killer and pull the dandelions from your lawn or the weeds from your flower beds by hand. Use a reel lawnmower instead of a gas or electric powered one. Hang laundry outside to dry.
What ideas do you have for incorporating more non-exercise movement into your life? Which one might you try out today?