Why Movement not Exercise is the Key to Good Health
We all need to exercise more for our health, our weight and longevity, right? Or wrong?
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Exercise or Movement?
We’ve spent so many years focusing on exercise and we’ve frequently been told how important it is for good health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its guidelines in December 2020 recommending 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensive aerobic physical exercise a week. But they did not refer to general movement:
Many people exercise as they believe it supports weight loss (mostly a myth: weight loss is 90% good nutrition and 10% exercise). And many exercise as they love the buzz and lift it delivers helping to lift mood and support mental health. I can certainly relate to that!
Health Impact of Movement
But there is a growing body of evidence to show that we should focus our intention less on exercise and more on MOVEMENT. Our body is designed to move regularly yet on average the typical adult spends about ten hours a day sitting! When you think about it, can one hour of moderate to intensive exercise counteract ten hours of inactivity? The research clearly says NO.
There is a role for conventional exercise but this approach alone does not automatically lead to good health. Different types of exercise from HIIT, strength and yoga all have an important part to play. I certainly love to incorporate different types of moderate intensity exercise every week but I’m waking up to the need to be moving throughout the day.
What happens when you sit down for long periods of time?
Inactivity can have a shocking effect on glucose sensitivity, insulin resistance and metabolic health. Glucose sensitivity is your body’s ability to take up glucose into cells and convert it to energy and it is significantly impaired when sedentary for long spells at a time. Inactivity has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The greater the number of breaks from sedentary behaviour throughout the day leads to better metabolic profiles. It positively supports glucose utilisation, the processing of triglycerides and the management of cholesterol – just by standing up rather than sitting down.
Other health consequences of long-term sitting are not positive. These include:
Blood flow slows impairing oxygen and nutrient delivery to cells;
It slows the flow of fresh oxygen to the brain required for mental clarity;
It impairs lymph flow making it harder to clear waste from cells, therefore increasing the toxic load in the body;
Muscles burn less glucose which can contribute to weight gain;
Cells become less responsive to glucose which can lead to greater amounts of insulin released (to try and shift the glucose out of the blood) and over time this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes;
Sitting after eating makes digestion more sluggish and may create digestive symptoms like bloating and burping and indigestion.
If you’re sitting at a desk for long periods it creates poor posture like slumping, slouching and rounded shoulders and many desk workers suffer with strained neck and shoulders. Poor posture can impair nerve supply, often to the digestive organs. Long-term sitting effects back and the hips and weakens muscles.
What does movement involve day to day?
It’s simple really but you need to stay active throughout the day.
Take a look at the following list, work out what you can do, add your own ideas, then take the time to get organised!
Small habits add up to big changes in lifestyle so just start with something easy to incorporate into your life and then keep adding to the list.
Aim to be up standing or move every hour. Set a timer on your phone to do this. Here are a few of the ideas you could incorporate:
- Invest in a standing desk or buy a device to convert your desk to a standing configuration. This is number one on my list of priorities;
- Consider if you need to use the car, try and plan so that you make time for walking instead;
- Use the stairs never the lift. Walk up the escalator don’t just stand still on it;
- If you take the bus, get off at least one stop early;
- As I write this it’s the lightest time of year so there’s no excuse that it’s too dark to walk before or after work. Set your alarm and get up half an hour earlier;
- Try an audio book and walk instead of sitting and reading;
- Try short breaks to stretch or incorporate some yoga or thai chi moves;
- Use a few minutes to tidy or clean a room (rather than doing this all in one go).
Continue with moderate intensity exercise by all means but there is also a need to move frequently throughout the day.
Remember this quote: “You cannot offset ten hours of sedentary behaviour with one hour of intensive exercise.”
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