More Movement. Less Exercise.
by Buffy Owens
There is no life without movement. From the blood that pulses through our veins to the actions required to gather and consume food, your mind and body are intimately connected. And while your brain is the master control system for your body’s movement, the way you move can also affect the way you think and feel.
Some of the functions for movement are obvious — like hunting and gathering. Other critical aspects of movement may be less obvious — like the way movement acts as an extension of your cardiovascular system or primary pump for your lymphatic system. And then there are all the other ways movement impacts you emotionally, mentally, and socially.
There’s a lot I could say about movement. But for today, we'll focus on the importance of moving more in everyday life (i.e. more movement, less exercise).
The human body, with approximately 640 muscles and 206 bones, is made to move. But in general, we humans seem to be moving less and less.
You've probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. There’s been some decent research that indicates that time spent sitting down directly correlates with longevity, insulin sensitivity, heart health and more. Those who spend more time sitting down versus being up and about are more likely to experience health problems and possibly an earlier death. This is independent of exercise habits. Those who sit the most have the most health issues, even if they exercise regularly.
How big of a risk increase are we talking?
Just for giggles, let's talk numbers. Some studies estimate that every extra hour you spend sitting in front of the TV each day is associated with an 18% increase in heart disease death and an 11% increase in death from all causes. Another study framed it this way: every hour of TV you watch after the age of 25 reduces your life expectancy—at least statistically—by almost 22 minutes. Feeling the fear & guilt yet? If so, don't worry, we're not going to dwell on the negative for too long.
DID YOU KNOW
In less than two generations, physical activity has dropped 32% and research suggests adults spend about 60% or more than 8 hours of their waking day being sedentary! What we do in our leisure time doesn’t come close to making up for what we’ve lost.
Ok. Ok. So we now know that sitting constantly is creating disease. But here's the deal-y-oh, standing constantly also creates disease. The problem is not sitting per se, it’s prolonged stillness and a lack of variation in your daily routine.The problem is being sedentary.
But how do we define being sedentary versus being active? The phrase “sedentary behavior” comes from the Latin word “sedere,” which means, “to sit.” More specifically, the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity defines sedentary behavior as:
"Sedentary behavior is any waking behavior characterized by an energy expenditure ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs), while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture. In general this means that any time a person is sitting or lying down, they are engaging in sedentary behavior. Common sedentary behaviors include TV viewing, video game playing, computer use (collective termed “screen time”), driving automobiles, and reading."
So now that we have a working definition of sedentary behavior, let's take a look at some ways to integrate more movement into your life today!
How Often Should We Move?
A growing body of scientific literature shows that moving around for just two minutes every 20 minutes has tremendous health benefits. But you've got to be moving around! One paper published showed that simply standing for two minutes didn’t do much good. But getting up and moving around, specifically a slow walk, was key to reaping the benefits.
One of the easiest ways to get more moving in your day is to set a timer during those times when you're sedentary — working at a computer, knitting, writing, reading, watching T.V., etc. By repeatedly setting a 20-minute timer and then getting up and walking around for two minutes throughout the sedentary portion of your day can completely negate the health detriment of prolonged sitting.
Can't-do every 20 minutes? Then shoot for moving for 5 minutes every 40 minutes. This can sometimes be an easier rhythm to start with and then you can always transition to the 20-2 option.
Here are a few things to do during those two minutes:
- Walk for at least 20 feet and then make sure you walk to a window. Look out on the horizon. It'll feel nice and your eyes will thank you. Then walk yourself to get a glass of water for a bit of hydration goodness.
- Do some air squats or play with standing up and sitting back down in a chair several times before you stroll around.
- Walk up and down your favorite set of stairs.
- Put on your favorite song and shake your derriere like you just don't care. A good ol' fashioned dance party is a wonderful way to move & groove.
- If you've got the space and you're proficient at rolling, then roll around on the floor for a few then walk it out for two.
- Yoga your thing? Do a few sun salutations or some variation.
- Stretch your arms high above your head or hang from a bar for a bit... but then keep on strollin'.
The above list is just a glimpse of some of the ways to move throughout your day. If you want more inspiration, make sure to download the Activity Intensity List. It's plum full of movement inspiration.
To wrap it up, I want to make sure to emphasize that the goal is to incorporate consistent and gentle movement throughout the day is in addition to some form of more moderately-intense activity at least a few times a week. I’m absolutely NOT saying that lifting weights, getting some heart-thumping cardio, or a challenging hike aren’t good for you! Of course, they are, there are tons of benefits to including more rigorous exercise in your life.
I like to think of it as expanding one's movement repertoire — from the power of gentle movement to the human need to diversify and intensify movement for optimal health.