Our bodies are built for movement. Looking back on our ancestral history, movement has always been a central part of life from hunting to gathering resources. As we evolved, so did the way we farmed our foods and obtained resources resulting in less and less movement required. The Industrial Revolutions were big movements (no pun intended), that led us to being more inactive than ever before. Nowadays it is far from uncommon to work a desk job that can be 30-40 hours a week of sitting, primarily in front of a screen. How things have changed! While I am thankful for many things that our modern day society offers, I think it is important to reflect back on what our bodies need and what is important on a foundational level for health.
“Motion is life” – Hippocrates
After the third industrial revolution in the 1950s, the fitness industry took off in the 1970s. Coincidence? I think not.
As we adapted to less physical demanding jobs, we looked for other ways to move our body, have fun and feel good. Nowadays recreational physical exercise is a common way of life – gym and club memberships, sport teams, app subscriptions, etcetera. Chances are if you’re in the fitness industry and you regularly go to the gym, you might live in a bubble and think the vast majority of people are into going to the gym. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and many rarely partake in any type of “fitness activity” related to the gym. I know I’ve been on both sides of this.
In my education from kindergarten all the way to my doctorate of naturopathic medicine, I’ve learned the importance of movement. But as with “diet” (read the post HERE), I am careful with my words when asking patients about “exercise”. With the popularization of the fitness industry, diet and exercise often went hand in hand, and so did some negative connotations around those words. When asked about exercise, people often view this as going to the gym. Whether they quite literally buy into this industry, it should not be viewed as the only way they move their body. From a professional athlete to a mail delivery man/woman or a stay at home mom of 4, body movement is in their daily life, whether that be going to the gym or not. When I ask people about body movement, sometimes there is confusion, but I find it opens up for a more balanced discussion of how they move their body on a day-to-day basis.
At the end of the day, the body movement habits which we enjoy are likely to be the ones that we sustain. And we can enjoy them for different reasons – the community, the body euphoria afterwards, the competition, the duty, the alone time, etcetera. Reflecting on why you enjoy certain activities more will help you figure out ways to incorporate body movement into your daily life more often. I will often ask people to reflect back to their childhood in how body movement was incorporated in the ways they were brought up. For myself growing up on a farm, while I hated certain activities such as picking stone (still do), I find reward in physical labour such as gardening and taking care of property. I also grew up playing team sports, and now I gravitate towards exercise with a community aspect. I very rarely enjoy going to the gym alone, I find I seek a sense of accomplishment on a larger level.
Back to why this is a foundation for health, movement is a fundamental function shared by all living organisms, although how, where, why and when they move differs greatly. Focusing in on humans, we know movement helps with: boosting mood, improving sleep, sharpening focus, reducing stress, building relationships, and interacting with the world. Moving our bodies tells our body to retrieve stored energy (fat or glucose) and use it, to store any extra energy in muscles, or use it for repair rather than storing it as fat, to strengthen tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bone, and to clear out accumulated waste products. If any of these are health goals of yours, you can bet I will be assessing how you move your body each visit. The current recommendation for physical activity in adults are: at least 150-300 minutes (2.5-5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity, 75-150 minutes (1.25-2.5 hours) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Depending on your health status, there may be more benefit for one type of body movement over the other, which is why your health care professional may make a recommendation for a specific type.
The research is vast on many different conditions for body movement, but more importantly I think the proof is in the pudding, if you feel better, and notice improvements with your health with body movement, you’re most likely doing it right. On the other hand if you’re suffering from injuries or poor health outcomes, you may need to evaluate and reflect on how you’re moving your body on a day-to-day basis.
Patel PN, Zwibel H. Physiology, Exercise. [Updated 2019 May 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482280/
Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018;8(7). doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a029694
Silverthorn D. Human Physiology. Benjamin Cummings Publishings, 2010.
Singh R. The importance of exercise as a therapeutic agent. Malays J Med Sci. 2002;9(2):7‐16. PMID: 22844219
Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174(6):801‐809. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351
Yang YJ. An Overview of Current Physical Activity Recommendations in Primary Care. Korean J Fam Med. 2019;40(3):135‐142. doi:10.4082/kjfm.19.0038