What’s the difference between going on a diet & healthy eating for life?
Dieting tends to be a temporary activity with a short-term goal, but usually with the real aim of creating long-term change. However, we all know it often doesn’t and only occasionally is it the jolt that’s needed to make changes for a lifetime.
Focussing instead on a generally eating healthily is more likely to create a sustainable way to have healthy nutrition for life. This focus on creating good habits for life makes the most sense to me and has served me well nutritionally for many years now. Having been a regular fad dieter for many years, it only ever served to make me unhappy achieving temporarily, or failing to achieve short term gains that I then I couldn’t maintain in the long run.
But this post is not about good food nutrition (despite that being very important to me for my overall wellbeing). Instead, it’s about nutritious movement for the body - my main passion!
What’s this got to do with movement health?
To me, the same theory applies when we focus on adding in short bouts of ‘exercise’ rather than looking at the body’s movements as a whole throughout every day.
The fitness industry has done a great job of making people aware of how important it is to get their bodies moving at all and that has increased the wellbeing of thousands for the better and reduced sedentarism. However, it’s in human nature to want to find the minimum amount needed to tick the exercise box to achieve good health; movement’s equivalent of the ‘diet’!
It has also been the case that the focus has been on using heart rate in combination with an amount of time on the clock as the key measure of success. Of course, it’s key to work the heart muscle as it powers the cardiovascular system which drives so many healthy functions in our body. That’s why we move, after all, to maintain healthy equilibrium (homeostasis) in the body for optimum health. Why then are there so many supposedly ‘fit’ people lacking mobility and strength, getting injured or still having health issues that then cause a gradual decrease in their movement over time?
It’s all about the lens you see it through
The answer is down to perspective - that of not just seeing it as how much ‘exercise’ we’ve done that day or week, but instead being someone who tries to move their body as much as they can, in as many ways as they can, to regularly firing up all their bodily systems (beneficial for the body, brain, hormonal balance and more) to aim for optimum health.
Instead of looking at only ticking the exercise box and then being sedentary for the rest of the day, we also need to look at all the rest of our daily movements. We need to be aware of how long we sit for or whether we break up long sitting spells with movement breaks? Think about whether we always sit on furniture where our muscles switch off or whether we can sit differently on chairs to engage muscles or even better, sit on the floor? How regularly we incorporate physical tasks in our day and how often we do things that actually avoid movement (often without even realising we’re doing it!)?
By all means, do the HIIT session, go on the bike ride or the run - I do many activities like this myself, but to be a ‘mover’ in old age when we are less likely to be doing many of these types of activities, we need to get into healthy habits & routines as early as possible, that will sustain our bodies, rather than as short-term diets.
So what’s included when you say ‘movement’ as opposed to just ‘exercise’?
Everything! Every time we use our muscles and joints to move it benefits our bodies and minds. It helps grow or maintain muscle mass & bone density aids the production of healthy hormones for general well-being, prevents many diseases in older age and improves mental health. The full list is long!
Movement is an all-encompassing term that includes gentle movements right up to more heavy cardiovascular exercise over longer periods. We need to include movements as simple as getting right down to the floor to pick an item up, going on a short walk or carrying a bag of shopping back to the car. All these movements are healthy movements and great opportunities as they all add up to great movement nutrition and we want to get as many of these non ‘exercise’ movements into our lives as possible and keep doing them ourselves for as long as possible.
We also need awareness of how modern technology affects our movement patterns
Trying to avoid long periods of sedentary behaviour where our systems slow down & our muscles switch off is made more difficult in this modern world where technology is helping us to do so many things in our lives and keeping us attached to screens on a regular basis. The key is just to be aware of the impact that this can have on our bodies and choose to ‘stack’ movements & sprinkle them throughout our days for the best health. If you had to squat every time you used your phone, would you squat more or use your phone less?!
Do a movement audit
Why not do an ‘audit’ of a few typical days - note down your movements and the shapes you make with your body (how often do you open your hips wide, balance on one leg, use your arms above your head to name a few). How long you stay in one particular position, how often you get up to move and what type of movement it is are all areas to consider. Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but you also might be interested to see how long you can be in one position, or ‘shape’! Often, if you add up the hours you are in ‘chair pose’ (whether it’s at a meal table, desk, in a car, or on a sofa) - this can be the most surprising number!
Daily movement inspiration
Here are some ideas of how to incorporate more movement and shapes into your day outside exercise or natural movement training sessions - with the key being to spread them evenly throughout the day:
Take the stairs (obviously!) - but take them more than you need to; go to the toilet upstairs occasionally, even though you have one downstairs.
Carry items together in a container to create a heavy lifting opportunity.
Go fast up the stairs or go up two at a time, crawl up them or down them (make it into a game with the kids! They’ll think you’ve finally lost it!)
If you are gardening (such a good way to move more), including bending down to kneeling on the ground and standing up (always learn good form to do so), lifting and carrying and try to avoid buying ‘helpful’ things that make things more convenient for you (like wheelbarrows!), but are therefore actually making you move less by carrying less or making fewer trips to lift.
Tidying - do lots of trips or gather things together in a basket to stack in some good lifting
Never ask someone to go and get something for you ever again!
Watch yourself leaning on furniture to help you balance - use your core and your lower body, not your arms and you are training your body to need to lean less
Notice when you avoid movements and think about why are and whether it’s due to an idea that you have formed that you ‘can’t’ do something or are not made that way - then question these thoughts
Try to use your arms less, like getting up from chairs, out of bed etc and instead use your lower body muscles in your legs and hips more
Sit on the floor to do jobs - getting down to and up from the floor is hugely strengthening and mobilising for your ankles, knees and hips
List your daily jobs and take breaks in your seated working day to get up and move more
Add movements such as squatting into normal daily tasks like removing the washing from the machine, think about how you are getting things out of the dishwasher
Lift and carry heavier things - but always learn good form
Throw and catch balls with your kids or your partner and make movement games up - even keeping a balloon off the floor makes you form some great fun shapes and there are always lots of giggles
Walk - walk - walk - stop the car further from the shops and add in a bit more walking. Take a backpack and walk to the shops & carry home your purchases instead of driving
Listen to podcasts or music as you walk to help you walk further or for longer
Meet people to move, don’t meet people to sit; get the coffee ‘to go’. Be accountable to each other and get outdoors.
The list of wonderful movement you can do daily is endless and when you see regular movement as a vital part of your day and tune in to how good it makes you feel in body and mind, you’ll become ‘addicted’ to regular movement. Pretty soon, when you lack movement, you even start to crave it. This mind-body link is everything, so noticing and awareness will drive the ability to create good habits for a lifetime.
I think all movement is good movement, but it’s key that we shift our perspective away from ticking the exercise box and instead look at creating healthy movement patterns for life by adding in lots of healthy movement and forming as many different shapes with our bodies every day to keep ourselves mobile, strong, healthy and happy.