The fundamental importance of healthy movement is not centred on working hard to achieve a perfect physique but rather on being capable, confident, and free. Issue #78 – 9 min read.
Illustration by Kanupriya Singh
To most people, healthy movement = exercise. As in cardio, lifting dumbbells in the gym, cycling, and fitness models. But moving your body is about so much more, like improved thinking, stronger relationships, and expressing your purpose in life. When most people hear healthy movement, they think of exercise or fitness or looking better or weight loss. Sometimes, vanity.
In my 10+ years of doing exercises, here’s the most important thing I’ve discovered: Developing a body that moves well is the ticket to a place where you feel- capable, confident, and free.
Human life has become structured in a way that makes it very easy to avoid movement. We sit in cars on the way to work. At work, we sit at our desks for much of the day. Then we come home and sit down to relax. That’s not what our bodies are built for, so creaky knees and stiff backs have become the norm. As humans, we move our bodies to express our wants, needs, emotions, thoughts, and ideas. Ultimately, how well we move, and how much we move, determines how well we engage with the world and establish our larger purpose in life.
If you move well, you also think, feel, and live well.
It’s proven that healthy movement helps us:
Feel well, physically and emotionally
Think, learn, and remember
Interact with the world
Communicate and express ourselves
Connect and build relationships with others
We don’t need ‘workouts’ to move.
Our ancestors didn’t need to ‘work out’ when they were walking, climbing, running, crawling, swimming, clambering, hauling, digging, squatting, throwing, and carrying things to survive. Nor did they need an ‘exercise class’ when they ran to get places, danced to share stories or celebrate rituals, or simply played.
‘Working out’ is just an artificial way to get us to do what our bodies have, for most of human history, known and loved — regular movements we lost and forgot as we matured as a species.
We may not hunt for food anymore, and we may opt for the elevator more often than not.
We may move less. But a movement is still programmed into the human brain as a critical aspect of how we engage with the world.
Therefore, to not move is a loss much, much greater than your waist size and weight.
Muscles are attached to bones with tendons.
These tendons connect to two (or more) bones across a joint.
When a muscle contracts, or shortens, the tendons pull on the bone.
That contraction and pull causes the joint to flex (bend) or extend (straighten).
How you move is determined by the size, shape and position of all of those parts, along with anything that adds weight, like body fat.
If you’re a tall person with long bones it may be harder for you to bench press, squat, or deadlift the amount of weight your shorter buddy can; because your range of motion is much bigger than your friend’s, so you have to move that weight a longer distance with much longer levers.
But you can probably beat your short friend at swimming, climbing, and running.
If you’re bottom-heavy and/or shorter, you may not be able to run as fast as your taller friend. But you may have exceptional balance.
If you’ve gained weight in your middle (or if you’re pregnant), you may have back pain. That’s because the extra belly weight pulls downward on the lumbar spine (lower back).
Image from Precision Nutrition
mage from Precision Nutrition
The pelvis also tips forward, which pokes the tailbone back and the belly forward like Donald Duck Butt.
The upper/mid back may round to compensate.
The downward pull can also affect all the joints below (the pelvis, hip, knee, and ankle).
Conversely, it also works in the opposite direction, where, say, ankle stiffness can affect movement in the lower back.
If you have wider shoulders, then you have a longer lever arm, which means you can potentially throw, pull, swim or hit better.
If you have longer legs, then you have a longer stride, which means you can potentially run faster. This is especially true if you also have narrower hips, which create a more vertical femur angle (‘Q-angle’), allowing you to waste less energy controlling pelvic rotation.
Image from Precision Nutrition
We are given some variations in our movement by nature and some variations we learn and practice.
If you’re a woman who’s top-heavy, you may have developed a hunch in your thoracic spine (upper and mid-back). Or, if you got really tall at an early age, you may have developed a habitual hunch to hide your size.
Our structures and physical makeup affect our movements.
Body fat and weight change how we move.
This is especially true if you don’t have enough muscle to drive the engine.
At a healthy weight, your centre of mass is just in front of your ankle joints when you stand upright
Image from Precision Nutrition
Carrying more weight, especially in the front of your body, puts greater strain on your lower legs and feet as they work to maintain balance and prevent you from falling forward, which in turn creates additional rotational force on your ankle joints.
This is especially challenging when walking, as it requires regulating a controlled forward movement, and any unstable or shifting surface, such as stairs, icy terrain, plush carpeting, or a slick floor, demands rapid and forceful adjustments by your lower joints, often on a millisecond-to-millisecond basis.
Due to these factors, individuals who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to falling. Although the human body is remarkably resilient and resourceful, the laws of physics can pose a formidable opponent.
The good news is that this is generally reversible.
No matter where you’re starting, the more you move, the better your body will function.
When we move:
our muscles contract;
we load our connective tissues and bones;
we increase our respiration and circulation; and
we release particular hormones and cell signals.
All of these (and a variety of other physiological processes) tell our body to use its raw materials and the food we eat in certain ways.
For instance, movement tells our bodies:
to retrieve stored energy (e.g. 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 bones; and
to clear out accumulated waste products.
Improved body functions ensure you’ll be able to move well and:
climb stairs or hills
step over obstacles
stand up from sitting down, or get up from the floor
grasp and hold objects like a hammer
pull or drag things like a heavy door or garbage can
walk an excitable dog
The more we can move confidently and capably, the fitter we’ll be. As a result, we will move more which leads to more fitness. Thus, this virtuous cycle continues.
Movement does more than just “get us into shape”.
Movement is how humans interact with the world.
Movement helps us think, learn, and remember.
Movement affects how we feel physically and emotionally.
Movement helps us connect and build relationships with others.
People who change their bodies with exercise (rather than dieting) feel better — about their bodies, their capabilities, their health, and their overall quality of life.
Today, pay special attention to how you move.
Observe how your distinctive physique influences your movement as you engage in everyday tasks.
How do you move… and how could you potentially move?
Your body posture may facilitate or hinder your ability to perform certain tasks, as we all possess structural or physical constraints as well as advantages.It all depends on context. Regardless of what your unique physical makeup might be, there are activities that can work for you, and help you make movement a big part of your daily life.
What you can do next?
Illustration by Kanupriya Singh
1. Pay attention to how it feels to move.
‘Sense in’ to your body:
When you walk or run: How long is your stride? Do your legs swing freely? Do your hips feel tight or loose? What are your arms doing? Where are you looking?
When you stand: How does your weight shift gently as you stand? What does that feel like in your feet or lower legs?
When you sit: Where is your head? Can you feel the pressure of the seat on your back or bottom?
When you work out: Can you feel the muscles working? What happens if you try to do a fast movement (like a jump or kick) slowly, and vice versa?
2. Consider whether you’re moving as well as you could.
Do you feel confident and capable?
Do you have some physical limitations? Do you have ways to adapt or route around them?
When was the last time you tried learning new movement skills?
What movements would you like to try in a perfect world?
3. Think about other ways to move.
If you feel that your current workout regimen is not well-suited to your body, explore alternative options that may be a better fit. Similarly, if you are satisfied with your current routine but interested in other possibilities, it may be worthwhile to expand your repertoire of movements.
Everything from Aerobics to Zumba is out there, waiting for you to come and try it out.
Remember: You don’t have to ‘work out’ or ‘exercise’ to move. Also, you don’t have to revamp your physical activity overnight.
Take your time. Do what you like. Pick one small new way you can move today — and do it.
4. Help your body do its job with good nutrition.
Quality movement requires quality nutrition.
And just like your movements, your nutritional needs are unique to you.
Here’s how to start figuring out what optimal nutrition means for you:
Balance your intake to eliminate possible nutrient deficiencies.
Calibrate your calorie intake with easy, effective portion control and appetite awareness.
Tailor your diet for special circumstances, like pregnancy or injury.
Find ways to reduce stress
If you feel like you need help on these fronts, get it. There are great coaches out there.
I host workshops from time to time and one part of this workshop on Deep Health is movement. The next one is happening at Kanha 25-28th May. Though this one is sold out, you may send in your email id to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know when the next workshop is happening. The details about what this workshop offers is here
Is stress BAD for you? Yes and no. It’s all about the right amounts—for YOU.
“Perhaps the greatest purpose of a movement practice is to open up our capacity to have experiences that are profoundly meaningful” : Rafe Kelley
By consistently moving our bodies in intentional ways, we can become more attuned to our physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This heightened awareness can help us connect more deeply with ourselves and with the world around us. We may also develop a greater sense of presence and mindfulness, which can lead to a more meaningful experience of our lives.