I have spent a lot of time writing about how important general movement throughout the day is for all health and wellness goals. In fact, when it comes to physical activity it is the #1 thing anyone can do to help them reach their goals…in my opinion it’s more impactful than cardio or strength training.
Humans are wired to move…just like we are wired to eat (hat tip to Robb Wolf).
Unfortunately since the year 2000 the amount we are moving is declining rapidly.
The reason, at least to me, seems to be technology. More specifically, advances in technology in our work and our ability to acquire food.
The main reason why humans move is because they are wired to eat. We need calories to make babies in order to pass on our DNA. However while we are built to move to acquire calories, if we don’t have to move to acquire those calories we won’t. Unnecessary movement means wasted energy, and our goal is to conserve energy and hopefully store energy in the form of fat so that we can make it through the times where we can’t find food.
Historically movement was necessary to acquire our food, so we were either hunting and gathering or we were farming and raising animals which required a lot of physical labor.
But technology has made most of the physical activity necessary to acquire food obsolete. Machines can do much of the work that humans used to have to do, so now we can sit passively, let the machines do the work and reap all the benefits.
To some degree this has been an amazing technological feat, we are able to feed the vast majority of the world’s population with much less effort.
The downside is that our bodies are still in this scarcity mindset with food, eat as much of it as we can and do so with as little physical activity as possible so we can store up enough energy to survive the scarce times. Of course those scarce times are not coming for most of us in the Western world.
In addition, physical activity appears to play an important role in other aspects of our health. It helps stave off chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, and mental health. It helps regulate our sleep. It helps decrease stress. It helps us form community and engage in meaningful relationships. It helps challenge ourselves. It helps us experience setbacks and failures and learn how to overcome them.
All of these benefits are lost when we become sedentary.
Today we need to reimagine physical activity from something that occurred passively as a means to acquire food, to something that takes conscious effort (at least initially).
When I work with clients that are struggling with getting enough movement, I never focus on their exercise. Actually I tell them that exercise is secondary to movement. Movement IS NOT exercise. Movement should not be something you need to recover from. Remember, our bodies expect to move and move a lot. In order to move that much you need to move at an intensity that does not raise your heart rate too high or challenges your muscles too much.
Also keep in mind intensity is all relative. For someone who is not used to a lot of movement, going for a 1 mile walk would leave them tired and sore, while for someone else who is already getting a lot of movement in their day going for a 1 mile walk may be a form of recovery.
The point I am making is that just because we want movement to be easy and not hard, does not mean that you can’t overdo it.
Just like anything else, the way to add more movement is to just make small incremental progress. We just want to do better. Take it slow if you are relatively sedentary.
With that said let’s dive into how to include more movement into your day.
Have A Movement Mindset
What does having a movement mindset mean?
Remember above where I said we need to change movement from a passive thing we had to do to acquire food to a more conscious thing we need to inject into our lives?
This is where having a movement mindset comes in.
It is a very simple concept in practice, it basically implies looking for opportunities to move more during your day.
We are genetically predisposed to taking the easy path, so we need to override that predisposition to inject more movement into our lives.
Everyone wants to park as close as possible in the parking lot…someone with a movement mindset would park further away.
Everyone wants to drop their kids off at school by going through the car drop off line….someone with a movement mindset would park their car further away and walk their kids into school.
Someone with a movement mindset chooses the stairs over the escalator or elevator.
When bringing in your groceries from the car someone with a movement mindset would make as many trips as possible instead of as few trips as possible.
When having a meeting with a colleague someone with a movement mindset may suggest a walking meeting rather than booking a conference room.
When taking a phone call someone with a movement mindset would walk while taking the phone call rather than sit.
When you are at a conference and there is a coffee break between sessions someone with a movement mindset would take that opportunity to walk outside or walk around the conference center.
If you need to bring trash cans out on garbage day someone with a movement mindset would walk them to the end of the driveway.
If you need to get your mail from your mailbox someone with a movement mindset would park their car and then walk to go get the mail as opposed to driving to the mailbox.
This mindset shift is not going to happen overnight, it will take some conscious effort.
Remember while we were meant to move, if given the option we won’t, so we need to stop, look at the situation and decide if you can inject more movement into it.
You might find yourself pulling into a parking spot and the backing back out and then parking further away.
You might drive up to the mailbox, stop, and have to keep going only to walk your way back.
You might push the button to call the elevator and then all of a sudden walk away towards the staircase.
Eventually movement will become the default though and it will happen naturally.
Set Up Your Environment To Encourage More Movement
In addition to having a movement mindset it helps to have things in your environment that encourages you to move more.
You might be familiar with this idea when it comes to eating better.
If we want to avoid eating processed foods and eat more whole foods it helps to remove processed foods from your environment and instead make sure there are plenty of whole foods available. This will increase the likelihood that you eat the way you know you should.
We can do the same when it comes to movement. If you set up your environment to encourage movement and remove things that encourage you to be sedentary you will be more likely to move more.
You might be thinking, “OK, now he is going to tell me to remove all the couches and chairs so I can’t sit.”
No I am not going to do that, because that is not what I do either.
If you want to throw out all your chairs and couches in your house, by all means go ahead, more power to you, but I also know the extreme is not the only solution to the problem.
Instead I want you to think about what things can you ADD to your environment that would encourage you to move more.
One popular example is to add a pull up bar to a doorway you frequently travel through.
Everytime you walk through the doorway you have to do a couple pull ups or if you can’t do pull ups maybe you just hang from the bar.
Of course that’s not practical for everyone but there are plenty of other examples.
Everytime you get a cup of coffee you have to do some push ups.
Set a timer for every hour to go off and randomly pick a movement snack to do, it could be a walk, a couple body weight squats, some simple stretching, or go for a walk.
You can also add some basic implements to your environment to encourage more movement. If you have exercise bands, small kettlebells, mobility tools, weighted bars, or a suspension training system around your environment you will be more likely to use them.
Think about all the things you do everyday without fail and how you might be able to inject some movement into those activities.
The coffee plus push ups example from above is a great example of this.
Another example would be habit stacking meals with walks, everytime you eat a meal you have to go for a walk.
When you brush your teeth twice a day you need to work on your balance by balancing on one foot.
When you watch TV do some mobility drills during the commercials.
When you scroll on your phone, get down in a deep squat (this not only will get you to do some squats, but will likely limit the time you spend scrolling aimlessly).
I am one of those people that like to plan out my days. With so many priorities in my life I can easily ignore some of the more important ones if I don’t figure out a time in my day to do them. I do this with some of my movements as well. Nearly everyday from 6AM-6:50AM I have set aside time to get in some movement. It’s a combination of mobility, walking, and easy cardio. Sometimes I throw in some light strength work, sometimes I just walk the entire time and read or watch something educational. Either way I know that I have those 50 minutes in the morning to kick my day off with a nice solid block of movement.
The other advantage of having a solid block of movement in the morning is that you knock out a big chunk right away. If the day gets away from me, no worries I know I did something. It also allows me to not have to play catch up at night when I am mentally and physically beat and more likely not to do it.
When you schedule your activities is less important than just scheduling it. It does not have to be scheduled in the morning, and it doesn’t have to be scheduled in one big block. I just find that people with busy lives and lots of demands on their time do better then they plan things on their calendar and build their days around that calendar rather than just “winging it” and trying to get it in when they “have time” because in nearly every case something “more important” comes up and they never get around to it.
There it is, those are my top tips to include more movement into your day. I personally combine aspects of each of these in order to get plenty of movement throughout the day. But don’t try to tackle the world in the beginning. Pick one of two things to incorporate into your daily routine and see how they work. If they don’t work for you, pick something else and try again. Experimentation is key, and finding what works for you in the context of your life is the goal.
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