“You MUST keep moving as you get older to keep moving as you get older”
“Move it or lose it”
These are things that I say to patients in my practice every day. Many people wonder why they are hurting and then they tell me that they sit at a desk for 8 or more hours per day.
The human body is designed to move. It is a perfect motion machine that has been engineered perfectly to run and jump and hunt and gather and to work very physically from a young age just to survive. But wait a minute, we humans haven’t really done that stuff regularly since before the industrial revolution. So, what does that mean for our health in a modern age?
We’ve become a sedentary society. It’s easier not to move. Modern living does not provide enough motion and most importantly, enough of the proper motion to keep the body fully fit, functional and pain free.
We have adapted as an entire society to sit. We have adapted this way mostly because we are rewarded for sitting either at a desk, in a vehicle, in front of a television or at a computer.
Sitting still for long periods of time is not good for you.
The human body is incredibly efficient and adaptable. If you let muscles and joints stop moving, over time the overall body loses the ability to move and specifically, if you are not using a certain muscle because you are in a sustained sitting posture all day, your body will shut that muscle down. This can lead to neck pain, back pain, headaches, and repetitive strain injuries.
Inactivity also greatly contributes to the growing obesity epidemic that we are facing in North America and other parts of the world.
Here are some sobering statistics on how lack of movement is affecting our health as a population:
- The majority of North Americans face increased risk of chronic disease and premature death due to physically inactive lifestyles. (56% are inactive)
- More women than men are physically inactive. (59% vs 53%)
- Physical inactivity increases with age. (Older women: 68% vs Older men: 53%)
- This is very relevant for women as they age because more women die from Osteoporosis and its complications (such as hip fractures) than from all cancers combined. Increasing activity levels will decrease incidence of this terrible disease.
- Youth ages 12-19: 82% have not been active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development. Girls are less active than boys (64% vs 48%)
If you want to move well when you are older, you must keep your body moving well as you age. Life is motion. When we stop moving, we stop living, which is why staying active is the number one desire of people as they age. When you talk to healthy people over 80, they will almost unanimously say their secret is “keeping active.” Motion is vital for health and aging well.
When people undergo surgery, they are now required to get up and move around as soon as possible (even though they don’t want to). Studies show people heal much better when you get them moving. In addition to the obvious muscular and cardiovascular beneﬁts of moving, motion and physical activity pump vital ﬂuids within the body. Cells and tissues with little direct circulation receive nutrition and have their waste products removed by the physical compression and stretching that occurs with motion and exercise.
Often people will avoid starting an exercise program because they find the idea extremely overwhelming. Obviously a regular exercise program has amazing benefits for lots of reasons but what I am proposing is much simpler than an ‘exercise program’. As a human being who is designed to move, the first thing you can do to be healthier in terms of movement is to begin by incorporating little bits of physical activity and movement into your regular everyday life.
In fact, this is also relevant for people that are doing a regular exercise program. If you exercise vigorously for an hour or more every day but then you sit on your butt for the next 8-10 hours, you are almost equally susceptible to the same health risks as a sedentary person who sits for long periods of time. I know, it doesn’t seem right some how….but it’s true.
Some tips to add movement into your everyday life:
- 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week will be enough…..and here’s the important part….that doesn’t have to be all in one session.
- Doing 3 or more 10 minute segments of activity a day will make a BIG difference in your health and your weight.
- Walk up or down the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Park at the back of the parking lot at the mall or the grocery store
- While working at your computer, set an alarm for every 30 minutes to get up and wiggle and stretch and move for 2 minutes then get back to work
- Pace while you are on the phone….don’t sit in your chair
- If possible have a desk that can move from seated to standing height so you can change it up
- Some people have a treadmill desk where they walk as they type at their computer or as they read
- Sit on an exercise ball while in front of your computer, it will keep your core musculature active and is much better than sitting still on a chair
- Get a pedometer and measure how many steps you take in a day. You should aim for 10 000 per day and 500 at a time in small bursts.
We all need to make a conscious effort to spend more time on our feet moving as we were designed.
Assess your daily routines and look for opportunities where you can be active.
In fact, right now as you are reading this….get up and move around and stretch for a few minutes. Your body will be healthier and happier for it 🙂
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.
Wow, Peggy, you burst my bubble! Here I thought my daily one-hour powerwalk was keeping me young and agile, and you tell me my computer time wipes it out its benefit!
I do take breaks, but I'll have to monitor them more closely to see how many and how frequently. Valuable post, thanks!
I love seeing elderly people making the effort to exercise each day. I see lots of them at the gym. Being involved with triathlons and seeing people who are 75+ still competing, is absolute evidence of 'move it or lose it'. Thanks for the great article Peggy.
My idol in the summer time when I am out walking is my neighbor. She is going to be 90 this year and she walks 3 -4 miles every day like she is on fire. I have had the privilege to walk with her several days. She walks and talks and never gets out of breath. I have always been active and in the last few years slowed up and I can tell the toll it has had on my body. The aches and pains showed up.
My goal is the be like her and walk until I am 90 at high speed. Loved your article
Peggy- I know what you're talking about. Within 5 years of marriage, motherhood, and starting to work in my home office, I found myself at the same weight, but two clothing sizes larger! Thanks for the tip on how to stay fit with such short periods of exercise. I'd love to hear more on how to maintain strength and endurance without a huge time committment.