HWW Life Practice #2: Movement
“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”
- Julius “Dr. J” Erving
Our bodies were made to move. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments all work in complex harmony to animate our joints (to lift and push and pull) and to propel our skin-sheathed skeletons through space (to dance and run and jump). The more our muscles work the stronger they get and the more they crave activity. This will be familiar to any athlete who is forced to take time off from their routine; before long, their bodies, used to working at a high level, will demand to be put through its paces.
Many of us don’t move nearly enough, however. We sit for long stretches at a time, either at our desks, in our cars, in front of the television or at tables full of sweet, fattening temptations. According to a 2011 study by the CDC, fewer than 21% of American adults are active enough (usually defined as 3-5 hours of vigorous movement per week). This means that nearly 80% of us don’t move enough. This leads to a whole host of bad outcomes, things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even premature death.
If you’re sitting you’re not moving, which burns calories, and these calories will then be converted to fat because the potential energy they represent is not needed. If you’re sitting you’re not engaging and activating, aligning and balancing your muscular system. Muscles that aren’t being used regularly will shorten, then tighten, then eventually whither and atrophy from lack of use, and the antagonist muscles opposite them will become overstretched and susceptible to injury. Think of the office worker slumped over his desk, his tender back rounded and his chest and shoulders caved in.
Many people tune out when they hear the word “exercise.” They associate exercise with pain or suffering or embarrassing physical inadequacy. To these people, exercise means hard work and discomfort. Exercise is penance for eating too much of the wrong stuff. It’s the wagon off of which we’re constantly falling.
This may be because of the overt goal-orientation of many exercise programs. We run so that we can run farther and faster. We lift weights so that we can lift heavier weights. We run and lift weights so that we can be a better soccer or basketball or tennis player. The implicit message is: exercise because you’re not fast/strong/good enough. But fast/strong/good enough for what? We exercise to chase something we’re not even sure we want.
Because not all of us want to be athletes. Not all of us want to set personal records every workout. What, then, do the rest of us do?
The Health Warrior Way reframes exercise (with its focus on skills) as Movement (which is the application of those skills to improve the health of the physical body and the quality of life of the individual). The idea of Movement encompasses all physical activity (including things like walking and dancing and chopping wood and yoga) as well as more traditional forms of intense exercise (like running, cycling and strength training).
Movement – moving our bodies regularly, at varying levels of intensity, for long enough to get the heart rate up and keep it up – is the goal of an active lifestyle, which is a central pillar of the Health Warrior Way. It’s the second most powerful lifestyle intervention after Nutrition. Study after study has shown that people that don’t move enough, who don’t engage in an active lifestyle, die sooner than their active counterparts and have a poorer quality of life.
When I started my Health Warrior Way journey soon after my prostate cancer diagnosis (read my story here) one of the first things I learned (from the book Anticancer, by David Serven-Schreiber) was that adipose tissue (fat) is the principle storage site of carcinogenic toxins. Studies conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish (among others) showed a 70% drop in the risk of death in men over 65 with prostate cancer who exercised and were leaner as a result. This knowledge was a game-changer; being active – like nutrition – was a variable that I could control. If being more active meant reducing my risk then I was going to be as active as possible.
This is easier than it sounds. I was a cog in the knowledge worker economy for 25 years. For 25 years I was more or less chained to my desk for 8-10 hours a day. This makes an active lifestyle challenging, and meant that I had to manufacture opportunities to be active. I had to go to the gym early in the morning or late at night; I had to make up excuses to get up and go for walks; I took the stairs whenever possible.
Most of the people that I know have who have embraced Movement as a life practice engineer their lives so they can be more active. These people often have an insatiable Curiosity, disciplined and focused. They are voracious consumers of information and data. They are engaged in continuous learning: they want to know how their bodies work; they measure their progress and tweak their exercise regimens to get the results they desire; they fuel their bodies with high-quality Nutrition to ensure they have all the clean-burning energy they need. They exercise when the rest of the world is sleeping or watching television, and they set goals for themselves, build a sensible plan for achieving those goals and then they execute the hell out of that plan.
The Health Warrior Way Movement life practice always starts with a conversation about goals (because, as Seneca said, “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable”). Movement goals can be broken down into the following broad categories:
- Develop functional strength: to perform basic, everyday actions like lifting things off of the ground and raising them above your head
- Increase lean muscle mass: to increase metabolism and burn fat, even at rest
- Preserve or regain lost mobility and flexibility in joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments: to remain active and avoid injury for as long as possible
- Improve stamina: so you can train for longer and at higher intensity
- Preserve balance: to avoid falls as we age, which lead to injuries and hospital stays
- Develop body awareness: to self-diagnose and treat non-urgent physical issues with self-care strategies such as foam rolling, self-massage and stretching/yoga
- Avoid injury: so you can keep training and getting younger!
Once goals are established the next step is to capture a performance and biometric baseline to see how far we are away from our goals. We baseline measurements for things like muscle mass, metabolic age and visceral fat, and capture strength metrics such as grip strength, bent arm hang (for time), number of push-ups in a minute and plank (for time).
Then we develop a customized plan for bridging our baseline and our goals. This plan includes identifying inhibitors to progress, setting real, measurable intentions and targets, documenting strategies and tactics and identifying mentors and helpers. This is the Health Warrior Way blueprint.
The goal of the Health Warrior Way Movement Life Practice is to preserve high level physical function for as long as possible, enabling a higher level of activity – in intensity, duration and frequency – throughout our lives. This heightened level of activity enables us to build strong, resilient bodies , permitting us to engage in an active lifestyle into middle age and beyond. This is the virtuous circle of the Movement Life Practice: stay active to stay active.
So: get busy with your own rescue. Start today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not as part of your next New Year’s resolutions. Today. There’s no time to waste.
The good news is you’re not alone. We’re here to help. Let us show you the Health Warrior Way.
Ornish, D., G. Weidner, W.R. Fair et al., “Intensive Lifestyle Changes May Affect the Progression of Prostate Cancer,” Journal of Urology 174, no. 3 (2005): 1065-69
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