Moving is the best medicine. Our ancestors moved most of their waking hours, hence were free from the many of the civilizational diseases known to us today. With the onset of industrialisation, we reduced our movements significantly and thus increased our disease rates exponentially. With robust scientific studies, I want to help you move more in less time so that you can live an abundant life.
Allah subuhanawuta’ala designed our body to be active and not to be sedentary. The biomechanics of our body is a proof for that. Our ancestors used to move around 450 minutes a day, that was roughly 7 hours a day. And we? We move less than 300 minutes a week (yes, a week, this is not a typo)! That’s less than what our ancestors did in a day!
Most of us spend most of our waking hours sitting. We sit while working at a desk, we sit while driving our cars and finish off the day sitting on the sofa watching TV!
And the repercussions of this kind of lifestyle are pretty clear! Tons of studies show that the more we sit, the greater our chances of dying of heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes.
In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, the scientist calculated the cost of habitual inactivity. They say the lack of physical activity accounts for 22% of coronary heart disease, 22% of colon cancer, 18% of osteoporotic fractures, 12% of diabetes and hypertension, and 5% of breast cancer.
This inactivity accounts for about 2.4% of U.S. healthcare expenditures or approximately $24 billion a year. On a global scale, this can be trillions of dollars!
But that’s not all. Our physical inactivity increases the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese. We tend to get back and joint pain. And more importantly, sitting for an extended time saps our energy, decreases our productivity and makes us more tired than ever.
So, spending most of our waking hours sitting or being sedentary is a disservice we do to ourselves, to our families and to the society we live in.
Now, you may ask, what’s the solution? The solution is simple: move more. And I understand if you say you don’t have time to move more. My goal with this article is to help you do precisely that.
Now, before we discuss how to move more in less time, let’s quickly define what movement is.
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’ll define the movement like this:
Movement is moving your whole body or part of your body in order to avoid being sedentary.
So, according to this definition, a movement can be anything like walking, running, exercising, dancing, jumping, hanging, standing, cleaning your house, washing your dishes, playing with your children, stretching, tapping your legs, waving your hands, etc.
In short, movement is anything but sitting or lying down.
Moving is the Best Medicine
Vilcabambans of Ecuador are some of the longest living folks in the world. And their secret? Walking! Listen to their mantra:
“I have two doctors— my left leg and my right leg.”
So, the first thing they do when they don’t feel well is to walk to see a friend.
Moving is the best medicine, and I can list at least 100 reasons for it, but out of all of them, the following is the most profound reasons I know of: Your cell’s well-being is tied to movement! The more you move, the better they do. And if you wonder why you should take care of your cells, then you must know that you are a product of 15-70 trillion cells.
In her absolutely fascinating book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, Joan Vernikos, Former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences (who was responsible for understanding how to improve the health and well-being of the NASA astronauts) describe this fact succinctly:
“Telomeres, those little caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA and allow healthy cell division, become shorter with age. They have therefore become a useful indicator of your state of health. Short telomeres have been linked to illness, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, shorter lifespan, and early death.
The bad news is that research is now showing that people with a sedentary lifestyle also have shorter telomeres. As you might have guessed, physical activity helps you keep those telomeres longer, but only if it is moderate. More exercise is not better (i.e. exercising without recovering properly). People with high levels of physical activity had, in fact, shorter telomeres, just like those who sat too much. The message is clear: Be active, but don’t overdo it if you want to see those grandkids grow up.”
Avoid Being “Active AND Sedentary”
Most people I know can be divided into two groups:
- Group 1: No exercise at all. Spend most of the time sitting.
- Group 2: Do exercise 3-4 times a week (roughly 4-5 hours a week) and spend most of the remaining time sitting.
Group 1 is clearly defined as sedentary. But how do you define group 2, who exercise a couple of times a week but spend an almost same number of hours sitting like the group 1?
They are called active AND sedentary.
And being active AND sedentary doesn’t serve you well over a long time. Research shows that exercising at the gym once a day does not counteract the effects of sitting for a significant part of the rest of the day.
So, here is the takeaway lesson. While I encourage you to exercise at least four days a week, don’t just think that it’s enough. Hitting the gym once a day does not substitute for all-day spontaneous moving. And research shows that the body needs to be doing something all day long for a lean and healthy life.
How to Incorporate More Movements
Now, before you read further, can you think of a few ways through which you can incorporate a few more movements into your daily life?
If you need help, here are a few ideas and how I implement them into my daily life:
Use a height-adjustable standing desk
Height adjustable standing desks allow you to switch your position between standing and sitting. If you are desk worker, it’s a life-transformative piece of furniture. I’ve talked about its benefits in more detail in this article.
I stand for 20 minutes and then sit for around 10 minutes.
Setting the alarm to move every 30 minutes
I usually set the alarm to move every 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, I do one of these things:
- 20-30 pushups
- 10-12 burpees
- Skip rope for a minute
- 20 squats
- 20 jumping jacks
All it takes me is less than 1.5 minutes, but I’m super energised for another 30 minutes.
If you can’t do any of these things, at least get up and walk a few meters from your desk, do some stretching and then sit back. It’s the prolonged sitting that is bad for you. You can avoid it by changing your posture every 30 minutes for a minute or two.
Take the stairs
Make walking up the stairs a fun game. I live on the fourth floor and I hardly ever take the lift. I make it a fun game to run on the stairs with my kids.
Walking down the stairs is equally beneficial.
Take a short walk
Walking has a lot of benefits, but you don’t always need to walk for hours to reap those benefits. Even short, frequent walks count.
Recent research shows that there are more benefits in walking a mile 3 times a day than walking all three miles at a time and then be sedentary for the rest of the day.
OTMs? Yep, Opportunities to Move (Thanks, Michelle Seager, No Sweat).
Regardless of your profession or life circumstances, you can always find new opportunities to move more.
Here are few OTMs I’ve been practising lately:
- While the kids play outside on the playground, I have the option to sit and watch or play with them. Doing some hanging, jumping and some pull-ups with kids is a new opportunity for me to move and get connected with my kids.
- Shopping: Using a basket vs trolley. If I go shopping, I always like to carry a basket, rather than pushing the trolley. Carrying is again another OTM for me.
Now, it’s your turn. I guess, now is the best time to brainstorm and define some of your new OTMs. Write them down and put them into action!
Do the Chores
Instead of watching TV, help your spouse/family with the house chores. You are not only getting rewards, you are also getting some quality movements to improve your health.
Knowledge is Potential Power
Knowledge isn’t power; it’s just potential power, i.e. the knowledge is only beneficial when it’s put into action.
These ideas I’ve provided can transform the way you move from now onwards, as long as you put these things into practice.
You’ll not only move more than ever, you’ll also feel more energetic and productive without spending significant time on your part.