How much exercise is enough? How much exercise do you really need? And is all exercise the same?
What if I told you that exercise wasn’t the answer? What if told you there were two BIG problems with exercise.
Let’s back up.
You’ve heard the story about the Emperor’s new clothes, right?
You know the one.
Evil tailor convinces some rich dude that only the coolest cats can see his special fabric. Rich guy wants to be cool so he goes along with the game. He parades his new “clothes” all through town. Town folks want to be cool, too. They pretend to see the clothes as they chatter on about how beautiful they are.
Finally, a child puts an end to the madness by pointing out the obvious.
The rich guy is naked. There are no clothes.
Today I kind of feel like that kid. But I’m not outing the Emperor. Instead. I’m pointing my finger at an equally beloved belief that all the cool kids can’t get enough of. I’m going to make a big bold statement that goes against the trend. Ready for it?
Here it is:
Exercise may not be that good for you.
I know. I know. Exercise is SO important. Right? Everyone knows that. I mean, everyone.
It’s hard to take a stand against something so widely believed. But somebody has to do it.
Stay with me until the end. And try to keep an open mind. I’m not as crazy as you may think.
2 BIG Problems with Exercise:
1. Exercise give you a false sense of meeting your daily movement needs.
Everyone wonders how much exercise is enough. And that’s because how much exercise someone needs really depends on what kind of exercise you’re doing. Still, the recommendation is pretty simple: Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. And while there is that emphasis on the phrase “at least,” most people do what they can to ignore it.
Life is busy. I get that. Unless you work as a fitness instructor it’s hard to get in more than an hour of exercise each day. You have a job, kids, friends, interests. You know… a life. And for most of us our lives are not centered around working out.
It’s good to carve out time for exercise. But the truth is, it’s probably not enough.
A study featured in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that your sedentary lifestyle is destroying your health. The more you sit the higher your chance of getting a disease or condition that will kill you prematurely.
Yes, I said KILL you. Even if you exercise. (source)
To be fair, I personally don’t think it’s just sitting that’s the problem. The real problem is keeping your body set in one fixed position for an extended period of time. You could be sitting, standing, or lounging on the couch. If you’re doing it for the majority of your day, you’re in trouble.
Your body is designed to move. And up until our recent history, mankind spent most of their day, wait for it, MOVING.
Not exercising. Moving.
People walked (everywhere). They squatted. They twisted and turned. They worked. They relaxed. Modern furniture didn’t exist. Modern jobs weren’t an issue. Life demanded you move your body.
During these periods where people moved a lot (and exercised never), our modern diseases and conditions were unheard of.
So the problem with “exercise” is that it’s far too limiting in its time. It’s like trying to get all your nutrient needs in one big feast and then starving yourself the rest of the week.
I love the way biomechanist, Katy Bowman puts it:
“We currently live in a movement-drought. Yes, even regular exercisers are essentially sedentary compared to the quantities and qualities of movements used by our ancestors. Which is why a daily bout of exercise doesn’t get you a ticket out of heart-disease town when you are still for the bulk of the day. Exercise in a movement drought absolutely serves a purpose, but what we are failing to recognize collectively is the way we are choosing to move is ‘junk food movement.'” (source)
60 minutes of intense working out will not make up for the other hours spent doing nothing. But let’s say you DO exercise throughout the day. For several hours. Does that make exercise okay?
Not so fast…
2. Exercise doesn’t meet your body’s movement needs.
We’ve talked about how much exercise is enough, but most people don’t stop to think about the quality of exercise. Or, more specifically, the quality of movement.
This if for all you workout junkies.
Exercise tends to work only a fraction of the body. Even all those fancy “cross-training” type programs. Don’t get me wrong – there are definitive benefits to exercise. It’s is great for burning calories, increasing circulation (at least to the exercising parts of your body), strengthening muscles, etc. And yes, I rather see you exercise than do nothing! But when you consider that you have over 600 muscles, exercising tends to neglect a lot of them.
Your body has incredible movement potential. From tiny shifts in the small bones of your feet to the 3-dimensional rotary function of your hip. You have a tremendous capacity for expressive, functional movement.
Pushing through the same repetitive actions can create imbalances in your body that can be bad for your health. There is a tendency to do the same thing over and over which can place undue stress and friction on your joints. Throw in a pair of ear buds and you’re fully checked out to what you are doing, setting yourself up for injury and chronic issues.
I want to emphasize AGAIN (especially for the internet trolls): Exercise is better than not moving at all.
But it’s a band-aid for a much larger problem.
Instead of asking “how much exercise is enough” or “how much exercise should I be doing” ask: “How can I move more throughout my day” or “How can I increase the different types of movement I do.”
You need to move. A lot. Often. In as many ways as possible. And before you think I’m just adding more to your plate, keep in mind that there SO MANY ways to move your body. It’s not all ab crunches, marathons, or dead-lifts that matter. Subtle stretching, barefoot walking, or deep breathing are part of your movement vocabulary. Even resting can be done in a variety of ways. (Here are some fun thoughts on different resting positions.)
Move to get stuff done. Move to express. Move to play. Move for work, while you work, on your way to work.
Don’t just sit there. Don’t just stand there. And don’t just hit the gym for 30 minutes and think you’re good.
You have a body. Use it.
The biggest thing you can do is shift the way you think about movement and exercise. Starting now.
Look away from whatever screen you’re reading. Scan the horizon. Look out a window. Stand up. Twist. Stretch your arms above your head. Take a walk around the room. Squat and pick up some garbage. Laugh. Rub your back. Smell the roses. Point to a friend. Inhale. Exhale.
See how easy that was? Movement. It’s all around you. From your shifting focus to articulating fingers to big squats.
So, how much exercise do you need?
How much exercise makes you feel good? Do that, and then find other ways to move, too.
Don’t be caught walking down the street without your proverbial pants down. Now that you know better, get moving.