By Esther Smith, Doctor of Physical Therapy ~
Body movement is key to optimal health. You may intuitively know that, but do you really move your body each day? And do you also know that body movement feeds your cells and lubricates your joints, which in turn supports your entire organism? All of the systems in your body benefit from the change of place, position, or posture every single day.
Movement becomes exercise when we perform it for the sake of developing physical fitness. Being physically fit means that we maintain optimal body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, muscular strength and muscular endurance. The crux is how to optimally move to promote physical fitness, despite the busy and complex world in which we live.
We live in a world where, for most of us, exercise is something that needs to be scheduled into our day. In previous generations, exercise was built into our lives because movement equaled survival. Due to modern comforts we can now survive while living a sedentary lifestyle. However, science has proven that without regular exercise, humans do not thrive.
I have identified three common barriers to exercise and self-maintenance – lack of time, pain, and confusion about what to do and how to move. So let’s look at these three reasons people don’t move their bodies enough along with some helpful solutions.
Physical Fitness and Happiness
As Joseph Pilates said: “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body, with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”
We’ve all heard about the many health benefits of exercise including: weight management, improved sleep, disease prevention, improved mood and energy levels. Yet it’s a wonder to me that we are still often thwarted from regular exercise participation. The following three solutions can help you improve your everyday body movement.
Three Solutions to Get Body Movement Into Your Life
1. Lack of time
Solution: Exercise is cumulative. Small bouts of exercise performed throughout the day can be just as beneficial as one long bout. It helps to appreciate that exercise can be scattered throughout our day, making the activity less daunting.
For example, standing instead of sitting at work can become exercise. Drop a half foam roller on the floor to stretch your calf muscles and a massage ball to rub your feet while working and now you’ve just increased your metabolic activity exponentially.
We find time to eat everyday. Finding time to move our bodies is just as important. Try not to starve yourself of movement and expect to play catch up. Just as optimal hydration is achieved by drinking small amounts of water throughout the day, our bodies respond positively to adding in multiple bouts of movement. We should aim to move as much as we sit (not an easy task), so we may need to get creative to avoid getting into a movement deficit.
Change being sedentary into being active by doing simple things such as stretching on your living room floor instead sitting while watching T.V. Take 30 minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk with a colleague. Or park a little further out in the parking lot and enjoy people watching (and car dodging) as you make your way in.
Put simply, do something to change your place, position or posture frequently and try to sprinkle a little cardio, strength, endurance and flexibility in your day. Find exercise that is fun and fulfilling so that you look forward to it.
Solution: Pain sends us a message. Many of us feel helpless when it comes to dealing with pain. We have a tendency to stop moving, to search for the magic pill or surgical solution or to compensate for the problem instead of resolving it. The body is telling you something, but you may simply lack the tools and know-how to understand and address the message. It turns out that the solution to pain and dysfunction doesn’t have to be complicated. Body movement done well is often the answer.
Most pain is caused by how we are using our body. It’s frequently the repeated misuse of our joints and soft tissue that gets the best of us, limiting our body movement. When we create wear and tear on our body, it can start squeaking because it needs the proper attention!
As a physical therapist, therapeutic movement is my most powerful tool to give that squeaky body part some “grease.” The application of physical therapy is based upon the idea that the body has the remarkable, innate ability to heal and repair. If you have pain when you move, then you likely need to identify the mechanical factors that are contributing to your pain. When someone comes to me to address an injury or functional problem, we conduct a physical assessment that uses body movement to find the answers. I simply become an interpreter of the message and help to facilitate the establishment of an internal healing environment. By providing the correct physiologic signaling, through movement and other modalities, we can engage the body in the process of recovery.
The majority of clients I see have pain caused by suboptimal mechanical loading (abnormal stress/force) on their bodies. Bend your finger back too far and you will feel mechanical pain. Release the mechanical load and you should feel immediate relief. You may need to seek out a movement or medical professional to be your guide, but you can also engage in your own diagnostic assessment.
When assessing your pain problem, ask yourself what movements or positions make you feel worse and which ones make you feel better. Try to tinker with the painful movement(s) to see if you can change your alignment or muscular activation in such a way that reduces the mechanical pain (i.e. remove or reduce the abnormal stress/force). Engage in the movements and positions that make you feel better frequently. And avoid taxing yourself with mechanical stressors by addressing and possibly avoiding (hopefully only for a limited time) the movements that make you feel worse. Becoming your own body mechanic may help you to overcome this common barrier to regular exercise.
3. Confusion about what to do and how to move
Solution: Let’s not make this complicated. Kids don’t seem to have much of a problem in this area. Climbing a tree, running around aimlessly, and playing sports are all satisfactory ways to get exercise. As adults, perhaps we need to consider being just as playful with how we choose to exercise? Moving in functional ways is a good place to start. Climbing, hanging, squatting, lunging, and walking are all beneficial functional movements. If it helps you to make movement more social, perhaps finding a class that speaks to you such as yoga or Pilates will offer the coaching, camaraderie, and support that you need.
The components of physical fitness include: body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. If you can find ways to challenge each of these areas in your day, then you have done well to provide your cells with the stimulation that they crave and need.
In order to address all of the barriers mentioned above, I created a website called selftreatment.com that provides coaching and education videos for a self-directed therapeutic movement practice so that you can learn to become your own body mechanic. Video instruction (plus corresponding tool kits) are currently available for many common conditions such as low back pain, knee pain and neck pain, with many more being added in the future.
In these videos Eva Kauffman (Master Pilates Instructor) and I have combined our philosophies into videos designed to help you understand your body better and teach you how to heal through body movement. Using the science and art of physical therapy and the holistic approach of the Pilates Method, we have created hybrid kits of exercises for specific body areas and conditions that you can safely and effectively do at home.
Please leave a comment to let us know how this article helped you and how you enjoy the videos.
Esther Smith DPT, Cert. MDT, NTP owns and operates Grassroots Physical Therapy in Salt Lake City, UT, a holistic and collaborative practice that focuses on the management of musculoskeletal dysfunction and athletic performance. She strives to offer education and treatment that addresses the underlying cause of symptoms and aids in the prevention of future injury.
Esther has certifications in the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy®, with additional training in Restorative Exercise™, Functional Dry Needling® and manual therapy for the spine through the Spinal Manipulation Institute. She is also certified as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP).Outside of the clinic, Esther enjoys cooking up good food gathered from local producers, rock climbing in Utah’s wild places, and generally adventuring in the sun and snow with friends and family.