To optimise our physical vitality we need to move with awareness and we need to move more. By engaging with physical activities that challenge our body we can have a positive effect on our health and well-being now and in the future.
In ‘Exercise the Miracle Cure’, the importance of the 4 different aspects of movement are identified and we need to be embracing and doing exercise on a regular basis for maximum benefit. That is building our strength, flexibility, stamina and skills (balance and co-ordination).
Moving more leads to a longer and happier life. It reduces our risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lowers our risk of early death by up to 30%. And it’s not just our physical health that benefits, moving more can also increase energy levels, boost mood, self-esteem and improve sleep quality.
"Take care of your body, its the only place you have to live"
Sometimes however, it feels like we’re up against it to get our bodies moving more. Life is busy – it’s quicker to drive, we’ve got too much to do, at the end of the day we’re tired. Most of us just don’t move enough. But the evidence is clear, even simple things like noticing our posture and encouraging an upright position in the spine when sitting, walking or standing and consciously releasing tension from the body helps keep muscles moving and free. Moving our bodies every day, throughout the day, is vital for our health and wellbeing and regular movement boosts our mood and makes us feel great. It’s also really important to notice how we move, and move mindfully, noticing if we are pushing ourselves too much when stretching or lifting weights that are just too heavy, which could cause damage.
The World Health Organisation says that as an adult we should be aiming to do 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Moderate activity raises the heart rate, makes you warmer but you should still be able to hold a conversation. Brisk walking, cycling on level ground, gentle dancing and swimming, are moderate activities for most people. Alternatively you could try 75 minutes of vigorous activity, that which raises your heart rate, making you breathe hard and fast and you would find it difficult to have a conversation. This could be focused fast swimming, energetic dancing, running, cycling uphill, or sports like tennis or football.
On a daily basis lack of movement can make us feel sluggish and tired, our muscles and soft tissues become tense, dehydrated and shortened leading to imbalance, lack of elasticity and flexibility and therefore aches and pains are more likely as there is no movement to shift toxins from the tissues. In terms of flexibility regular movement practices such as Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and focused regular stretching, whilst working with slow relaxed breathing, are all really important to maintain and optimise muscle and soft tissue length which in turn all help to relax the body and calm the mind.
"Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement"
Maintaining flexibility is also vital for our fascial system. Fascia, is the continuous web of soft tissue inside the body. It is often referred to as our emotional brain. We can imagine our fascia as a sleeping bag with lots of pockets filled with muscles. Recent research over the last few years about fascia has highlighted how trauma, either mental, emotional or physical can be stored in our fascia, creating blockages, tension and restriction leading to aches and pains. Mindful slow focused stretching helps release our fascia in turn releasing these stored emotional tensions thus reclaiming our soft tissue health and balance.
If we do not exercise in a way that challenges our stamina, we don’t build endurance in our musculoskeletal system, heart and lungs. Increasing our stamina helps us to work with the discomfort of challenging us in activities and overtime it reduces tiredness and exhaustion. Having good stamina allows us to perform our daily activities at a higher level whilst using less energy as we have the reserves and resources to draw upon. Building stamina is about exercising for longer periods of time and engaging with activities where we are continuously raising our heart and breathing rate and are therefore strengthening them. Developing our stamina also strengthens our mindset to deal with life's ongoing challenges.
Maintaining muscle strength and bone health is important to reduce osteoporosis and muscles weakness. We need to have good strong muscles to be able to perform our daily tasks as well as being able to challenge ourselves at times as well. The body naturally deteriorates as we get older so it so important to exercise with and work specifically with strength training such as standing yoga practices, Pilates, weights or using water as resistance medium.
Skill, balance and co-ordination all reduce with age which makes us at risk of falling and potentially injuring ourselves. Regular exercise in all its forms including all the ways suggested – walking, dancing, going to the gym, swimming, group exercise and badminton, tennis, all helps to maintain and optimise our skill balance and co-ordination.
"Consiousness is only possible through change; change is only possible through movement."
If we do not have awareness of our body and notice when we are feeling tension then we are not able to work with it in a focused and supportive manner. Movement relates to the principle of love and conscious awareness because how we feel in ourselves, both mentally and emotionally has a powerful effect on our bodies. ‘Our bodies do not lie’. We can learn to listen to our bodies moment to moment and be aware and curious about what is arising. We can notice when we are feeling anxious, stressed, upset by something because of unsettled feelings being in our bodies. We can also notice when we have a tendency to dissociate and ‘numb’ our feelings in difficult or challenging situations or conversations. By listening to our body, we can work with uncomfortable feelings and engage with self-enquiry practices to help us understand why we are feeling as we are and practice our breath awareness or loving kindness and self-compassion to accept, be with and change uncomfortable feelings. We are also able to tune into our body to help build our intuitive self and inner wisdom in this way.
Engaging with the other 3 principles is intrinsic to a positive movement experience and vice versa. If we do not have a good healthy diet then we will not have enough nutritional energy to be able to increase our physical capacity. When we are moving and being physical our mental well-being is affected in a positive way as we release ‘happy hormones’ when we are exercising, boosting our mood and calming our mind. We also naturally breathe more deeply, and often at times faster, as we challenge our bodies, which brings more oxygen in and energy (prana), releasing more carbon dioxide and other toxins and in turn exercises and strengthens our cardiorespiratory system.
To keep moving long term, we need to engage with all 4 aspects of move and weave movement into every part of every day. Sitting at work or home for long periods can become a major problem for many people’s physical and mental health. It can be really helpful to reduce and alleviate tension in the body by standing up and moving every 30 minutes or practicing some stretches at your desk. Movement does not have to be about spending money and doing long gym sessions. Current evidence is suggesting high intensity incidental exercise such as running up a flight of stairs, doing a few squats or lunges while waiting for the kettle to boil or the bath to run is really beneficial. So - Just keep moving!
"Movement is a medicine for creating change in a persons physical, emotional and mental states."