The necessity of movement is an essential part of being human! Whilst many of the great minds of our time put forward that being human involves a variety of concepts such as imagination, empathy and intellectual consciousness, I would place the concept of movement as an equally integral part of existing as a human being. Within so many aspects of life, without the ability to move we become completely senile in our efforts to enact our thoughts in order to make them become a reality.
From the most basic human needs such as feeding ourselves and communicating, to the most incredible, complex feats of physical achievement that we see within our athletes and performers today, movement is the underlying foundation upon which these things become possible. For many people, movement plays a strong role in defining who they are and provides an incredible outlet for self expression. For many other people, movement is just a thing that they do in order to perform their daily activities.
If we go back to primeval times, our existence and survival as human beings was more intimately linked within our ability to move. The finesse of movement and the achievement of physical acumen would help to ensure that one would have a greater capability to fight for survival, hunt and gather food, as well as the ability to walk, climb and traverse a variety of distances required of that of a hunter gatherer.
Since both the industrial and technological revolution, the relationship between the achievement of physical attributes and our survival as a species has dramatically changed. The attainment of certain levels of physical acumen in order to sustain our own lives is no longer required at any real level at all! In modern living, within developed countries, everything is provided for us at the touch of a fingertip. The turning of the wheel of industry and technology has even gone as far as enabling anyone to never really have to leave their home again if they choose not to do so. People can work from home, order food to be delivered to their home, see their GP online, watch entertainment and communicate online. Anyone could voluntarily choose to never have to run for the rest of their lives and this would not influence their ability to function within modern society. Never has the need to attain physical acumen ever been less important and has been reflected within our declining levels of movement within western society!
Whilst the world continues to develop at lightning speed, unfortunately, our bodies haven’t. The very physiology which has allowed the human race to both survive and prosper has remained the same since primeval times. Declining levels of physical movement, in combination with the average western diet consisting of poorer quality food laden with sugar, chemicals and hydrogenated fats, has left many of us in the developed world reaching crisis levels in terms of obesity and this has caused a steadily increasing ratio of our population to develop chronic metabolic disorders such as diabetes and heart disease. Our solution to this problem has been that of the reductionist approach to simply look at something such as obesity as a basic mathematical equation of managing calories. If you expend more calories in exercise than what you consume from your diet you will lose weight. Although this equation does help people to start to formulate conceptually simple plans to address their weight issues, there are several negative consequences to viewing life simply through a calorie lens.
A significant consequence that I have seen is that of people viewing movement and exercise as something that they are compelled to do in order to keep their weight down. Unfortunately, this reductionist view of exercise limits our understanding of the various benefits that movement provides to our minds and bodies. Whenever I talk with my patients at my clinic, all of them understand on an intellectual level the necessity to move to keep our hearts healthy but so few of them understand that it is movement which keeps our joints healthy and that regularly exercising our joints helps to minimise the chances of their joints from succumbing to degenerative changes later in life. The wisdom of ancient practices such as yoga, tai chi and martial arts are an embodiment of this understanding and the modern almanac of scientific research is now starting to reflect the wisdom of the movement practices from our ancestors. A recent scientific study released in 2017 (Alentorn-Goli et al., 2017) showed that engaging within recreational running actually had a protective effect on the prevention of knee and hip osteoarthritis. The study also provided insight that running distances in moderation encouraged these joint protective benefits and that routinely running excessively long distances would be deleterious to those protective benefits.
But not only do our joints benefit from consistent movement and exercise. Science shows that regularly engaging within physical activity is good for our minds, our bodies and our emotional wellbeing. A plethora of studies have shown that exercise directly helps with the physiological health of our brains whereby it can have protective effects against diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, it has been shown to provide protective effects against diseases such as colon cancer and breast cancer, it has shown to help modulate pain levels of people who suffer from chronic pain and there are many studies which have shown that regular physical activity can have a positive influence on people who suffer from mental depression. On top of all of the previous highlighted benefits, there have also been long standing and established research evidence to show that moderate levels of regular exercise improves our mental well-being and our self esteem.