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For many years, the predominant approach for physical fitness and health was extremely rigid. It went along the lines of “Take a large amount of specific exercise at high intensity to receive optimal health benefits.” This is largely the reason why HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) became such a big hit—pun intended—as of recent.
Today, we shed light on the existence and importance of low impact training. Low-impact training, according to the American Sports & Fitness Association, is composed of exercises that are low-impact on your joints. Anything that is easy on the joints or gentle and fluid-motion is considered to be low-impact.
Drawing inspiration and excerpts from the book, No Sweat written by Michelle Segar, we learned that movement intensity does not have to be vigorous and daunting. In 1996, the U.S. Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health drastically transformed what ‘counted’ as exercise and physical activity. Instead of being limited to an old and stringent prescription, people were made aware that physical activity simply does not have to be done in a single long bout.
In the book, The Happiness Project written by Gretchen Rubin, it is said that “a twenty-minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do.”
Marc Hamilton, from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, studied the effects of sedentary behavior on physiology. This is basically sitting in front of a desk, or lying on the couch, and not moving. His research shows that inactive time undermines cardiovascular and metabolic health. Their study included recommendations that address too much sitting time. His work suggested that we do not need sweat-producing, heavy breathing exercise to get real physiological benefits. It is crucial, however, to have regular body movement.
Research shows that moving our bodies changes our brains in ways that lead to happiness and much more. There are numerous benefits that can be gained from regular exercise.
Every step, every motion, every action, no matter how little is good. Keep moving. Even if you missed an exercise class, anything is better than nothing. The ‘everything counts’ mindset of moving is great because you get to develop a more automatic response. In a sense, once an opportunity or a cue to move presents itself, you can spring into action. When it is believed that everything counts and that every opportunity to move is a gift we can give ourselves, it is much more likely that we seek and claim that gift from the multitude of opportunities that are available during the day, every day. It is crucial to realize that the benefits of physical activity is not just about the sweat. Life-centered activities such as house cleaning, gardening, and walking serve to be beneficial.
This is not to say that moving in ways that prompt sweating and hard breathing is less desirable—not at all. In general, the more physical movement you do, the greater your health benefits will be. The type of movement available from formal, structured exercise such as aerobics classes, weight training, dance workouts, and all the other gym classes are indeed beneficial—if you like doing them. If it’s working for you, by all means, keep it up and keep going. The main takeaway here is that if essentially every kind of movement is encouraged and does count, why limit yourself to only going for a run or spending half an hour on a treadmill?
Ask your friends and coworkers to join you in your short bouts of activity, and explain why it is worth the effort. Creating a culture of movement inspires the people around you to become greater versions of themselves.
You may also find opportunities to bond with your family coupled with bouts of movement. From rowdy games such as tag to even a simple leisurely evening walk is a great way to enjoy each other’s company and catch up.
When talking on the phone, get up and walk around. It does not have to be just in the room. You can also go up and down the stairs, water your plants, or even clean your car. Moreover, there is a term called Walking Meeting. These meetings can actually be some of the most productive meetings. Some employees and clients report that they have better ideas and feel more creativity when they walk and work outside of the office environment. Just remember, keep safe by staying alert to your surroundings.
The next time you grab coffee with a coworker at a cafe during a meeting, you can also consider heading out to enjoy the outdoor setting. In the same way, instead of eating lunch at your desk, from time to time, you can also go for a walk and find a new place to eat your lunch. Although, you do not necessarily have to be moving from place to place all the time. The lesson is, instead of sitting at your desk, try standing up. Standing desks can be your best friend when it comes to letting you go from a sitting position to a standing position in a matter of seconds. Standing desks can be adjusted to a height you prefer. They are customizable to fit your needs and preferences.
One concern you may be worried about right now is how you are ‘just not feeling it’.
Resistance is normal. A lot of people live a sedentary lifestyle. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “I don’t like the gym.”, “I don’t like running.”, and “I don’t like riding a bike.” all come from the same person. Feeling apathetic about exercise is nothing to judge yourself for.
It can be said that just realizing that you have been forcing yourself to exercise and that it feels like a chore may be all it takes to change everything. Reframing is important because how you feel about exercise is going to be more influential to your decision to exercise in the moment (compared to thinking about the future value of exercising such as good health.)
See, in behavioral economics, there is a phenomenon called delay discounting. This refers to the general tendency to choose immediate over future rewards. Applying it to context, we would all like to be active to improve our health but it does not make physical movement relevant enough to prioritize it among the many different competing goals we have.
To remedy this, we can look at the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, written by another leading behavioral economist. It is suggested to use the concept of reward substitution. This means replacing a future reward like good health or weight loss, with a reward that can be experienced immediately. With this, exercise is transformed from a chore to a gift. Choosing to exercise will let you immediately reap the rewards of improved focus, lifted mood, and more energy. You are doing it because it makes you feel good. It is a satisfying experience.
At the end of the day, choosing to move for the positive experience is more strategic than forcing ourselves to move in ways we do not like. It is the immediate rewards that are going to motivate you to be physically active day after day.
This is about you and your life. Take charge and decide what is best for you today. You can find numerous gifts of movement every day in your own life. You just have to see what they are. The time you consciously give yourself to move is an explicit gift to your body, your mind, and spirit.
Regular physical activity is revitalizing. It makes us feel happier. It reduces our stress. It helps us focus our minds. It helps us resiliently face our challenges and fuels our most cherished roles and responsibilities. It is energizing and nurturing.