We were built to move. From how our anatomy is designed to how our brain learns and develops, all of your functioning improves with movement. And, exactly the opposite is true with the lack of movement or being sedentary. I know from my many years of experience working in physical therapy and from seeing friends and family as well as my own personal experiences, this very simple truth. When we stop using our body, we begin to lose the ability to use our body. Or, put more simply, Use It Or Lose It. This is demonstrated through many systems and physiological processes in our body. For example, muscle tissue and strength. When we stop exercising, or more severely are laid up in bed or in a hospital, we see almost immediate muscle atrophy and loss of strength. This same process happens with muscle extensibility or flexibility. If you stop reaching overhead and don’t use your shoulder joint, you will get stiff muscles at best and could develop muscle contractures or joint capsule adhesions at worst and lose the ability to reaching overhead. This similar process happens in our neurological system as well. Whenever we do a task, including how we hold our body (posture), and how we walk, our brain sends signals down nerve pathways that communicate how and when certain muscles should move and how far etc. Each time this happens, our body myelinates this specific neurological pathway and we become physiologically more efficient at this task.
“Myelin is a fatty white substance that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells, forming an electrically insulating layer. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.The production of the myelin sheath is called myelination or myelinogenesis.”
This happens constantly with everything we do, weather this is something we want to be good at or not. This is why so many people end up having very poor posture and many orthopedic problems from this later on in life. You don’t tend to notice these changes as they happen very slow and consistent over time. But as the other Daniel Coyle writes in his fantastic book The Talent Code, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent”.
So, if we want to live a long and healthy life without pain as we age, I believe that hedging our bets by adapting a daily movement practice as one of the best time investments you can make.
What Is A Movement Practice?
If we can practice good positions and movement, in a controlled environment, on a regular basis, it can go a long way in helping to mitigate against future ailments of aging as well as overuse and seemingly random injuries.
Now, since everybody's body is different and what we do throughout our days and work, can be much different from each other. And, because of how our body adapts to repetitive movements and positions, a tailored approach is needed. I believe that a good movement practice should be specific to you and your body and should bridge the gap between what you do for work and full human physical capability. Now, I think a few definitions are in order since I am talking about a very specific approach when I this of the ideal movement practice.
Good Positions and Movements
For this purpose, I am talking about practicing good posture, a neutral spine and controlled movement in and out of those optimal positions. A good example of this could be a squat, where I am controlling my neutral spine position (posture) while moving my body up and down through space so that when I have to get off of the toilet or out of the car, my body is well practice and rehearsed on how to do this properly, therefore the task becomes easier for me and I have a reduced chance of injury because of this adaptation. Another example could be a weighted curl to press exercises where you are now taking a weight from your side to up overhead, then return it to your side. This is a great way to build stability in your shoulder joint as well as your spine while practicing taking this shoulder joint through its range of motion with control to again build the ability to repeat this next time you have to take that heaving box down from the top shelf in your closet or garage.
The controlled environment could actually be many different things or places. When beginning an exercise or routine, this could simply be your living room where you practice some bodyweight squats. If you enjoy working out with others, this could mean your local health club or crossfit gym. The important distinction is that it is a place that you can safely focus on improving your skill in whichever position or movement you are working on and also does Not include all of the environmental factors that would be present when executing this task in a real life scenario. So, using the previously discussed squat example for getting off of the toilet. Let's say this exercise routine is for your grandmother who is in her 80’s and is losing strength and is finding it harder and harder to get herself off of the toilet at home. A great exercise in a controlled environment for her could be in her kitchen, standing in front of the sink with a chair sitting behind her. She could wrap her hands over the edge of the sink for support with her arms and then sick back towards the chair, stopping just short of sitting, and then returning back to her starting standing position to practice this squat in a safe controlled manner. (Remember, this is not an exercise prescription and always consult your physician or physical therapist before starting or changing your exercise routine, don’t hurt grandma!)
How many times per day or days per week someone should exercises or work on their movement practice can range vastly depending on many factors. I’ve seen and personally done exercise routines that are 2x per week, 4x per week and even 7x per week. The routines themselves differed and the condition I was in was different for each of these times periods also. Some factors to consider when looking at exercise frequency include; exercise experience, current health status, physical goals, age, gender, past or current injuries, nutrition, sleep, schedule, equipment access, exercise type, etc.
As you can see, navigating the specifics and nuances of all these factors can be a daunting task and I believe that they are in constant flux or change. So, this is where the expertise of a coach, personal trainer, physical therapist, or other specialist can be very helpful in helping to navigate some good starting points and programs or approaches that might help you find what your body needs specifically. One point that may be where considering also is that oftentimes less is more especially when it comes to making physiological changes and even more so in regards to strength gain and muscle hypertrophy. But for other goals, such as improving our posture which is very much dominated by the constant repetitions with our neurological system tend to improve better with many many almost constant repetitions or practice. Therefore consult a professional, start slow, especially with things that are new and/or heavy and be consistent.
Author : Jordan Proudfoot
Here are my thoughts and insights into fitness and wellness to be the best you possible.