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Is exercise enough to thrive?

I came across the “New 24-hour movement guidelines” for Aussie children a few months back- 

“Sixty minutes of physical activity, less than two hours of screen time and around nine hours of sleep a night - that's what school kids need according to new national guidelines. Link here.

In my opinion, if this is what we’re aiming for, then we’re a way off creating fully functioning kids. 

The latest study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that one hour of exercise failed to improve lipid, glucose, and insulin metabolism measured the next day in people that have been sitting for more than 13 hours a day. That may sound like a lot of sitting but it’s easily done.

Previous studies have found similar results. One showed that even marathon runners in training that are mostly sedentary outside of their exercise periods are at an increased risk of disease and early death!

So what’s the difference between exercise and movement?

Exercise is an activity that is planned, structured, repetitive and has a final or immediate objective to improve or maintain physical fitness.

Movement is simply a change in shape. Movement occurs when the cells that make up your body change shape.

Picture movement as a big circle and then exercise as a much smaller circle within the movement circle. This is hugely important and not often discussed. 

It needs to be explained that to create happy and healthy kids and adults alike we need more movement throughout the whole day not just in small windows of time for “exercise”.

Some of the factors shaping our kids and you are-

  • Parents movements and other people regularly around him/her. Mimicking movements. 

  • Furniture- chairs/baby capsules, tables, beds and pillows etc will all shape posture.

  • Clothes- shoes, jeans, shirts, nappies etc can all restrict/change movement. 

  • Weather- think cold (stiff posture and move faster) and hot (relaxed posture and slow movement) and windy (think leaning forward and eyes squinted).

  • Culture- A child from a tribe in Africa will have a vastly different day movement wise to a New Zealand child, walking huge distances, manual work such as carrying water etc.

  • Environment- flat hard surfaces, limited dangerous objects or animals versus a jungle.

This list may need a little time for you to digest so just pause and even reread it. So many things are shaping us without our knowing it!

Now if we look at a few benefits of movement then we can start to see the bigger picture-

  1. It works your lymphatic system aiding in detox.

  2. It limits injury/degeneration from lack of movement.

  3. It helps to continue your movements. Don’t use it you’ll lose it.

  4. It improves immune function.

  5. It enhances brain activity- When your body moves your brain grooves.

  6. It increases blood flow keeping cells and arteries healthy.

  7. It positively alters the gut microbiome which could explain the following benefits-

  8. It improves digestion and absorption of foods.

  9. It stabilises blood sugar and fat storage.

  10. It increase breathing capacity. Breathing is another form of detox and stress management.

  11. It promotes healing.

  12. It improves bowel movements.

  13. It reduces behavioral issues such ADD, stress and anxiety.

  14. It balances hormones.

Hopefully it’s becoming clearer now the problem we’re facing today. Squeezing in an hour of exercise into a largely sedentary day will hugely limit the benefits listed above.  To add to the lack of a wide variety of movement and consistency of movement here’s a few other issues-

  1. A diet that that is abundant in quantity but lacking in diversity and nutrient density.

  2. A culture that isn’t REQUIRED to go outside.

  3. An artificial environment that plays havoc with our circadian rhythm.

  4. A world that can be too safe and convenient. Whether that’s eliminating competition from schools so nobodies feelings get hurt or banning cartwheels, you get the picture of how things have changed in a very small window of time.

These factors all contribute to a term coined as Zoo Humans. An unnatural diet, lifestyle and environment is the recipe for developmental issues ranging from musculoskeletal, hormone dysregulation, disrupted sleep patterns, both negative appetite and microbiome changes, neurological and behavioural issues and more. 

So enough doom and gloom, how can we start to fix this or better yet, prevent this?

The good thing with kids is that in general they’re not as broken as us adults as they’ve usually had less injuries and less time to get into bad habits so you don’t have to be too slow in your progressions, for example- get 20 kids to sit on the floor for 20 minutes. Done. Get 20 adults to sit on the floor for 20 minutes. Good Luck!! You’ll hear all sorts of moaning and groaning.

By thinking differently like going barefoot or minimalist shoes for instance is an awesome way to start improving the foot mechanics as well as that of the whole body. When you go barefoot you also get in the benefits of grounding/earthing too which is really needed in this modern world. Start gradually by a walk on the beach but it all adds up over time.

Here’s a helpful list to guide you on thinking differently about movement-

  1. Create habits- bring in movement “breaks” throughout your day. This could be a quick 2 minutes stretch or a 20 minute walk on the beach.

  2. Make life a bit more challenging for yourself- we do it at the gym, with our diet and in personal growth but in most other aspects we go for convenience whether that be getting a cleaner, taking the car rather than walking, shopping online etc. Try putting your shoes on standing up, prepping the dinner on a chopping board at a coffee table or on the floor so the kids can help.

  3. Be the role model- if you can show children what can be achieved with having a simple template to live off, and how good you can look, feel and perform then they’re more likely to follow. 

  4. If you have kids, challenge them to try something a little outside their comfort zone, whether playing with a new friend by themselves or problem solving climbing a tree without rushing in to help.

  5. Again for the kids, make it fun! Going for a walk is exploring! Trying a new fruit or vegetable is discovery! Maths could be playing darts. Physics can be throwing a frisbee. Biology can be finding snails or worms. And all of these can be related back to movement too.

You can’t get a clear picture of how a person is without looking at the bigger picture. We are a complex ecosystem, constantly changing and adapting every second of every day.

This explains why the greatest improvements seen to human health comes when positive adjusts are made by not just changing one factor like exercise but many factors all at the same time such as their movement, nutrition, lifestyle, mindset, sleep and their community. And funnily enough when you start to positively affect one of these factors is has a positive knock on effect to many other factors so don’t get overwhelmed. 

Humans thrive when they move in nature, exploring our world and we will all grow feeling fulfilled as we travel on this amazing journey called life.

Thanks for reading!