Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Head Shift: Why not look for More Time to Move rather than as Little as Possible?

ResearchBlogging.org Maybe we should seek to move more rather than the least amount possible in a week. Maybe that's a much better place to be. Let's consider why that might help us out in so many parts of our lives, and the research that supports it. This proposal is set against popular approaches to fitness. Lots of folks celebrate ways for us to "take less time" to work out. After all, there's more to life than being in the gym. For sure. And i'm all for efficiency and elegance in all things. A stupid workout may just be a stupid workout: when you take an hour, make it a beautiful hour.

But what i've been thinking about really is that we are so wrong wrong wrong when we take what i'm increasingly seeing as the "brains with bodies" approach to movement: we seek to find the smallest slice of time during the week for our movement, like that's the least important part of our day, a chore to be got rid of. As exciting and necessary as flossing one's teeth.

But we are not just brains with bodies that like the neighbour's dog we are burdened with having to take for a walk once a day when they're on holiday.  How many of us make excuses like we don't have time to move - to walk, to run, to pick stuff up and put it down, to play a game? Our bodies are often constructed culturally as burdens rather than collaborators in our life's work and pleasure.

And sure those "workouts in 6 mins" or 20 mins or whatever are all trying to get folks "at least doing something" - but again, maybe that's just the wrong message to be sending. In whose interests is it for us to be just well enough to keep going to work and not costing a health plan or workers comp for down time?

Movement is Smart(er) - no really.
As i do more work on movement and the way we are wired, it's increasingly clear that the opposite is true: we owe it to ourselves, cognitively and physically to find any time we can to move; in as many ways and at as many speeds as we can. When we don't use parts of our brains, the circuits re-route to what we do use. This is verified in the past 20 years of neurology.

We are use it or lose it systems. Our bodies adapt all the time. And this is systemic. What we don't use - like bone mineral density - gets taken away. Seriously, no joke. Likewise when we don't move joints in their ROM they start to osify or go arthritic in the unused portions.

 The above use it or lose it paradigm may still be read as we are enslaved by our bodies and so we must find the shortest most optimal path to do the least amount of work to get the most benefit. And that, too, seems to be a way way wrong and unhealthy and unhelpful life attitude. Phooey, i say.

Consider this: life may be more fun and brilliant if we see our bodies as part of who we are.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the BrainSkilled movement practice, for instance, lights up our brains in MRIs. There is increasing evidence likewise that movement enhances intellectual performance. Studies done with kids show especially the earlier "exercise" starts, the greater the intellectual benefits [2007, 2009a, 2009b ]. But at the other end of the scale, movement has been seen to help elderly at risk of observed cognitive decline, recover function, too [2010a]. Likewise, general memory function endurance is assisted by exercise/movement, and enhances brain plasticity [2010].

Indeed, the studies have become so rife connecting movement with intelligence that there's even a popular press book out right now called Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. The book summarizes a lot the findings and puts together cognitve enhancing exercise programs.

Inert = Loss of Comepetetive Edge
It seems pretty clear now that for those of us who are "knowledge workers" we are also actually doing ourselves a competitive disservice by staying as innert as possible, moving as little as possible - whatever that means. But again - that may sound like a threat, and the body/burden thing raises its head. We imagine scenes from Gattica and forced treadmill running and heart rate monitoring.

Moving, though, if we take it that that's what we're designed to do, is something we can do everywhere at anytime - or at least we can so imagine. In the work environment, there are desks that let us stand or sit; working at whiteboards that let us stand and walk around. These facilitate movement. And no i'm not a fan of treadmill desks. They may burn calories but can play havok with gait, visual and vestibular systems - juries way out and tending to no. Lord, if we got beyond the "calorie burn" as the only reason to move it move it, we wouldn't have to worry about desks.

Example of Action Work. A colleague of mine has only a standing desk in his office, and otherwise has many rehab balls (usually pretty squishy) for lounging. No chairs. He gets up in the middle of meetings and paces. He's also a dancer, not just a field leading computer scientist. It's great. That's movement. He bikes to work and his main moving gig is his folk dancing. That's healthy. Multiplanar movement. Awesome. AND HE ENJOYS IT - he loves to dance. It's part of his life; not something that he must do. He actually shapes his "real job" schedule around his weekly dance classes. And boy is he smart. Sharp sharp, that one. Connection? As we've seen, research suggests it helps.

I wrote about awhile ago how pick up games of five a side football were about the best blend of strength workouts one could get and got lots of comments from colleagues about how much they enjoy that kind of thing "when it happens" - maybe we need to make it happen.

Perhaps we need to fall in love with being in our bodies? Want to take them out on dates. Play dates. Learn to enjoy treating them/ourselves to what turns on the happy hormones and helps us feel better. Which is another cool thing: the more we move, the better we tend to feel overall - again, cognitively as well as in terms of general wellbeing. Stress gets blown off better; food gets processed better.  We feel better about ourselves

Five+ Hours a week - to be happy with ones body?
John Berardi of Precision Nutrition has worked with hundreds (or thousands now) of clients for years. His take away has reinforced that folks who move it a minimum of five hours a week seems to correlate most strongly with greatest self-satisfaction with body image. My sense is increasingly that five+ hours a week correlates with more kinds of wellbeing than just body comp.

Now some of us can't imagine five whole hours a week just getting our body to move. We want to do the intervals or the whatever that are at most 3 sessions per week for 20 mins. And heck, i've written about working out for just 6 mins a week that has equivalent effect as hours of cardio, or elsewhere 660secs a week to show a considerable difference for overweight geeks. The theme is always "it only takes this teeny weeny amount to have an effect" - so why do more, right? Like we're off the hook then. I mean if all we need is 6 super intense minutes, the rest be dammed. We can get back to the screen.

What Systems Are Measured in Minimal Movement Studies?
But what's the effect? cardio vascular well being. Heavens knows that's important. But what about the rest of us? The respiratory and cardiovascular systems - the two most often discussed in health as part of "aeorbic fitness" - are only two of eleven physiological systems in the body. That leaves nine more to go. Consider the skin, skeleton, muscles, nervous system, hormones, lymph, sex, waste, digestion. What do they need? Turns out movement is pretty good for all of them.

To give one example, breathing is a big pump for lymph circulation and flushing. Exercise helps work breathing, so that has an impact on immune function. Movement, especially loaded work and c/v work,  we know helps fascilitate nutrient uptake, and hormonal balance like insulin sensitivity. Stop/start movement like socer or weight lifting is great for our use-it-or-lose-em bones. Indeed we know that joints literally start to seize up from lack of movement in full range of motion, or develop pain conditions like RSI from overuse of one movement direction unbalanced by the others in that joint/muscle combination. It's amazing that we don't all keel over with *only* 20mins, 3 times a week of some kind of activity

Being Embodied Can be Fun
Brad Pilon made an observation on facebook lately
"Obesity. We concentrate on nutrition and exercise, but some other things are going on too. Did you know that 'sporting goods sales' have been steadily declining for the last several years? Why buy a soccer ball when you can buy fifa 2010? Hockey? that's what the Wii is for right? Bikes & skateboards? Too dangerous. There's excuses for it all, but still..lack of play time may be one of the biggest factors." July 23, 6:56 pm, 2010
As an antidote, Frank Forencich at exuberant animal has an entire blog dedicated to movement/play. At the recent zhealth strength and sustenance course, we learned so many ways to move - including not moving but different forms of concentrics - or exhausting mircro movements - that it seems movement can be got from just about anywhere. And since one of the pay offs of movement can be endorphin rushes, finding any excuse to do it may just be the best thing in the world.

Also before the strength and suppleness course, we played frisbee at the end of the day. An hour of catch and a game of Ultimate each night and you've bagged your 5 hours without even thinking about it. The challenge is now to implement something similar back in Normal World.

Changing Perspective; New Discoveries.
Einstein is attributed with saying something to the effect that we can't solve our problems with the tools that created them. Easy for Mr. Paradigm Shifter I invented Relativity and topped Newtonian Physics guy to say, perhaps, but it's a salutory thought.

In this case, the fast food head space that wants what it wants now and for the minimal effort in order to go do something else - to not pay attention to what we eat; to not pay attention to how we move - is the problem, and trying to find a solution for our emotional (stress), physical and nutrional whiles with the least effort/time possible is entirely the wrong paradigm.

Maybe the paradigm shift is - what do i need to change to move the MOST i can during the day, the week, now? Related might be: What do i need to do to get the most pleasure from the best food today, to be present to being here as much as possible, to have the best rest tonight to concentrate the most i can on what i do now and later?

We're fully integrated, physical creatures, though our world is increasingly designed to shape us as brains with bodies. Abandoning that belief and moving towards the Movement Light as much rather than as little as possible feels and performs, it seems, a whole lot better - across all the rest of what we do, too, don't you think?.

Castelli DM, Hillman CH, Buck SM, & Erwin HE (2007). Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students. Journal of sport & exercise psychology, 29 (2), 239-52 PMID: 17568069

Eveland-Sayers BM, Farley RS, Fuller DK, Morgan DW, & Caputo JL (2009a). Physical fitness and academic achievement in elementary school children. Journal of physical activity & health, 6 (1), 99-104 PMID: 19211963

Chomitz, V., Slining, M., McGowan, R., Mitchell, S., Dawson, G., & Hacker, K. (2009b). Is There a Relationship Between Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement? Positive Results From Public School Children in the Northeastern United States Journal of School Health, 79 (1), 30-37 DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00371.x

Baker LD, Frank LL, Foster-Schubert K, Green PS, Wilkinson CW, McTiernan A, Plymate SR, Fishel MA, Watson GS, Cholerton BA, Duncan GE, Mehta PD, & Craft S (2010a). Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial. Archives of neurology, 67 (1), 71-9 PMID: 20065132

Berchtold, N., Castello, N., & Cotman, C. (2010b). Exercise and time-dependent benefits to learning and memory Neuroscience, 167 (3), 588-597 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.02.050


John Sifferman said...

I'm right there with you. We've (and I've) been asking the wrong questions all along. If we reframe our thoughts, we will reroute our actions, and can reclaim our health :)

It all starts with a mindset adjustment and then follow-through.

Unknown said...

I believe health, and movement in particular, (at least over the long term), is all about 'why' ...

And the only 'why' I think works over the long term is 'because I like it'.

Personal example ...

I like watching quirky tv comedies.
I like playing kettlebell.
I like eating dark chocolate.
I like lifting barbells.
I like reading geeky books.
I like training muay thai.

And, not surprisingly, because I like these activities so much, I continually do them ... lots :)

My point is simple ... each of the above 'likes' I rate about the same. It's just as enjoyable for me to play kettlebell as it is to eat dark chocolate (and that's saying something if you know how much I love dark chocolate).

The problem is, most people can't say the same thing about their own relationship to exercise vis a vis the activities they enjoy.

They LIKE watching television, but they know they 'should' do exercise because it's good for them.

From my perspective, that's the crux of the matter right there ... 'should' and 'ought' aren't good LONG TERM motivational tools. For many people, they are actually DE-motivational. In fact, for certain people, they even REINFORCE the opposite behavior.

Also, many fitness professionals reinforce the idea that exercise is a 'necessary evil' rather than an activity that can actually be enjoyed. That may be useful (at times) for athletes, but I don't think it's beneficial for ordinary people.

There may be many reasons (both good and bad) that people start moving/exercising, but, I firmly believe, that there's only ONE reason ordinary folk will continue to to it over the long term ... they learn to enjoy it (or at least aspects of it).

So, I guess my point is this ...

Learning to find/build/associate fun with movement will 'magically' increase the atime you do it :)

At least, that has been my experience, and the experience of those I train with.


dr. m.c. said...

Thanks John. agree - a perspective shift may help.

kira you exemplify joy in what you do, and for sure we do what we enjoy.
Really like what you're saying.

the whole "going to the gym" thing does feel often like a must do rather than a want to do or the dreaded should.

and agreed, training gets so weights-oriented rather than 'what's fun for you to do? you only like walking? ok, lets find some ways to make that effective, safe and fun.

options, we need more options - for ourselves and to give to others.

that's pretty compelling if the kettle is on a par with dark chocolate though, dude. whoa

really cool observation, sport.
thanks for taking the time to share you guys

Misty said...

Really great post--thanks for sharing!

I've been fighting against the tendency to think, "When X happens, then I'll have time to devote to all the movement I want to do." The way my life is set up now I really have to squeak out any movement time. It shouldn't be like that.

And even when I am getting in my movement time--for example, last night I rode my bike to the grocery store instead of driving--I had the nagging voice in the back of my head trying to induce guilt for the time I was 'wasting' by taking longer to do the task.

Heather said...

Great post! So true..so much about attitude. Thanks!

dbt1959 said...

"There is nothing half so much worth doing as mucking about in [a gym] . . ."
Apologies to the water rat in Wind in the Willows . . .
Fitness has made me a thief. I will go through some fairly significant scheduling machinations to steal the time to get my movement in, which is usually 60-120 minutes per day. I split it up into morning and evening. I'll start early and go late. I am not a fitness professional, so it is time that has to be "looked for" and I end up carrying kettlebells and trx in my car often stopping to "steal" 30 minutes along a commute route. I do it because I love it and because I know physical health has a positive carryover to every other aspect of life.
Technology is my partner. With a laptop and smart phone I can be a fully functioning professional pretty much anywhere, so no one really needs to know if the call or email or letter comes from the gym, a park, or the office. The work gets done.
The part that bothers me is that I feel compelled to conceal my movement time from professional colleagues, clients and co-workers. My 5:15 meetings on Wednesdays are in reality yoga classes, but very few know that.
As a society we still only pay lip service to the value of physical health as evidenced by the "and it only takes 20 minutes three times a week." If you deviate from that then you can't really be serious about what you really "should" be doing, i.e. being a brain with a body.
We as a society are still disconnected from our "animalness." Your "head shift" needs to be rooted in a societal shift to value physical movement as a primal requirement. We don't hunt anymore; we still need to move. So I long for the day when my assistant can pick up a call and say: "Oh, David is in the gym this morning, go ahead and call him there; if he doesn't pick up he is just finishing up a set and will get back to you shortly" and have the reaction be positive. Thanks for your efforts to create that world.


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