By Charles Oxley
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training.” — Socrates
A key to health & longevity is to keep active as late into our lives as possible. It’s undeniable that movement is integral to our physical and mental well-being, and therefore the quality of life, now and as we age. How should you be training for life?
Move your body more and move your body well.
The more we move, at any age, the healthier we are. It’s no surprise that you’re most likely to move more doing something you enjoy over something you don’t. Pick something you enjoy (important to note, by ‘enjoy’ I don’t mean ‘find easy’, but instead something where you find a joy in the effort of performing the movement).
I like to ask clients, “What’s the one thing you do movement wise for an hour but only feels like only 5-minutes?”
Hiking, Running, Skiing, Cleaning the house, Tennis, Walking the dog, Surfing, Weightlifting, MMA, Dancing, Triathlons, Yoga, DIY, Rock Climbing, Kicking/Throwing a football with the kids, shooting hoops, Pilates, Sailing, Hunting, Calisthenics, Gardening….
There are literally hundreds of activities that come up. Going forward, we’ll call this your ‘Recreation’.
It’s inclusive in that it can be anything, can be multiple things and can change over time, the only caveat being it must be done with good movement.
This is moving safely and as the body is designed to move. Moving well allows us to remain active, and therefore healthy, as we age. It’s all very well to move a lot now but if it’s done badly it’s likely to be at the expense of being sedentary or in chronic pain at some point in the future.
This is where the true role of exercise comes in.
Exercise should be a dedicated time to focus on testing, developing and improving the fundamental skills and quality of how well you’re moving in a general sense and specific to your recreation.
It’s to support your ability to do your recreation and therefore an investment into your future quality of life. While your approach to physical activity should lead you to move more, it is equally important that it leads you to move well.
So far, we’ve covered,
Approach to Physical Activity: Recreation – move your body more + move your body well
How: Perform your recreation to move more and include exercise to move well
Why: Improve your quality of life in the short and long-term
Distortion of Exercise
However, if you think about it the majority don’t take this approach toward their physical activity. Instead, you see a distorted and different meaning to the word exercise, a word that’s become the leading approach people believe they need to take:
Approach to Physical Activity: Exercise.
How: Go hard or go home, push through the pain, wear expensive sports gear, go to a gym, use every ounce of self-discipline, do what you see on Instagram, in magazines and adverts. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy it or not, just move as we say.
Why: It’s good for us. It’s what we’re meant to do and what everyone else does…
Here, ‘exercise’ means something different to the role presented earlier. It’s meaning has been constructed and reinforced by advertising, social media and leads to our own actions being based on what others are doing rather than what we want to do.
It has stripped away a solid grounding in ‘why’. In fact, the ‘why’ is very vague and has little to no concept or regard for your future quality of life. Without this foundation, the ‘how’ becomes very tribal and explicit in an attempt to take up the slack. Not only does the ‘how to exercise’ not value moving well, you also can’t pick what you do based on what you enjoy. It’s a do ‘this’ and not ‘that’ approach.
An approach that doesn’t value the joy in effort, only the effort. It doesn’t matter if you like what you’re doing or not, it just has to be something that complies with what culture defines as exercise.
As a result, the word ‘exercise’ in our current culture evokes certain subtle connotations, restrictions, and expectations in our minds as to what ‘exercise’ is.
This has created a boundary around physical activities that are considered exercise and therefore, by default, those which are not.
Rather than being inclusive, it becomes divisive. From our earlier list of recreational activities, we can see that not all would fit into this current cultural role of ‘exercise’.
Exercise: hiking, running, skiing, tennis, surfing, weightlifting, Pilates, MMA, triathlon, Pilates, Calisthenics, Yoga, Rock Climbing, shooting hoops
Not Exercise: cleaning the house, walking the dog, kicking/throwing a football with the kids, DIY, hunting, sailing, dancing, gardening
There are some that could go in either, but that just reinforces the point that there are division and ambiguity where there shouldn’t be. If you enjoy an activity where you move, and you move well that’s all that really matters.
This is far from the approach to physical activity discussed earlier of ‘move your body more and move your body well’. We seem to have majorly distorted the role of exercise in a narrow group of activities and ways of performing those activities.
You can see why some in society enjoy ‘exercise’ and some don’t. Those that enjoy this version of ‘exercise’ are those that have their recreation fall within the boundary while those that don’t typically enjoy exercise have their recreation fall outside.
It’s a matter of luck if your recreation falls within what is culturally defined as exercise. Those that don’t have their recreation fit within the boundary, gardening, for example, are not necessarily people that don’t like to move at all.
But they see their recreation doesn’t fit into the ‘exercise’ boundary so believe it has no value to them doing it. They may believe it’s not of benefit physically, mentally and sadly socially.
Most people enjoy moving in some capacity but culture trumps physiology. The cultural expectation behind the word exercise trumps a lot of peoples innate physiology to move. Instead, it causes them fall into one of the following categories:
- don’t like exercise but force themselves to exercise
- don’t like exercise so don’t exercise
- are scared to exercise
On the other hand, those that have their recreation fall within the ‘exercise’ boundary are also likely to not continue moving as late into their lives as possible. Due to the ignorance of moving well and instead focusing on volume and intensity, they will increase their chance of injury or chronic pain that will leave them less active or sedentary in old age. How many people do you know with a bad ________ (insert a joint or body part)? How do you think that bad________ will feel in 20 years?
We can see this approach is harmful to most. We now have a significant section of people in our society that is moving a lot less than they would, moving and hating it, or not doing it safely. These people are reducing their quality of life now and as they age. All due to the distorted approach to the physical activity we are presented with and believe in our culture.
You are built to move. We have inbuilt physiological reward systems for moving. But we are seeing many people who feel socially restricted from doing so.
Ask Questions – Seek Answers
It’s important to question and understand your approach to the movement you do or don’t do. Ask yourself, “What do I actually value and what are the things I am told to value?” It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. But it’s important to continually question and evolve.
Why do you exercise?