Before we lived in the age of convenience, movement of the human body was necessary for sustaining life. Finding, capturing, and collecting food and water required all-day, excursions throughout the lifespan. Seeking and creating shelters required continuous strength and stamina. All the variables we associate with physical health – endurance, strength, and mobility – were necessary for survival.
Over the last ten thousand years, most humans transitioned from a migratory, hunter-gathering population to living in sedentary farming communities. From there we moved onto industrialized nations and then onto our current technology-based modern society.
These are unprecedented times in which movement is no longer required. We hop in the car to go to store. A swipe on our phone gets dinner delivered to our door. Conceivably, we can never leave our home and get by.
Relegating movement to the optional category comes with consequences. I’m not talking about rigorous exercise when I refer to ‘movement.’ I’m referring to simple movement like walking to the store or working in the garden.
Movement as Medicine
Some of the secret to aging is in the joints and once you understand the science of aging, it all makes sense. If we don’t use our muscles they shrink from disuse. Conservation is at the heart of nature. What we don’t use will eventually wither away, including our muscles. It’s called atrophy and the cure is movement.
It’s the classic case of ‘use it or lose it’. Thankfully we only need a small, daily dose of movement to sustain our full range of motion. The caveat is that we have to focus on the all of the muscles in our body, the little and the big.
Traditional strength training relies on repetitive, concentric motion. Curling dumb bells is a good example. Likewise, many stretches are static. Pulling the arm across the body is an example. Rare is the routine that gently and methodically engages the range of motion of all 650 muscles and all 210 bones.
We now know that the modern life relies on our dominant muscles. As a result, the smaller muscles weaken from lack of use and without the support of the smaller muscles, the larger muscles are more susceptible to injury. What you may not know is that as the muscles shrink, they pull the joints closer together leading to painful conditions such as arthritis. It’s why we feel tight, sore and creaky as we age.
To alleviate atrophy and pain, we need to work both big and small muscles, gently through their full range of motion at every stage of life. This is not advice for the over 50 crowd. The earlier you learn about the science of movement, the better off you’ll be. How we move matters.