Understanding Me - Movement

If you are someone with a busy, regular habit of varied types of moving your body around, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes easy, sometimes making you a bit puffled out - then congratulations! 

 

You are one of around 20% of people who love to test your muscles, challenge the body and don’t think twice about leaving the comfort zone of a chair/office/bed to get moving. 

 

And if this is you, you probably don’t need to read any further than this.

 

If you read all that and didn’t really resonate with much of it then this is for you, and please rest assured it’s designed to make you feel good, not guilty or fearful about getting all the benefits of moving your body.

 

Because movement is meant to be enjoyable. You notice we haven’t used the word ‘exercise’ here or ‘work-out’, and we won’t use them again, because for some of us these words trigger unhelpful thoughts and feelings that actually make it less likely that we’ll get moving.

 

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But we MUST get moving because of the things we DON’T want to encounter during this fantastic one-off opportunity we have to live a life, is illness from years of inactivity.

None of us wants to be sick, or to spend the later years of our lives completely taken up with managing illness and pain - what a waste when, if we do it right, we could be buzzing around enjoying and celebrating life well into our 80s and 90s.

 

And it’s not a case of hours in the gym versus having fun, we need to look at it another way.

Your body loves to move, every part of your body from your brain to your toes wants to move. As you move your heart pumps a little faster, keeping it fitter and ready to respond to challenges.

Moving enables all your body’s systems to flow; it enables your brain to refresh and grow, your muscles and bones to provide the support you need to be strong and pain-free as you bend lift and twist.

Moving makes us feel good, as we experience the freedom and challenge of moving around, our bodies produce ‘feel-good’ chemicals that enable us to say we feel happy.

When you move around, whether it’s wriggling your toes, digging your garden, walking to the shops or playing with your dog, you are giving your body a gift - a gift it wants more of every day.

 

For many people, usually because of past experiences, the idea of movement and how fit they feel just makes them feel bad. Since feeling bad isn’t something we want to dwell on, it’s easy to shut away the bad feelings along with any potential plans or changes that would make us feel better. So often we think we’ll do it later, next year, when we get a new job, when the children are older, when we feel a bit more energetic, when we’ve lost a bit of weight, when we are not too stressed.

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Of course those times never come. We just find another way of thinking that somehow it’s all OK because we’ll fix it later.

 

At the same time, we all really know that this is not OK.

 

If you leave a car rusting in a garage it rusts more every year. The longer you leave it the more rust accumulates and the bigger job it is to sort it out, and so the less we fancy that job.

 

It’s the same with having a body that doesn’t move enough, the longer you leave it the bigger the challenge.

 

But the good news is that even if you have a big challenge, the changes and the benefits can happen quickly and easily - and enjoyably, as long as you follow the right approach.

To tick your ‘healthy movement’ box here’s where you need to end up:

  • Your body needs to stretch, bend, lift and twist a little every day

  • You need to do something that makes you a bit out of breath (what we used to call ‘a bit puffed out’) every day, or at least a few times a week

  • Whatever you do, you need to enjoy it, make it fun or pleasurable

  • You need to walk (or dance if that’s your thing) whenever you can

 

Although it might seem like it from all the messages that come your way, you don’t have to start running, go to the gym, join a class or spend hours on a home treadmill to achieve your goals. If you enjoy these things then they are good ways to move, but let’s face it, some people hate them. 

If you are forcing yourself to do any of these things, dread them, put them off, wish they are over when you are doing them, then they are not right for you

 

Moving is part of being kind to our bodies, not punishing them.

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Think about it this way. You have this incredible machine, your body, given to you for a limited period of time. It can do all sorts of amazing things (think back to when you were a child - handstands, cartwheels, hopping, jumping off walls, ‘the crab’, running for hours whilst playing sports/games, swimming, diving, fighting, crawling through tiny spaces, skipping, dancing, climbing, laughing until your sides ached). 

All these activities were healthy, vital movement that happened just through living life. As children, we didn’t think ‘I’d better go and put myself through 15 minutes movement or I’ll get ill.’, we just embraced movement as part of our lives.

 

This is also what we want as adults. Love your body by doing what you love.

So how can we move easily into more movement? How can you tick those four boxes above without triggering those ‘don’t really want to but I should...thoughts?

 

Here’s a plan:

Before you do anything else, imagine your body exactly as you’d like it to be. This is just about you and what you want, not what anyone or anything has made you feel.

Focus on what you do want, not on anything you don’t want or don’t like. Imagine in as much detail as you can feeling exactly the way you want to about your body. Imagine shape, imagine the condition of your body, imagine moving freely and willingly, free of stiffness and pain, imagine your heart beating steadily, strongly, pumping your body fluids around your healthy flexible blood vessels. Imagine your mind clear, your breathing strong and deep. Imagine yourself bending, stretching easily. See yourself, if you can, walking or even running, not in a laboured way but easily, freely, because you want to. See how powerful you can make that image. You might even want to cast your mind back to a time when you did feel like that, recapture the feeling of having a body that loved to move, and move easily.

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Now the good news is that you already have that body that you are imagining and it’s waiting within you for whenever you are ready. Lock that picture of you, and the feeling of being full of strength and vitality, into your mind so that you can imagine it whenever you want to. If there is one thing we know about all forms of movement, it’s that the mind plays a powerful part in supporting - and stopping it. In fact, this is the most important part of your plan, because once you’ve excited your mind with what’s possible, it will work for you in the background to help you on your way.

Your body needs to stretch, bend, lift and twist a little every day.

Now the first step on this easy journey is to think about that first point - stretching, bending, lifting and twisting. Think of anything you already do that comes under those categories. What do you lift? Children? Heavy shopping? Something in the garden? First, give yourself credit for that - sometimes we think we don’t move a certain way and we are already doing it to some extent. How do you stretch your body? Maybe reaching up to something that’s always on a high shelf, strapping a child into a car seat. Likewise, when do you bend - picking something off the floor every day (maybe a dog’s dish, toys, weeding the garden, getting food out of a low cupboard)? When do you have to twist or do more awkward unusual movements (reaching round in the kitchen between worktops, for example, turning in the office to speak to someone behind you etc)? Each of these stretches, lifts, bends or twists benefit your body, they are movements which enable everything to work better. The more you do, the more you benefit. 

Now the question is - how could you easily introduce more of any of these movements into your life? Just the first step remember. I’ve been through this journey myself and it worked really well to begin by adding something to what I was already doing. So, for example, when cooking in the kitchen I would challenge myself with doing three ‘squats’, basically just dipping to the floor and back up again. To begin with, you can do a shallow squat and hold onto the worktop. It’s amazing how quickly you find you can do it without holding on and find yourself deciding to do one extra, then another. Before long you are willingly doing 5/10/more squats. And squats are really good for you! You can take this philosophy and apply it to add a sprinkling of movement to other ordinary things. I found three extra squats when cleaning my teeth worked well. When sitting watching TV you can stretch in your chair, lift two tin cans up and down as if they are weights, twist your ankle round and round, lift your arms above your head (immediately helps your heart beat faster). You get the picture.

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If you prefer to make a bit of space to increase these types of movements, then taking five minutes in an empty room with your favourite music is also a great escape where movement suddenly seems like a treat. With no-one watching you can move in any way you choose - remember it’s all good. Again this is about your freedom of movement, there is no ‘right’ way. Just listen to the music and stretch your arms towards the ceiling and out to your sides, or however the mood takes you. See if you can touch your toes, swing your arms, swivel your hips, bend a little to one side and then another. Relax and see how your body actually wants to move. Notice how your heartbeat goes up, your breathing becomes a bit quicker, you get a little warmer. All that is so good. If five minus feels too long, start with what you can do, even two minutes is a precious start. Our friendly, helpful bodies actually have this built-in way of making us want more once we kick-start our energy.

You need to do something that makes you a bit out of breath (what we used to call ‘a bit puffed out’) every day, or at least a few times a week

 

Stay with me! Do you remember that feeling when something is so funny that you sort of get stuck laughing? Maybe it was giggling at school or something funny that happened in the pub or playing a game. After you finally finished laughing can you remember how good you felt? Can you also remember being a bit breathless, maybe your heart beating, as if you’d just been running? Laughing is a fantastic way of getting things moving and feeling good at the same time

It’s worth dwelling on laughter a little more. One interesting fact is that our brains can’t tell the difference between laughing at something funny and just making ourselves laugh. If you smile so that the smile causes the corners of your eyes to crease (ie a ‘proper’ smile) and then begin laughing, it actually makes you feel happier, and once you get going the ‘forced’ laughter actually becomes real laughter. 

The important thing here, though, is that the laughing triggers many of the same benefits that your body experiences from a good dose of movement. So, if all else fails, weird as it may feel, laughing even if you don’t feel like it is very health-giving. It’s also a very positive way to introduce yourself to a little private movement session where we want to get the heart beating a bit faster and to get that puffed out feeling.

When we get a bit out of breath we are stretching and challenging the body a bit, and it needs this to stay healthy. Although it might sometimes feel like it, your body was not made to stay in its comfort zone all the time. It needs to be challenged because that triggers it to clear itself out, repair anything that’s not up to the job and to grow in strength and ability - the strength and ability we need to live for a long time fully healthy and capable.

When you enjoy a game or play with a dog/cat, meet friends for a catch-up, or any activity that involves laughter, connection, or kindness, your body releases mood-boosting hormones and other body chemicals that help you both mentally and physically. It’s not only you that feels these benefits, but the people you are spending time with (and your pets!) also get the same rewarding chemicals.

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So the question this time is - what could you do, that is enjoyable, that you’d be prepared to push yourself a bit to do?

Here are some of the things that tick that box:

  • Brisk walking (even better if there’s a slight slope involved). Ideally about half an hour’s worth, but 15 minutes or even less is still really beneficial and a good starting point

  • Dancing (anyhow, in a room on your own to your favourite music is fine if you don’t want to go anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you think you can’t dance, make it up! Your body doesn’t know the difference.)

  • Marching on the spot - really! Just like a tin soldier, this is a great way to start. You can count your steps, perhaps starting with 50 and working up to say 300? You’ll find that it gets you nicely breathless and doesn’t take very long

  • Skipping. Yes, remember that? One of the best forms of play movement. Even if you can’t do it properly, trying to remember how to skip will get you going, and if you can do it with a friend it’s probably good for a laugh

  • Vigorous gardening, like digging, wheelbarrowing things around

  • Playing a game - table tennis, garden games, have a play-fight

  • Bouncing on a garden trampoline

  • Kicking a football around, moving around throwing and catching a ball

  • Cycling, anywhere, doesn’t have to be a marathon trek

  • Walking fast up and down flights of stairs, not necessarily the most enjoyable but perhaps easy to do if you work in a building with flights of stairs, or have a good safe staircase at home

  • Anything else that you can make up that seems to you to do the same as the above suggestions

Once you’ve found something that appeals to you, even if it’s only a little bit of the easiest thing, then plan to do it very soon. Like you could march on the spot for 50 steps right now! The sooner you take some action, any action, the sooner you’ll feel you are on your way, with exercise, the benefits are immediate. 

You might like to make a plan to do the same thing every day, at the same time for a while so as to develop a habit. Alternatively, if it suits you better, you might choose one thing one day and something different the next.

Setting an alarm on your phone is a useful way of reminding yourself to integrate a bit of movement throughout your day. You could set it every hour if you have a desk-based job and then get up and do a few stretches, squats, marching on the spot or take a walk for a few minutes. Be creative, the way your body moves is for your benefit, not to please anyone else or to win awards.

Remember: the aim is to get yourself a bit breathless and hot through exerting yourself as often as you can, how you do it doesn’t matter

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Whatever you do, you need to enjoy it, make it fun or pleasurable

We believe in gain without pain. There is a difference between looking forward to a challenge, a bit of a ‘stretch’ to our ability, and choosing to put ourselves through discomfort/boredom/pain just for the sake of it. In fact, too much rigorous movement, pushing beyond limits is actually harmful, as is getting too stressed about anything we do including trying to stay fit.

 

At the beginning of this article, we suggested imagining exactly how you feel when you are moving easily, the shape and condition you want to be, enjoying how and when you move. Keep that image in your mind each time you take a little step in the right direction. If something you are doing really isn’t enjoyable in any way, make a positive decision to do something else. Sometimes the enjoyment we get is the satisfaction of reaching a goal or target, which is why giving yourself a number to achieve when moving is a good idea, even if it’s a tiny number. I frequently set myself a daily target of 30 squats. They can be done anywhere, either all at once or in sets of 10 or 15. Each time I meet my target I feel a little rush of satisfaction, sometimes so much so that I add a few more on for luck, just to feel even better.

By the same token, if you miss a day or more, that doesn’t mean the whole mission is over or that you are a failure, or any of the other terms we abuse yourself with. Your body will wait until you are ready again. Always try to do something, we can trick our minds by saying ‘I’ll just do one minute’ but quite often once we get started it’s much easier than we thought to keep going longer, not because we have to, but because we suddenly want to.

You need to walk (or dance if that’s your thing) whenever you canNothing beats ordinary walking for keeping things moving inside and out. Frequent walking throughout the day to break up periods of sitting is a massive health benefit, as is walking in the fresh air as often as you can, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes. Never underestimate the benefits of walking. Many people like to have a step counter and aim for a certain amount of steps a day. If you like doing this it works really well, and again you get a good feeling for reaching your target or discovering to your surprise that you’ve walked double your target whilst out in town or something. But if you don’t like counting, or measuring yourself then don’t, just keep it simple and resolve to walk wherever you can.

It might seem strange to mention dance here, but in study after study, dance has proven to be the best all-round ways of moving your body. It engages the brain (in planning which move to make), it moves many different parts of the body, either energises or relaxes you depending on the tempo, and in many cases, it has social benefits too. The message is, if you love to dance then let yourself dance, you can dance your way to a longer life. It doesn’t have to be something you share, we can all dance to our own rhythm alone in our bedroom!

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The aim of this article is to encourage you and to show that even if you don’t like any of the formal ways of moving that society creates, from hockey and tennis to diving, yoga and circuits to name a few, then you can move in other ways and meet your body’s requirements.

 

Of course, many people prefer the formal methods and benefit hugely from the routine, challenge and social interaction that often comes with them.

 

In future articles in our Understanding Me Movement series, we’ll take a look at some of these ways of moving and explore the benefits and how to get started.

 

In the meantime, if this article spoke to you in any way please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if we can be of further help in any way - we love to hear from you.