360. That’s the number of joints we have in our body. Knowing this information, imagine having to explain to an alien what humans do in a nutshell these days. We’d mention that we work, eat, sleep, make love, and more. You’d be hard-pressed to mention any type of movement though. The aliens are puzzled now. Why do humans have all these moving parts, but elect not to move much?
Well, we need to define what movement is first Mr. Alien. Is it simply moving our fingers like I’m doing right now to write this article? Are there any explicit guidelines that must be followed? Can we include physiotherapy exercises given to us by professionals? These aren’t the questions I ask to be honest. Instead, what matters most (in my opinion) are two things:
- How many different joints are maximally being used throughout the day? Remember we have approximately 360 joints, most of them involved in moving us. Are we maximizing the movement capability from our neck and shoulders to our feet and ankles? It’s actually very important we do. Moving all the joints in our body is instrumental in maintaining our health. It will increase joint integrity, prevent injury, and improve performance in sports and athletic endeavors. Positive mood changes can also be seen in those using movement to get out of poor posture. With respect to our walking example, we do in fact move a decent number of joints. However, the problem is two-fold. First, walking is one-directional. Second, we’re not really testing the extents of joint movement the same way we would with a jog or a run.
- What is the amount of effort being put into the movement? Another argument against walking is the amount of effort needed for it. The problem isn’t that walking is a poor activity. It’s that it’s accepted as “enough” activity. For most people, it doesn’t require much effort nor does it challenge their joints to move. Walking is also a subconscious activity. This means that you can literally walk without requiring much brain power. It’s an automatic, energy-efficient way for us to move. This is what makes walking amazing actually. We can sustain it for hours. It’s also why it’s a poor way to exercise the body.
Walking is simply not an exercise. It should be viewed as a default, kind of like a computer setting that’s kept on by the manufacturers. It’s funny though because now we have wearable gadgets like the Fitbit or apps on our phones designed to track our daily steps. They encourage us to rack up as many steps as possible each day with the premise that walking is an exercise. However, those lucky enough to have jobs that require more walking are inadvertently rewarded more “points” in the step category. The rest are simply scrambling to get more steps in. I never understood this. Why are we being rewarded for walking? That’s like the equivalent of being rewarded for brushing my teeth.
There Are Scenarios Where Walking Can Be An Exercise
Now before I get hate for what I said earlier, the context does matter. Sometimes walking can be quite difficult. I’m referring to those of advanced weight and/or age, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions. Working in the Acute Medicine ward at a hospital before, I’ve seen how a 10-step walk can feel like a marathon for some patients. Those dealing with congestive heart failure (CHF) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) are among these patients. For them, walking can absolutely present as a challenging exercise.
When I say “walking is not exercise, it’s our default” I’m speaking to those who can do so without any difficulty. In fact, if you can whistle and sing while walking then you fall into this category. Not all exercises will increase your breathing rate though. Physiotherapy exercises may aim to correct your posture for example. But I’m focusing more on exercises that will challenge your heart and lungs. Most individuals should use walking as their default setting. Something they’re programmed to do every single day for at least 30 to 60 minutes just to get around. No questions asked.
So If Walking Isn’t An Exercise, What Should I Do?
- Make walking your default. Walking is something you absolutely have to do every single day, rain or shine, and hot or cold. This new habit will keep you moving and eliminate the urge to consider this as exercise. Don’t worry about counting how many steps you achieve, just find any excuse to walk for at least 30 minutes each day. Think of walking like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t miss brushing your teeth, right? I hope not.
- Diversify your movement. Diversify your moment the same way an investor diversifies their stocks. Add new ways to move and attempt them with different intensities/durations. Some ideas include: jogging, sprints, biking, aerobic bodyweight exercises, dancing, throwing punches/kicks, kettlebell training, and more. A clinician like myself can also give you physiotherapy exercises to supplement everything else you do. Not only will this require more unique joint movements, you will also decrease your chance of injury. Spending too much time doing one activity runs the risk of overusing certain joints more than others. Diversifying your activities solves this problem!
- Exercise with Others. What makes ideas like “walking isn’t exercise” special is having a community that upholds similar values. Why not create or join a run group that meets every week? How about participate in a team sport? Now you can exercise as a group while having some fun. Studies show that having others to exercise with increases your consistency in doing the same.
At the end of the day, you need to invest in your health. No amount of wealth can buy your way out of years of neglecting it. It’s as simple as that. For physiotherapy exercises and more, be sure to hit us up for some advice!