Being physically active has always been important to me. But when myself, my husband and my daughter moved to Canada we were completely overwhelmed with the changes we faced. Our family and friends were back in Venezuela. We had no jobs. The language was different. We weren't used to the weather. So, for the first few years, exercise wasn't a priority. There was no room for a gym membership on our already tight budget.
Instead, we kept it simple. We did as many outdoor activities as possible and became accustomed to hikes in the hills and walks around the neighborhood. But after our son Samuel was born I felt the need to start moving more regularly. One day, my elder brother rang me and we talked about his experience running his first marathon. That was it. I decided to start running. That was ten years ago and in that time there has been joy, challenge, friendship, laughter, travel and tears. And positive change.
I took up running, completed my first marathon, and soon after I began to supplement my running with yoga practice and strength training sessions. I also switched to a plant-based diet. The result? My joints felt looser, my muscles felt more supple, mentally I felt more alert, my digestion improved, and I felt in control of my moods instead of my moods controlling me.
This is normal. We've known about the benefits of exercise for decades. But as our society has developed our lifestyles have become more sedentary. We only have to look at the actions of national and international institutions to see this. For example, the World Health Organisation recently published a Global Action Plan on Physical Activity. Why? Because, according to the paper, certain country's levels of inactivity can be as high as 70%.
It's a truly planetary problem. The benefits I felt (and continue to feel) are being experienced by less and less of the population. We know more than ever about the importance and advantages of regular movement but we do less of it than ever before. As it stands, the nature of our modern life is almost entirely opposed to that which is ideal for our genetic makeup. Consider the following:
- Regular aerobic exercise makes it easier for our heart to pump blood around our body. It enables us to walk, cycle, swim and run for longer and to recover quicker from exertion. It also helps us lower the probability of things like coronary heart disease.
- Resistance training helps prevent age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. It preserves bone density, making breaks and fractures less likely as we grow old. It keeps our muscles and joints strong and mobile for as long as possible.
- Anaerobic exercise--like high-intensity interval training--is beneficial for all the body's systems. It helps the cardiovascular system be more responsive, the muscular system generate more strength over a longer period, the nervous system fire and relax, and it also trains intangible mental functions like focus and endurance.
We know this. And we have plenty of options if we wish to pursue activity in any of the three categories. Just go to a local gym and you'll be amazed at all the possibilities for aerobic, anaerobic and resistance exercise. But we're also more inactive than at any other point in history. Why? Some commonly cited reasons:
- "I don't have enough time."
- "Exercise is hard and uncomfortable and embarrassing."
- "I'm too old/fat/unfit/injured to get started."
- "I can't afford a gym membership or expensive equipment."
These are all legitimate reasons. But all of them have been around long enough for us, collectively as a species, to have developed simple and effective strategies to negate them. We know enough about the different types of movement and enough about the lives of the people who try to practice them consistently to be able to create systems that enable us to make small, gradual and sustainable change. We know how to use schedules, how to program movement around a life's obligations, how to keep movement interesting and fun, how to make it a social pursuit instead of an individual mountain, how to make sure we get enough rest and recovery. And that's what I'm here to teach you.
Movement doesn't have to be scary. It doesn't have to mean replacing everything you know with something new and different. It doesn't have to be hard, embarrassing, painful, boring or any other negative adjective. It doesn't have to be about counting reps, ticking off lists, or slaving away to reach some arbitrary outcome or satisfy some meaningless metric. It's about doing what we were born to do--challenging our minds, playing with others, exploring our bodies and their capacities, and having fun while doing it.