The Benefits of Movement

Let’s take it down a notch from exercise to discuss the effects that just physical activity or movement has on the body. Movement does not only stimulate our muscles, but it influences our body’s mental health, ability to prevent diseases, metabolism and sleeping patterns. Inactivity leads to various health related issues and even a little bit of movement can help change that. We as humans of all ages, shapes and sizes are made to move and here is why:

Physical benefits

Movement causes your muscle fibres to contract and relax, maintaining the elasticity and power in the muscle. If you were to stop using a certain muscle, eventually it will become very tight and weak, making it even more difficult to move. The same goes for joints; you will lose the mobility in your joints if you don’t move them, leading to stiff spines etc.

You need strong flexible muscles to help with general activity and to prevent injury.

Moving loads your connective tissues. This is a collective name for a group of tissues in the body such as bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. Collagen is one of the building blocks for these tissues and it respond to load by reinforcing itself the way a spider would reinforce its web during fierce winds.  Therefore, placing regular loads through your body, such as walking, helps keep your bones and ligaments strong. This becomes increasingly important as we get older to help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

Poor circulation can also be improved by more regular activity. Think of that dead leg you get when you have been sitting for too long. Good circulation is needed to bring in vital oxygen and nutrients to the cells and to remove waste products form the tissues.

Physical activity helps to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol and raises your metabolism which has been shown to reduce the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. It also uses energy which burns calories, making it easier to manage weight. The more consistently or intensely you exercise, the greater the health benefits are. The continued use of your body gives it endurance, making it easier to move and ultimately gives you more energy.

Mental health benefits

Conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress and ADHD can be improved by regular physical activity. Your body and mind are closely linked and naturally affect one another. When you are physically active it promotes the growth of neurons in your brain and helps form new pathways which in turn helps maintain a sharp mind and slows age related decline. This is helped further by the release of hormones such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin which affect your focus and attention.

Another hormone which is released is Endorphin, which is your feel-good hormone and helps with symptoms of depression and stress. Whether you are going for a brisk walk or simply doing some stretches at home, movement helps reduce stress by allowing your brain to wander and think of other things such as your breathing or the rhythm of the movements. So not only will you feel better when you are active, but you will have enhanced concentration and a sharper memory.

Other benefits

The reduction in stress and depression can greatly help your sleep. Also, when you are active, your body temperature rises only to drop again a while later which triggers sleepiness.

Movement is social. It allows you to interact with your environment such as a walk-and-talk with a friend or a group Pilates class. It also allows you to express yourself better (think of your body language)

Movement gets things done such as the gardening, grocery shopping and house work.

So physical activity such as moving about the house, doing some stretches or going for a walk helps your body to maintain good joint and muscle mobility and strength, improve circulation, promote bone, ligament and tendon strength, and help prevent major diseases.  It also goes hand in hand with mental wellbeing by reducing stress and depression, improving cognitive function and sleep. The minimum required amount is around 150 minutes a week of mild to moderate activity such as brisk walking. You can try incorporating this into your day by getting off the bus a stop earlier, taking the stairs, taking more regular breaks from your desk, joining an exercise class, doing more house work or by doing some simple stretches or exercises at home.

References

  1. Kyu H et al, Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. BMJ 2016;354:
  2. Schuch FB, et al. Exercise as treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2016;77:42.
  3. Burton DA et al, Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain, BJA. 2004; 4:6
  4. Shawn D. Youngstedt, Effects of Exercise on Sleep, Clinics in Sports Medicine. 2005; 24:2:355-365

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