Why is everybody talking about movement?
Have you noticed that “movement” is having a moment?
The word is popping up everywhere as it makes its way into the names of things: fitness classes, studios and training sessions. It’s hip to be in motion.
But what exactly is movement? Are they all referring to one type of movement? Or is the “movement movement” being used to refer to a lot of different practices?
“Like everything in the fitness world, people jump on the bandwagon and start using the terminology that sells,” said Carol Robbins, an east-end Toronto exercise specialist and founder of Alignment REScue.
“What I do is called restorative exercise and it’s really built around walking and gait and ‘alignment,’ another word that people are kind of bandying about right now, especially in fitness classes,” said Robbins, who has been working as a certified restorative exercise specialist for 10 years. “‘Alignment’ is sort of a buzzword right now, but people use that word kind of interchangeably with the word ‘position.’”
So the short answer is yes, there are a lot of different ideas about movement out there. Robbins, for example, offers very specific guidance on alignment, which she learned from Katy Bowman, an American biomechanist and author who developed a regimen called “Nutritious Movement” over a decade ago that is focused on both gait and the way we think of fitness. And when it comes to the latter, at least, it looks like the world is catching up to these ideas.
“Last year, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology issued its new exercise guidelines, called the 24-hour movement guidelines,” said Jenna Gillen, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “The idea is that it’s important to integrate movement throughout your day and not just focus on structured physical activity.”
“That’s still important, but we’re learning it’s not the only thing we should be emphasizing or encouraging Canadians to do,” Gillen continued. “So it focuses on this idea that the whole day matters and so it’s about incorporating physical activity throughout the day as well as trying to mitigate sedentary behaviour.”
One of the suggestions is breaking up long periods of sitting with little bursts of exercise or even just standing for a little bit. This fits in well with Gillen’s research, which demonstrates that taking even a two-minute break every 30 minutes to do something as minor as walking around or doing squats next to your desk can help reduce our insulin levels.
Walking and doing squats as often as possible are also both key to the nutritious movement program, although the biomechanics are used to help people get the most benefit from every single movement, no matter how small it seems.
One concrete example of this comes from my phone interview with Robbins. She took my call while she was out walking, going up and down several hills, which is better for working the gluteal muscles than flat terrain. So it’s not just that she found a way to move while she was working, she also chose a type of exercise that’s good for preventing one of the most common problems people in her demographic experience: bone loss.
“Weight-bearing exercises doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hold weights or be wearing weights,” said Robbins. “It might just mean finding the place where your bones are experiencing more weight and that helps keep your bones from becoming brittle in some places. That’s the mechanical part of it.”
Robbins said the basic lower-body gait mechanics principles can be learned in a relatively short time. The upper body, she said, takes longer.
“You have to actually physically change the muscular physiology, which takes some time, but it can be done; it just requires adaptation,” Robbins said. “It’s really a long-term project, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re married to me and my classes for a long time. I mean, you can learn this stuff in a couple of hours.
“I have a course online that starts at the floor and goes up to the hip,” she added. “And that’s all people need to get going.”
And get moving more — something that just about everyone agrees is just as important as a regular workout time and needs to be incorporated into every aspect of our routines. Although we’re slowly realizing the importance of movement, we’ve still got a ways to go, said Robbins.
“Our culture really values exercise, but we don’t really value movement,” Robbins said. “A lot of people treat it as if it’s only valuable if you do it with a certain intensity.
“But if we can build these little moments of movement into our day overall it adds up to a lot more physical health.”