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Foundations of Integrative Health

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Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual
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Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual
PART 2: PRACTICE

Movement

 

When starting a health routine, most people think of joining a gym. People often use movement to lose weight or build muscle in our culture. Many people think of movement solely as a way to burn calories. Have you ever tried to “earn” a meal by exercising or worked to “burn off” unhealthy food choices? You’re not alone! The good news is that you won’t need to do any of these things. Movement in the context of healing is quite different, and it should please you to know it’s typically much more gentle. 

Just how important is physical activity to your health? It is essential. However, exercise alone cannot offset unhealthful eating or any other health foundations. When we exercise, we are pumping blood throughout the body. If you have poor quality blood, pumping it through the body won’t benefit the same healing.

We use the term “movement” deliberately instead of “exercise” or “fitness.” Structured fitness routines are not a requirement for health and wellbeing! If you observe animals in nature, you won’t find any doing Crossfit workouts or running marathons. In their natural habitat, animals move! Squirrels don’t run up trees to burn calories. Movement is simply an integral part of a squirrel’s lifestyle.

Humans have generally become accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle. We’ve created such luxurious and convenient lifestyles that have primarily stripped away the need for movement. There is no need to join a gym or start training for a 10K (though you most certainly can if that brings you joy). All you need to do is move more! 

The longest living healthy populations around the globe don’t have more gyms per capita, nor do they have more competitive sports. The healthiest people simply have an active lifestyle where they move more in nature and social situations. We can all create that very lifestyle for ourselves to better our health.

 

Benefits of Movement 

Many people wonder what the best type of movement practice is. The answer is simple: whatever one you consistently do! Every kind of physical activity will bring different benefits to the body. In general, most movement will have some combination of the following positive physiological effects:

1. Improved cardiovascular health is a clear benefit of aerobic exercise, which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure and promotes the release of natural endogenous anti-inflammatory agents. Movement helps to improve circulation to all parts of the body, including the heart muscle.

2. Lymphatic circulation and immune stimulation come from any form of movement, as muscular contractions and gravitational forces are needed to promote healthy lymphatic circulation. The best movement to encourage lymphatic circulation is jumping on a small trampoline or rebounder.

3. Increased bone density is a natural consequence of strain on the physical body. Bones grow under force, and the only real way to promote bone’s natural turnover and growth is weight-bearing exercise. Lifting some weights can be helpful, though bodyweight exercises can also be effective.

4. Joint health and mobility come when we maintain regular physical activity and joint range of motion. Contrary to beliefs of osteoarthritis being a consequence of “normal wear and tear” on joints, evidence suggests that it is more a result of systemic inflammation. Regular healthy movement throughout life is associated with healthier joints as we age.

5. Improved metabolic health comes from increased muscle activity. The amount of muscle mass in the body establishes our basal metabolic rate. More lean muscle mass helps regulate blood sugar and metabolism by enhancing mitochondrial health and density while increasing insulin sensitivity. The healthy metabolism associated with muscle also helps explain why muscle mass is a predictor of longevity.

6. Increased energy to combat chronic fatigue also results from supporting healthy mitochondrial function through physical activity. While it is so common for individuals to lack the energy to get out and move, once they do, enhanced energy is a common side effect. This may also be an effect of enhanced sleep, which generally comes from more regular physical activity. 

7. Mood regulation is another natural side effect of regular physical activity. We know that physical movement releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins that elicit systemic effects and help to boost wellbeing. Research shows daily walking is as effective as antidepressant medications in treating symptoms of depression.

8. Hormone balancing is optimized when we engage in regular physical activity. In particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) effectively enhances testosterone and growth hormone production while also improving metabolic biomarkers and insulin sensitivity. Adiponectin, a regulatory secreted by fat cells that decreases with obesity, is increased with HIIT, helping to promote weight loss and other hormone balancing in women.

 

Types of Movement 

Consistency is critical, but so is mixing up various forms of physical movement. We encourage you to listen to your body and do what you are called to as you experiment with various activities. Activities can be categorized into a few different groups: aerobic, anaerobic (high intensity), weight training, and stretching. 

Aerobic activities get your heart rate up to about 50-60% of your maximum. A general guideline is that your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. So, for a 50-year-old person, the maximum heart rate would be around 170 beats per minute, with the aerobic zone being around 85 – 102 beats per minute. Anything that gets your heart rate up into this zone will have aerobic benefits – brisk walking, dancing, a leisurely bike ride, sex, cleaning the house, playing with your children, hiking, swimming, working in the garden, etc. Aerobic exercise is perhaps the most essential form of exercise in the context of healing. It primarily supports the cardiovascular system, which carries vital nutrients all over your body. 

Anaerobic exercise is any exercise with higher intensity. This includes: 

  • jumping or jumping rope
  • weightlifting
  • sprinting
  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • biking

Anaerobic (without oxygen) exercise prompts your body to need more oxygen than it can immediately produce. When in anaerobic exercise, our body shifts its energy source to glucose in the blood and stored energy in the muscles. Anaerobic exercise can be beneficial in short stints because it:

  1. Increases bone strength and density, decreasing risk for osteoporosis.
  2. Helps manage weight. Studies show that regular anaerobic exercise helps the body burn fat. 
  3. Boosts metabolism.
  4. Fights depression.

 

How Much Movement?

We often assume that more is always better because something is good for us. If a bit of exercise is good, then a ton must be better. The fact is that exercise is a stress on the body, and it can be overdone. However, we will surely thrive when we weave regular physical activity into a balanced lifestyle that keeps each health foundation equally nourished.

A meta-analysis of exercise studies showed overall mortality drops with longer durations of daily movement. 10 minutes per day dropped mortality by about 3%, 20 minutes per day dropped mortality by 7%, and 40 minutes per day dropped mortality by 14%. Sixty minutes per day decreased mortality by 24%!

When it comes to gentle, moderate activities that you enjoy, more does seem to be better. However, we should still be mindful of the time we spend sedentary, as time sitting is an independent risk factor for chronic diseases of all sorts. Therefore, it is best to take two 30 minute walks per day instead of one 60 minute walk. The most important thing to consider when creating your movement routine is to find truly enjoyable activities. Ideally, you can mix in various forms of movement while also opting to be outside in fresh air whenever possible. A little bit of many different types of activity is sure to provide desirable benefits for health, wellbeing, and longevity.

 

Action Steps:

  1. Take at least one 20-minute walk every day.
  2. Choose a new activity like yoga, dancing, hiking, or bicycling that you can do at least 2-3 times a week for at least 45 minutes.