Why Move?

By Clem | In Personal Training | on May 18, 2016

You would have been very lucky to live to see your 30’s in Palaeolithic times. Obviously this was down to a number of factors including advances in medicine, social status etc.  Back in the days of the origins of homo sapiens, our ancestors had to move in order to survive. Food was not plentiful and available around the corner in the local shop or supermarket, it had to be hunted or gathered. Some indigenous tribes around the world still do this to this day like the Hazda tribe in Tanzania where men spend most of their day hunting their food while women gather berries and plants. Research like this one has looked into the lifestyles of these tribes to learn more.

Fortunately most of us don’t have to leave the house with spear in hand to find our dinner (although it does sound more appealing than manoeuvring a trolley through Tesco). We are fortunate in the western world where the availability of food is not a limiting factor (affordability  is another thing). As awesome as that is for those that can afford it, it also means we lose a huge incentive to move.

The fashionable incentive to move these days is to keep the weight off. You see it every January and at the onset of summer. Gyms all over the world are suddenly crawling with people frantically flailing about on the cross trainer. Putting in a massive effort to do more now, with the goal to wear less on holidays. Once those people are back from their fun in the sun, that incentive to move once again diminishes until they revisit that feeling in the new year. The circle of life continues.


“lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise saves and preserves it”    –   Plato


The link between movement and fat loss is as solid as Laurel and Hardy, Ant and Dec, Bacon and Eggs, etc. If you learn nothing else from this piece, please remember this; weight management is just an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini sized benefit from movement. If you choose to move more with the sole purpose of losing weight/fat then your whole perspective is wack. Let me un wack it.

Plato once said “lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise saves and preserves it”.  Good condition does not just refer to what weight you are. In an age where mental health is thankfully being viewed as a priority amongst society, at least if not governments, the necessity for an intervention as effective as movement is now at its greatest.

The Benefits of Movement

The graphic below highlights the benefits of movement categorised into four sections Physical, Mental, Social and Emotional. Weight management is just one of a large number of benefits. The good thing is, this is not just anecdotal. Science has helped to support these benefits in the last number of years. Exercise can prevent falls in the elderly which keeps them out of hospital which therefore helps increase life expectancy. Pedersen et al. (2015) provides evidence for prescribing exercise as an intervention for 26 (!!) different chronic diseases including depression, osteoarthritis, back pain, high blood pressure, dementia and of course obesity.

benefits of exercise

The British Medical Journal recently advised that doctors should be able to prescribe exercise similar to a drug. It claims that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for about 5.3 million premature deaths a year globally. Unfortunately in my own experience and from reading some research on this topic, it is quite difficult to change the movement behaviour of someone by simply telling them to move more. It is the equivalent of me asking you “can you please laugh for me at the count of three?”. It’s just not as easy as that. Change can only begin from within that person and the more someone tells you what to do the more we refuse to accept it as necessary.

Why Move

The work of Michelle Seger and her book No Sweat highlights a more sustainable approach to moving more. Put very simply;

  1. Why: ask yourself why you should move more. This does not refer to specifically exercise but simply moving more often. If your why is due to peer pressure, the looming holiday or your doctor recommended it , then it’s not going to last very long. If your why includes some of those feelings highlighted in the graphic above then it has a much greater chance of surviving past six months. Make that why personal. Reasons that some of my clients have found powerful are “because I deserve to look after myself” and “my kids need the best version of me when I/they get older”. Viewing movement as a treat rather than a chore and as a way of investing in your health pension has far better consequences than a holiday you’re about to go on.
  2. How: as mentioned before, it is silly to think that movement only counts if done in a gym. Just move. Find something you enjoy, whether it’s walking the dogs or going for a bike ride. Finding something that makes you feel better means it is more likely that you will make it habitual. I enjoy going to the gym, but that doesn’t mean my clients enjoy it.
  3. Learn before perform: goals are good and as a personal trainer they are important but the long term goal is always sustainability. If you have signed up for a marathon, the primary goal is not to finish the marathon in an awesome time. Unless you are an elite athlete, the primary goal is long term health and enjoyment of movement. Too often, people view these events as performance related and believe they are a weekend Paula Radcliffe. The marathon puts massive mental and emotional stress on them and instead of remembering why they did the marathon in the first place they are in fear of failure. The moment the race is done, they want nothing more than to avoid stress like that for a few months. Cut forward to six months of drastically reduced inactivity, those people are back to where they started registering for the next event. One of my clients registered for an 80 mile bike ride a few months ago. She had never done an event like this before and was racing with 4000 other cyclists. She was using a hybrid which meant she was more than likely greatly outnumbered by 3,999 racing bikes. Whilst the event did make her nervous, her main intention was not to become a hard core cyclist and compete for a record but to enjoy the event, the surroundings of the Scottish landscape and to pursue the obvious health benefits. Her mindset going into that race inspired me and meant that she already was looking at the next event to experience (not compete in).

I have spent a fair share of time in hospitals as a Physiotherapy student treating elderly people who wish they could have moved more when they were younger. It’s rare that you hear a 70 year old in hospital wishing they had weighed less when they were 30. It’s not rare for them to say they wished they saw their kids more, exercised more, travelled more, experienced life more, loved more, worried less, smoked less, argued less, and worked less. What you do now, today, this week, this month, this year determines the path you will continue to walk when you are an old man or woman reminiscing on the past. We no longer move to survive, we move to live more fruitful and enjoyable lives. What better excuse do you need?

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