Your body needs three forms of movement every week

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Walking has gained a reputation for being a great form of exercise that is easy and accessible to many people, and many studies show that this popular activity also has many health benefits.

Taking at least 2,300 steps a day reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in a 2023 edition of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Additionally, weight-bearing exercises like walking help prevent osteoporosis, according to another study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Yet some experts in the health and fitness fields say that while walking is certainly good for health and fitness, it’s not really high-quality exercise. One such expert is Melissa Boyd, a certified personal trainer and coach at Tempo, an online personal training platform. Boyd is based in San Francisco.

“Our lives have become so busy — we commute, sit all day, then are exhausted at night — that a short walk makes you feel like you’ve done this important, exponential thing,” Boyd said. “But walking is actually a basic movement that your body needs to function well, to aid circulation and digestion, and to decompress.”

To help clients better understand why a daily walk does not result in a beach body — which many of them believe, thanks to various social media influencers — she discusses with them the three types of movements that are beneficial for overall health and fitness.

First there are the movements your body needs or demands every day, like walking, stretching, and bending. Second, there are athletic movements, which you can do several times a week to improve your fitness or train for a sport. Third, there are social movements you do for fun or to connect with others, like dancing or playing volleyball.

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Dancing is a great form of social movement that connects you to others while improving your overall health and fitness.

“It’s important to think about movement in these different categories because not moving throughout the day has become normal,” Boyd said. “Our lives are so sedentary that many of us are trying to get out of a movement deficit. But exercise is different from physical movement.

Walking is good, but it’s only a one-directional form of movement, and our bodies need more to be functionally fit, said Dr. Carl Cirino, a sports medicine surgeon with HSS Orthopedics at Stamford Health in Connecticut.

People use the muscles and tendons in their body to help them do all the bending, twisting and rotating they do in their daily lives, Cirino said, so they have to work and stretch them in many different directions. Yoga and Pilates are two very effective and healthy activities in this regard, he said.

“Stretches are also incredibly easy and you can do them when you wake up and before you go to bed,” Cirino said.

Having loose, supple muscles also means you’ll have more balance and stability, which helps prevent falls and injuries during all physical activities, he said. It’s also good to increase your heart rate several times a week for cardiovascular health.

Ideally, you should create a plan that incorporates “due” daily movements, like walking and stretching, with some cardiovascular work, strength training, and social activity spread throughout the week, the two said. However, this can seem insurmountable for many.

Breaking down all of these different movements into exercise snacks is one way to sneak in the movement your body needs, Boyd said.

“Maybe, get a treadmill and do some of your meetings while walking slowly on the treadmill,” she said. “Maybe every time you go to the bathroom you do 20 squats, or every time you go get water you do 10 push-ups against a wall. If you pair these exercise snacks with something else you already do, you can make them a habit. I’ve seen huge success with this.

Boyd also encourages her clients to find a form of movement that they enjoy that doesn’t feel like a workout, like playing kickball or pickleball. This way you have fun and are social while getting fit.

Cirino agrees. “We see kids here in sports medicine whose parents want them to play baseball, but they don’t want to do it,” he said. “It’s the same with exercise. You need to find something interesting and easy – perhaps an activity your friends do – and use it as a basis for developing good habits.

Start slow and build from there

Rethinking exercise as the regular movements your body needs for functionality, fitness and social relationships can also be a way to give yourself permission to make time for training, Boyd said.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that creating an exercise program doesn’t require an immediate, massive change in your lifestyle. In fact, it’s best to start slowly with new, small movements.

“What I usually see is people like how it starts to make them feel,” Boyd said. “Then, the stronger they get, the more they want to move even more. Movement inspires movement.

Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness.

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