A year ends, a new year starts, gym memberships go up – but it’s not the solution, it’s perhaps a part of the “disease” that we think we need fitness centers for our health and fitness. And no, it doesn’t necessarily take running, either.
Of course, I sympathize with Scott Jurek, ultrarunner par excellence, when he suggests that “if you can walk, you can run.” As much as I’d like it to be true, though, I know that it isn’t even true for me, once I’ve gone a certain distance, and it’s even less true for many an other person.
As long as you can move, in some way, however, you can move – and to be in good health and get to better (or at least not worse) fitness, a body must move.
More and more research shows ever clearer that physical inactivity is increasingly becoming a, if not the, major cause of health problems, along with malnutrition (where it is more typically too many calories and perhaps too few of some or the other micronutrients rather than too little food that is the main problem). Researchers conclude that sitting is killing us, as comfortable as it can be and as much as we therefore like it.
Looking the other way, at our species’ history rather than present, it seems likely that it is motion that made us human.
Our walking upright on two legs, having sweat glands all over the body, having developed such large brains (and with them, cultures) all seems to come back to the lifestyle of beings in roving groups.
Sure, we have dreamed of easier lives, with food just flying into our mouths – but it had been a dream when it was well-nigh impossible for anyone. Now that it is a reality, in some ways, it turns out to be one of those dreams whose realization is nightmarish. Except, it is such a comfortable and slow poison, inactivity doesn’t figure among the dangers we are attuned to.
It’s not only a part of our earlier evolution and present health dangers, though.
Moving by our own power, a.k.a. walking, is our natural means of covering distances, and moving is an integral part of most human (and even animal) play.
A German psychologist went so far as to speak of “Funktionslust,” the pleasure of moving, using one’s body, for no other purpose than that pleasure, and it has sometimes been considered to be close to a basic human need.
This is important to remember, in all the quotidian-ness of moving by technical means and moving oneself, physically, only in gyms, often enough having driven there and then focusing on select movements and muscles only: It is natural, necessary, and nice to be moving. And for those for whom it doesn’t seem so, it is all the more essential to make it so.
Of course, there is an element of decline in sports, with age.
Get back into a sport you did when you’re young, and the chances are you won’t like the comparison to your earlier, fitter, self. Get into sports when cooking or doing the dishes while standing is too much for your level of physical fitness, and you are likely to overdo and dislike it.
Yet, trying out something new, maybe using some tools of gamification/life-tracking to become aware of progress, getting into a sport with a partner to focus more on the fun (and have some pressure from it being a set date) can all help get into it.
And indeed, there is the natural movement that should be a part of everyday life, from standing or at least regularly standing up and walking around while working rather than sitting all day, to taking the stairs rather than the escalator because that is the natural human – and better – thing to do, not because you have to because you’re getting overweight and should really do something for your fitness, but because it’s an act of play.
Fun and function.
As it so often goes in life, these things build upon each other. It all either goes into a dangerous spiral where the few hours in the gym aren’t going to help except to excuse an overwhelming life-time of immobility (and bad eating, probably), or it moves in the direction of supporting and strengthening health and fitness and doing so continually, because it’s all part and parcel of the performance of a better life.
We keep on not wanting to count such things as sports, or on being so focused on doing something for our fitness in the gym, about weight (or feelings, whether deliberately pigging out freely or trying to be totally controlled) in eating, about the money when working, so that everything gets separated into neat boxes even as it would need to go together.
Let daily life be your gym, and get into better habits.
If you can’t run, then walk.
If you can’t even walk too much, at least stand up more.
And if you can run for long, still remember to stand a bit more.
Rest, and move. Move, and stretch. Stretch while you rest. Look around. Just, make it a life in motion.