Regular movement is vital to a healthy lifestyle. But how you move is critical to determining the level of impact your exercise has on your overall well-being.
Our tendency toward sitting has necessitated that we thrust physical activity to the front of our consciousness. And the effects are undeniable. Activity trackers continue to grow in popularity. There is an explosion of fitness apps to coach you through everything from workouts to hydration habits, meal planning, and more. Fitness centers are expanding to keep up with demand. Even fringe gym jargon is seeping into mainstream culture. If I had said the word “burpee” to you 5 years ago, odds are you would have thought I had just finished a bad meal.
The shift is on, for sure. But as for the results…That’s another matter.
Even with our collective focus on physical activity, we continue to battle escalating numbers and types of chronic lifestyle diseases. Your kids are significantly more likely to grow up overweight or obese than you were. Diabetes and heart disease are still running amok. Perhaps most disturbingly, we are seeing cognitive decline materialize earlier and earlier.
So why move at all if our health continues to trend in the wrong direction? First of all, as poor as our state of health is, I believe it could be that much worse if we continue to live in the realm of inactivity. I think we are so skewed toward sickness that it will be years, perhaps generations, until we reset to a healthy balance, and regular exercise goes a long way toward facilitating that shift. So the fact that we aren’t yet seeing immediate widespread benefits doesn’t justify disengaging from exercise. Change will come if we keep at it.
Secondly, although lack of movement is certainly a contributing factor to our decline in health, it is far from the only one. If you commit to moving your body, but live an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle, it’s unfair to say that exercise didn’t work for you. Sodium will never be table salt in the absence of chloride. But if chloride never shows up to the party, you can’t blame sodium for your empty shaker. Your best life requires a healthy synergy between movement, food, sleep, emotional outlook, etc.
That we should be moving our bodies is undeniable. But how we should be moving them often goes overlooked.
The average person is usually best served by daily low level movement such as walking, biking, or light hiking supplemented with 3 days or so per week of more rigorous resistance training. Sprinkle in some full-effort sprinting activities every couple weeks or so and you’ve got a recipe for movement that will satisfy the majority of the population.
But let’s be honest, just the daily walking is a big ask for many. Fortunately the booming activity tracker market has fueled the push for 10,000 daily steps. Nothing like a little friendly competition to get you moving.
If you happen to consistently reach your step count goal, then congratulations are in order. But if you really want to expand your health, you need to take your movement beyond just walking. Not that there’s anything wrong with walking. In fact it’s great low-impact exercise. It’s just that it takes place in only one plane of movement. Just like biking, running, benching, curling, squatting, cleans, and many of the other most popular exercises.
You see, our bodies are designed to move through 3 planes of motion. The sagittal plane cuts the body in half vertically from font to back. We move through this plane when we’re walking, bending forward or back, and anything else that involves flexing and extending. The coronal plane dissects the body vertically from side to side, splitting it into a front half and a back half. Movement through this plane occurs when bending laterally or shuffling side to side. The transverse plane cuts through the body horizontally and is the plane through which rotation takes place.
To truly keep your body at its healthiest, you need to be working it through all 3 planes of movement. Yoga is great for this when you consider how many movements and poses involve rotation of the torso or holding a side lunge, for example. The same goes for Tai Chi, and martial arts in general. Most organized sports will engage all 3 movement planes.
If you’re into working out alone and have painted yourself into the walking and sagittal lifting corner, it’s a pretty simple fix. Just think about exercises that involve twisting movements or ones that get you going side to side.
Heavy bag work is an example of great all around movement. Punching with proper form involves tremendous trunk rotation. Work your way around the bag by shuffling sideways like Sugar Ray. Throw in a variety of kicks to really work your legs through all 3 planes. Tennis is another fantastic activity that pretty much ensures that you will be working your body through a full range of motion, even if you’re just hitting against a wall by yourself.
Resistance work is easy to expand on as well. You’ve already got the sagittal plane covered. Banded side steps offer an amazing leg and hip workout. Lateral bends with dumbbells or resistance bands are great trunk stabilizers. Coronal plane – check. And Russian medicine ball twists can really add strength and stability to your core. There you go. All 3 movement planes taken care of.
If your goal is to build a resilient body, you are probably best served by incorporating as wide a variety of exercises as you comfortably can. At a loss for new movement ideas? Take a look at your kids as they somersault, bear crawl, crab walk, cartwheel, and roll sideways down a hill. Surely there’s something there you can steal from them. Doing so will equip you for anything that life can throw at you. After all, unless you’re living out your existence in a very tight hallway, life doesn’t exist only in the sagittal plane.
Be Your Best,