Pain is an unruly beast to manage. We move and it hurts. We sit and it still hurts. Doctor’s orders are often not to move if there is pain. You may have heard the joke “I went to the doctor and told him it hurts when I do this. He said: so don’t do that.” Does this advice really help or can it do more harm than good?
Our bodies are made to move. If we were meant to just sit we wouldn’t need most of our muscles and joints. Sometimes when we move, we hurt ourselves, but guess what? Pain can happen from lying in bed or from sitting too long. Have you ever noticed how stiff or sore your body is when you get out of bed, or stand up from your desk after a long day of work? Moving is not the problem, and more often than not, not moving IS.
A significant amount of research has been done about the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Here is just one article about the latest research and the risks of being sedentary. The dangers of not moving have long lasting effects that greatly decrease your quality of life. These include:
1) Decreased bone density
When we don’t bear weight on our bones, the body’s need to rebuild bone (via osteoblasts) disappears, so instead old bone is simply taken away and not replenished (via osteoclasts). This leaves our bones frail and prone to fracture. Often times people with Osteoporosis avoid standing or moving because they are afraid that they will fall and break a bone. These fractures can happen just from a cough or a sneeze, and in actual fact, moving more will help rebuild the bone to avoid a potential fracture.
Have you ever been told by your Doctor that Osteoporosis and Osteopenia are reversible conditions? And that the cure is to move? Unfortunately, not likely but it is true, we can rebuild bone without medication in the early stages of Osteoporosis, so keep moving to keep your bones strong!
2) Diminished muscle tone
Of course, you have all heard, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Just like bone strength, if you don’t use your muscles, your brain decides they no longer need them and stop sending messages to those muscles to work. Muscles need load and effort to stay strong. Because we have over 600 muscles in our entire body, this means we need to move often and in all sorts of ways.
Have you noticed that as a child you can run, jump and do cartwheels with ease, but at some point in life, those things become very difficult and eventually impossible? This is because we stop using our bodies to move that way. Find ways to move that include standing, shifting weight forward, back and side to side, and moving your limbs in all directions. Pilates, yoga and tai chi are all great options but so is dancing, playing with your kids or grandkids, playing catch, or just moving your body around anyway you’d like.
3) Compromised posture
Posture is not just sitting up straight. It allows us to stand and move with ease, instead of effort. Have you ever watched someone walk down the street hunched over with hands behind their back? It looks like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and like they are walking through mud. Well, the good news is, at least they are moving, but chances are they don’t move very much in their day.
Poor posture affects all of the body’s systems, most importantly the ability for the heart and lungs to work properly for long-term health. Which brings me to my next point…
4) Poor cardiac health
According to this article, “prolonged sedentary time was significantly associated with high diastolic blood pressure and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level.” Of course, if you are not moving, your heart is not working to its full capability. Not to mention, the more sedentary our lifestyles the more weight the body carries, adding even more stress on the heart and circulatory system among others.
5) Inability to balance
So what is the solution? Aside from prescription medications, which is most often the go-to in the medical community, adding an assistive device, like a walker or cane is often the protocol for older adults that have pain in walking or that feel nervous moving due to pain or instability. Despite the mounting research in support of movement, an active program is rarely prescribed.
Many are not shown how to use their new walking devices properly and then lean on the device for support rather than using their own strength to support themselves. This not only prevents postural muscles from holding us upright, therefore weakening your body even further, it also greatly increases the risk of a fall. These devices are often prescribed for people who are fearful of falling but these are not meant to bear the weight of the body, and especially not to hold you upright. Gait patterns are greatly altered with the use of these devices, which often results in a hunched or lurch gait. Doesn’t that sound awful? It certainly doesn’t feel good.
At any age and stage, the more you move the better and easier it feels. It can be difficult getting back to moving well, but as Joseph Pilates once said, “Change happens through movement and movement heals.”
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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