Your body needs these three forms of movement every week

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Walking has earned a reputation as a great form of exercise that’s easy and accessible for many people, and scores of studies show the popular activity has numerous health benefits, too.

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

In addition, weight-bearing exercises such as walking help prevent osteoporosis, according to another study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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

“Our lives have gotten so busy — we commute, sit all day, then are exhausted at night — that getting a short walk in makes you feel like you’ve done this big, exponential thing,” Boyd said. “But walking is really a baseline movement your body requires to function well, to help with things like circulation and digestion, and to decompress.”

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

First is the movement your body is owed or requires every day, such as walking, stretching and bending. Second is athletic movement, which you can do a few times a week to improve your fitness or to train for a sport. Third is social movement that you do for fun or to connect with others, such as dancing or playing volleyball.

Dancing is an excellent form of social movement that connects you to others while improving your overall health and fitness. - vgajic/E+/Getty ImagesDancing is an excellent form of social movement that connects you to others while improving your overall health and fitness. - vgajic/E+/Getty Images

Dancing is an excellent form of social movement that connects you to others while improving your overall health and fitness. – vgajic/E+/Getty Images

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

Our bodies need to move in many different ways

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

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

“Stretching is also incredibly easy, and something you can do when you wake up and before you go to bed,” Cirino said.

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

Time for an exercise snack

Ideally, you should create a plan that incorporates daily “owed” movements, such as walking and stretching, with some cardiovascular work, strength training and social activity sprinkled throughout the week, the two said. That can seem overwhelming for many, however.

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

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

Boyd also encourages her clients to find some form of movement they enjoy that doesn’t seem like a workout, such as playing kickball or pickleball. That way, you’re having fun and being social while getting fitter.

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 that’s interesting and easy — maybe an activity your friends are doing — and use that as the basis to build good habits.”

Start slowly and build from there

Rethinking exercise as regular movements your body needs for functionality, fitness and social connection also can be a means of giving yourself permission to carve out time for working out, Boyd said.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that creating an exercise plan doesn’t require an immediate, massive change in your lifestyle. In fact, it’s better to start slowly with new, little chunks of movement.

“What I usually see is that people love the way this starts to make them feel,” Boyd said. “Then the stronger they become, the more they want to move even more. Movement inspires movement.”

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

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