Could movement be the most important pillar of health?

So, this week is week 4 of my 12- week programme with my health coaching clients, and we will be discussing the benefits of movement to health. We will also be discussing the importance of linking healthy behaviours with pleasure…. after all we generally choose to do things that bring us pleasure!

It has been interesting to therefore revisit some previous podcasts from experts in movement and exercise, and to reflect upon the huge benefits I get from incorporating regular exercise into my own life.

We have been on our holidays for a couple of weeks and it was wonderful to enjoy plenty of coastal walks and refreshing dips in the sea.

We were blessed with lovely warm weather so spent many hours outside before returning to the Caravan in the early evening.

On the long journey home, I had a chance to consider how these activities offered additional health benefits, more specifically: being out in nature and being exposed to natural light during the day.

Being out in nature, naturally reduces cortisol levels (a key stress hormone) and being exposed to natural light strengthens our circadian rhythms and helps us to sleep well. (If we increase our exposure to natural light in the morning, this will help to lower levels of melatonin (a critical sleep hormone) which should naturally rise in the evening as the light fades…

Unsurprisingly then, I was relaxed, happy and slept well, and I am conscious of bringing an element of this back home with me. I do find it difficult to both relax and sleep well at times, so I am going to make sure I remind myself of the value of getting exposure to natural light and making time for exercise outside.

I am lucky as I enjoy a short run outside and have plenty of access to nature. I appreciate running is not everyone’s exercise of choice, but there are many ways to enjoy movement outdoors and it doesn’t need to be complicated. A regular short walk can have a tremendously positive impact on your health.

On one of the podcasts I listened to, there was a short clip from the neuroscientist Shane O’Mara on just that. He explained the benefits of walking on not only our hearts, lungs, and muscles, but also on our mental health and cognitive health. From several studies he has shown that walking can slow down or reverse the ageing of the brain. How many times you been able to clear your mind, or find solutions to a problem after going for walk? I know I often come up with my most creative ideas this way!

There were several clips from various experts, and they were all in agreement that movement is critical to the health of our both our bodies and our brains.

It is also a powerful stress reliever. Dr Mithu Storoni explained how regularly moving during the day really helps to reduce stress by reducing levels of cortisol, which can build up during the day if we remain sedentary all day. Unfortunately, what many people don’t realise is that hitting the gym for an intense workout after a stressful day at work only exacerbates the stress by increasing cortisol levels further.

That is not to say that exercise is not brilliant for reducing stress. Of course, it is, but we just need to be aware of the type of exercise we are doing at certain points in the day and what form of exercise might be useful to us at certain times.

We all know that exercise is good for us, but sometimes we just need reminding… Luckily, I am one of those people who enjoy exercise. However not everyone finds it easy to find an exercise they enjoy… I enjoy several different forms of exercise, which obviously helps me to maintain it. However, I am also acutely aware of the impact it has on my health and wellbeing. I know it makes me feel good. In another brilliant podcast Darryl Edwards explains why this is so important. He feels strongly that we should choose something that is pleasurable and not goal based. This enables us to produce the endorphins serotonin and dopamine (mood enhancing chemicals in the brain) which make us far more likely to regularly engage.

He is passionate that movement is the most important pillar of health as its impacts so significantly on every other aspect of our health. When we exercise, we feel good, we are naturally drawn to healthier food choices, we can manage stress better, and we sleep well. He also shared a powerful statement that if we meet the minimum required hours of exercise per week, we can half our risk of premature death! He argues that no other pillar of health can achieve that! Quite remarkable, and certainly food for thought?

However, his key message is most definitely to bring back the joy in movement. People can often be put off from exercise because of their interpretation of what exercise looks like. Exercise doesn’t have to mean putting in punishing hours at the gym. I know that would certainly not be my choice. There are many ways to put movement back into our lives and often it can be helpful to think back to what you enjoyed as a child.

I danced for years as a child and now adore fit steps (a strictly come dancing inspired exercise class) and yoga as this is where I feel comfortable and alive. I really look forward to both and see it as a real treat when I take time out to do it. Despite all those wonderful coastal walks and sea swimming, I have missed them both and look forward to resuming them again this week.

I am really looking forward to continuing this interesting discussion with my clients this week and learning how they plan to include more regular movement into their daily routines.

What I love about health coaching is that we appreciate that everyone is individual. Everyone knows that movement is good for us, but what that looks like to one person will be very different to another. The key is to listen to our intuition and discover what makes us feel good. After all we will only chose to do what makes us feel good.

Anyway, its time I took that short run outside….

Harriet x

If you want to learn more, please do listen to the brilliant podcasts I refer to by clicking on the links below.

Feel Better Live more podcast

Wellness Unwrapped podcast




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