What makes movement meaningful… to you?
Never before have we (those of us who are lucky enough to be so privileged) had so much access to such a rich variety of movement opportunities. We can go dancing, do yoga, crossfit, primal moves, and it seems like every week a new and better movement system is born. Plus, we’re continually reminded of how important movement is, for our health, well-being, longevity and even intelligence. And yet, never before have there been such a large portion of the population who have lost or are losing most of their movement abilities.
One of the arguments for moving more comes out of the idea that earlier in our evolution, we evolved to the way were are now, in part because we needed to move to survive. The argument continues by saying that in order to stay healthy, as a species, we need to keep moving, and by that not just going to the health club three times a week watching reality TV on the treadmill.
But there’s a catch, our ancestors HAD to move to stay alive so they didn’t have much choice. Now we’ve created a world in which we need to move less and less to procure food, find a mate and engage in social interactions. Every new convenience can often be seen as a reduction in the necessity to move. Some of the most common conveniences that we take for granted are escalators and elevators. Driverless cars may solve many problems like traffic congestion and parking problems but also could theoretically lead to even less movement. Not having to worry about finding a parking place, you could simply call up a Google car on your smart phone and have it drop you off five blocks away from where you started. That would mean five blocks less walking.
Not only have we created a world in which we don’t need to move very much, we’ve also created a world in which movement is often considered to be superfluous or even detrimental.
The notion that movement can be a source of joy, rejuvenation, inspiration and pleasure has been all but eradicated from our collective consciousness. Ironically, we all know that not moving enough is unhealthy so we’ve tried to remedy the problem by creating isolated opportunities to move, like health clubs and studios.
Imploring people to pay to move, marketers use strategies like shame and embarrassment to appeal to our vanity in order to get us to join a club or buy a DVD program. Sadly, even if some of those clubs and programs are good products, the shame only provides motivation for the more vain amongst us.
Another approach that has only limited success is that of scaring people to believe that when they get older, they will live shorter and less enjoyable lives if they don’t attend to their movement needs. While true, this also doesn’t work very well. With all the studies coming out about ageing and movement, you would think that folks would be driving in droves to the nearest gym or recreational centre.
I’ve heard the argument from the natural movement proponents that it is our duty to move and keep ourselves healthy and strong. “Be strong to be useful” is a catchy slogan. By keeping ourselves fit, we can be more useful to our families, friends and communities plus not becoming a burden for the health care system. While I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, I don’t think it’s a very effective motivator. How do you convince the overstressed 40 year old who sit at the computer all day and is exhausted when returning home so finds rest in watching TV (sitting or course)? From his perspective, he’s already doing all he can so to tell him that he has yet another duty may not be the best way to communicate with him.
Of course there some people who move because they want to look good and/or live longer, but their numbers are relatively small in the context of the (first) world’s population.
So what is needed?
That’s right, movement needs to become meaningful in order for it to become reintegrated into our modern lives. Much of what’s called “exercise” has little or no meaning to the human being beyond burning calories or toning a midsection. Even worse, exercising with machines can even dumb down our abilities to coordinate and sense ourselves, making the movements even more meaningless. Without meaning, we rely on willpower to get us to the gym and eventually we lose it, we burn out, or injure ourselves.
So how do we find or create meaning in movement? Each one of us has to ask, and answer this question for ourselves.
Some find meaning in activities like dancing or team sports because they provide social interaction and camaraderie. Others may find purpose in solitary activities like running, walking or kayaking so as to have time to reflect, refresh and recharge. Another possibility is challenge. Setting a goal to climb a certain wall or defeat an opponent can provide meaning. Exploration and the drive to discover new territory can also motivate us to seek out new adventures.
Then there’s one more option that isn’t talked about much, play. Playing is a child’s way of learning about herself, her connection to her environment and others. Most children don’t need to be prompted to play, they just start up when given the chance. Unfortunately we, as a society begin to dampen this drive by asking the children to adapt to our movement-rare culture. “Don’t run here, not too loud, oh that’s dangerous, sit still,” are all common admonishments from adults that take the fun and meaning out of playing.
As adults, many of us could greatly benefit from relearning to incorporate the element of play into our daily lives. In order to do that though, we need safe and supportive opportunities to begin to relearn the joys of play. Here’s a delightful video of a program for seniors that teaches parkour and dance. It’s moving (pun intended and not) to hear the testimonials of the participants, both about the physical and mental effects of the program.
Forever Young is a unique course for older people that fuses parkour and dance for fitness and well-being. It brings together local people over the age of 60 to explore, create and learn movement in a safe and structured outdoor environment lead by qualified professionals. With a focus on play, connecting and adapting to our surroundings – community and self expression is at the heart of this program.
The five 5 biggest illnesses in older people are dementia, heart attack, arthritis, parkinson’s and diabetes. Forever Young helps to prevent and/or reduce progression of these as well as targeting fall prevention.
Whatever brings you meaning and joy in movement will benefit you ten-fold in comparison to “getting your exercise over with.” We need to support and encourage each other to bring back the pleasure in movement. I suggest you go out and take a walk and reflect on what would make your movement more meaningful, and then start to play with how you could incorporate that into your life.
All the best, John