by Deborah Lynn Blumberg June 28, 2022 4 min read

Contrary to what most diet plans will tell you, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight isn't only about what you eat. While diet plays a major role, movement and exercise are just as important for body composition, metabolism and overall health.

It's also important to understand the difference between movement and exercise. While all exercise is movement, not all movement is exercise. But both are essential and both come with short- and long-term benefits.

Here's a look at the best exercise and movement strategies for optimal health and wellness.

Understanding Everyday Movement

Long before technology like cars and laptops, humans naturally incorporated more daily movement — simply by walking where they needed to go. Movement is less formal and easier than exercise. It includes going for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing housework or playing fetch with your dog.

In today's high-tech world, many of us are naturally more sedentary, even without meaning to be, and it can have an impact on our health. Research has found that even for people who engage in physical activity, being sedentary can lead to an increased risk of many health conditions.

There are widespread benefits of regular movement. In the short term, it improves circulation, aids digestion, boosts metabolism and energy levels, and can help reduce pain. In the long term, it can:

  • Help keep joints flexible
  • Strengthen muscles, improve stability and balance
  • Support bone strength and health
  • Improve and support heart health
  • Strengthen structures of the brain linked to cognitive decline in older adults, leading to sharper memory

Promoting Health With Regular Exercise

Exercise is intentional movements done with the goal of improving your overall physical fitness. Exercise can include weight training, taking a spin class at the gym, or kickboxing with a friend.

When you exercise, you're often engaging in a higher-intensity activity that burns more calories. Your cardiovascular, respiratory, energy and muscular systems work together to provide energy to the muscles you're using. With regular exercise, these systems become more efficient.

In the short term, exercise can boost mood by stimulating endorphins and help you feel more energetic as blood flow increases throughout your body.

Long-term, exercise can:

  • Help manage weight as calories are burned to balance calorie intake
  • Support healthy levels of cholesterol
  • Support a healthy cardiovascular system
  • Improve mood, overall energy levels and libido
  • Promote better, more restful sleep

Less Is More

While exercise is necessary for health, it is important to remember that just because some is good it doesn't mean more is better. It's possible to exercise too much, which can be counterproductive to your goals and health. This is because exercise is a stressor on the body.

While it's true that exercise can reduce stress by boosting endorphins, it also breaks down muscle and can overtax the neuroendocrine system, which is the system that regulates hormones.

It's always important to find the right balance between too little and too much exercise and incorporating just two resistance workouts per week is a great place to start. Recovery is also key. If you don't let your muscles rest and recover in between your workouts, you could be setting yourself back. Insufficient downtime in between exercise sessions has been linked to low energy, sleep issues and increased risk of injury.

Increase Movement and Get Adequate Exercise

If you are looking for ways to increase daily movement and add formal exercise into your weekly routine, it's important to start where you are and gradually increase the amount and intensity at the right level for you.

Consider some of the best exercise and movement tips:

1. Increase your NEAT. NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is the energy we use for movement that isn't exercising, sleeping or eating. Increasing your NEAT will increase the number of calories you burn throughout the day. You could increase NEAT by going for a walk after lunch or dinner, mowing the lawn, pace while you take a call - anything you can do throughout the day to decrease the amount of time sitting. If you are unable to walk, use a stationary bike or swim - any movement counts.

2. Get regular exercise.The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of the two every week. At least two days a week should also include moderate- to high-intensity activities to strengthen muscles. Find a program that's sustainable and works for you and your lifestyle.

3. Aim for 10,000 steps a day.We were born to move and built to be active, and today's sedentary lifestyle can be counterproductive to overall health. Aim to get more activity back into everyday life. Go for a 10-30 minute walk to start your day, set a reminder to stand up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes every hour, park as far away from the store entrance or, if you can walk. 1,000 steps is equivalent to about 10 minutes of walking -- you can make it fun to find creative ways to be more active and reap the benefits.

4. Incorporate variety for body and mind. Different exercises work different muscles and energy systems. You can include cardio, weight-bearing workouts, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and also more restorative practices like yoga or Pilates. Low-intensity steady-state (LISS) is a method of cardio that involves a longer period (usually 30 to 60 minutes) of low-to-moderate intensity aerobic activity at about 60% of your maximum heart rate.

5. Do what you love. Exercising doesn't have to be a chore and finding something you enjoy is the key to consistency and making it sustainable for you in the long term. Join a gym, try out different exercise classes, hire a coach or recruit a workout buddy to help reach your goals.

Any activity is better than none so enjoy the process, listen to your body and be patient with yourself as you work to increase your daily movement and follow the exercise routine right for you.

Not sure where to start or struggling to get back into a routine? Take a listen to this podcast on how to ramp up and progress your weekly workout program and get the health benefits and results you want.

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