Why You Should Move More (but not to burn calories)

In my perfect world, calorie counters would be banned from all exercise machines.

Instead, I would add “number of limbs moved” or “variety of planes used” or, even better, I would add a “level of enjoyment” meter.

While we all know that staying physically active is essential to a long, healthy,  and productive life, many of us don’t make time for it in our busy lives. As easy as it would be for me to chalk this up to society being lazy or uninterested in their own wellbeing (beyond popping meds when your health gets out of control).

I think the real reason is that we, as a society, have mistakenly and inextricably linked exercise purely with weight loss.

And magazines, social media, and the “guy at the gym with an opinion about everything” aren’t doing much to help with their confusing and often conflicting messages.

This is something we work on every day over at weighless.life

Misconception #1

The first thing I want to clarify is that moving more is not simply about burning more calories. We’ve been trained to think this way by the fitness trackers we wear on our wrists, the readouts on the cardio machines at the gym, and the social media infographics that tell us how many jumping jacks we have to do to “burn off that treat.”

Equations like: “You have to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes to burn off that Shaken Strawberry Green Tea Infusion Lemonade.”

Unfortunately, that often translates into, “I ran for half an hour so I get to eat order the Double Chocolatey Chip Frappuccino.” Or the reverse, “I had the White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino so I have to hit the treadmill.” You know what I mean? The good-old punishment or penance workout.

Well, as the saying goes, you can’t outrun your fork. Or, as Professor Tim Noakes says : “If you’ve to exercise to control weight, your diet’s wrong”

If you listen to my Second Wind Fitness podcast, you will know that getting more movement in your life can help lower our risk of developing dementia, lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, increase your bone density, improve your insulin sensitivity, and increase the activity of fat-mobilizing enzymes in your muscles. And sure, all of this can help you weigh less, above and beyond just the extra calories burned — but the benefits of movement still go well beyond weight control.

You may have noticed that I haven’t used the word “exercise” at all so far. That is not an accident. And I will tell you why.

Misconception #2

The second idea that I would like to clear up is the idea that any movement which doesn’t make you sweaty or out of breath can possibly count. Or if it does count, the benefit is so small that it is not worth creating the inconvenience in your day.

Sure, it is true that when your goal is to build a specific type of fitness (like training for a marathon, spartan race or triathlon) you require a more sustained, specific and intense effort. And sure, it is also true that walking up a single flight of stairs may not be enough movement to drastically affect your insulin sensitivity (but a 15-minute walk after dinner is).

But finding small ways to add more movement to all of your daily activities and also getting more and more consistent with those movement habits can (and will) absolutely turn you into someone who is healthier (in all measures), happier (did I mention it helps elevate mood?) and also someone who weighs less (less body fat, not less muscle).

Do you even move, bro?

Research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows that the general population’s specific dedicated exercise time (hitting the gym, going for a run, doing yoga) adds up to about 5% (at most) of our day. Meanwhile, we spend about 40% of our time doing sedentary things like working at our desk or driving our car. Another 15% of our time is spent doing some light physical activity like walking or cleaning the house. And then the rest of the time we are asleep. Not a great ratio, am I right?

Biomechanist, Katy Bowman, has some great hand-drawn diagrams over at her website nutritiousmovement.com that really drive this idea home.

I probably don’t need to tell you that I am a huge fan of  what the researchers in that study call the “movement continuum.” Instead of thinking that “we’re either exercising or we’re not,”  the movement continuum is a much more helpful and meaningful way to think about it. Finding ways to stay active during the day has much more impact than portioning off 5% of your day to crush it at the gym.

Weighless logo

This is the type of mindset shifting and paradigm melting stuff that Monica Reinagel and I teach in the year-long Weighless Program.

We get into more of the nitty-gritty of movement vs exercise (and food vs diet), but we don’t actually prescribe an exercise program (or diet). Instead, what we prefer is to dismantle what we call “the dieter’s mindset” and then rebuild using the habits and mindset that will lead you to become someone who simply weighs less… or maybe in the end, it’s weigh more — more muscle mass, more bone density, just less of the WAY (get it?) that you feel your body is keeping you from what you want to be doing.

Most of our members have lost somewhere between 3 and 18% of their starting weight and maintaining effortlessly, all without spending any time on a (fricken) diet.

I am pumped to see some many people break out of destructive yo-yo dieting and instead simply weigh less while moving more!

Our next Weighless group begins on July 8th, 2022 and enrollment is now open.

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