If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is something we should all be keeping in mind. The CBC recently ran a story indicating that many health care practitioners are seeing an increase in the types of injuries that are generally related to inactivity over the last several months. Many people are experiencing things like general stiffness, back pain, neck and shoulder pain as well as headaches. These problems can be linked back to hours of sitting most likely at the computer, but also binge-watching television combined with less opportunities to get out and shop, go to the gym or just meet with friends leading to a much more sedentary way of life.
The human body requires movement to keep it healthy. Lack of movement can affect us in several ways. There is a direct physiological effect on the skeleton, joints and muscles but also implications for our cardiovascular system, as well as psychological considerations. Even the functioning of some of the complicated systems of the body like our digestive and endocrine systems can be affected negatively by a lack of movement.
The joints of our body require movement to keep them healthy. The loading and unloading of the joints that takes place when moving helps to bring blood and oxygen by improving circulation. The process of working the joints also creates a physiological response that helps to keep the connective tissues and cartilage of the joints healthy. Movement helps to strengthen the muscles as well as increase bone density in the skeleton. In the spine, being in the same position for too long may actually cause some of the connective tissues to change shape accommodating the sustained posture. This physiological response may be one of the factors that leads to disc injuries.
The leading cause of death in Canada continues to be cardiovascular disease. Over 90,000 Canadians die from heart attacks, strokes or vascular related cognitive impairments annually. These conditions are multifactorial in origin but not moving enough can be a big contributing factor. Our heart is a big muscle and like the other muscles in our bodies, exercise can strengthen it and make it healthier. The mechanical action on the intestines when we move may actually help with our digestion. Exercise is one of the ways that we can burn off stress hormones like cortisol. Even our psychological mood is affected in a positive way when we move as some of our feel-good hormones may be released giving us a sense of stress relief and elevated mood.
So, in this unusual time when many things are conspiring to prevent us from moving, what should we do? First and foremost, it’s always important to make a conscious decision to move more. If you are working from home, improvise to create sitting and standing work stations so that you can change your positions during the day. When you get a chance to take a break, try to go out and take a short walk. The technology that forces you to stay still can also be an ally. Look for videos online for workouts, yoga classes and other unique and various ideas for exercise and activity. If possible and you have the means, equipment like exercise bikes and treadmills can be very helpful. A lower cost alternative can even be found on Amazon called a “mini” exercise bike or pedal ergometer for around $50.00.
I am fond of telling my patients that, “motion is lotion for your joints”. During these challenging times moving our bodies may be more difficult but it is as important as ever. Find a way to add some regular movement to your day. You will be healthier for it and it might just help ease some of the stress that this unusual time is creating.