Updated: Nov 29, 2022
What I'm Going to Tell You About Movement
In the spirit of Aristotle, I'm going to give you the ending first. Expand your definition of exercise and movement. Use your whole vocabulary of body positions. Snack on exercise. Walk a lot, if you can. If you can't walk, then crawl, roll, or move in place. Run or jog sometimes if you can and don't be afraid to go slow and do very short distances. Use it or lose it.
I Used to Go to the Gym
Two to four times a week I'd stuff shorts and a shirt into my bag, a water bottle, maybe some protein powder and head out to the gym. The gym took many forms over the years: Bally's, community fitness centers, CrossFit gyms, yoga studios. In a fit of enthusiastic delusion, I flailed around in a few breakdancing classes at the place that is now East Burn in Portland. This was in the pre-smartphone era so I think I'm safe, but there might be someone out there who has some blackmail-worthy footage.
Then I Became a Dad
Suddenly it was really hard to find time to go to fitness classes or dedicated gym sessions. An hour-long class ate up almost two hours when you factor in travel time, changing, and showering. I ended up canceling memberships due to lack of attendance. At the same time, I knew keeping my mind and body healthy was really important as a new father. What to do? I started doing short workouts at playgrounds. I parked the stroller for 10 minutes to do three supersets. I jogged with the stroller. Every once in a while, I would do a max set of something and realize I wasn't losing ground at all. Okay my barbell numbers were probably dropping, but lunges, step ups and stroller jogs were effective enough that I didn't really feel less fit.
Expand The Definition of Exercise
Exercise doesn't have to happen in a gym with special clothes on.
If you accidentally accomplish something like mowing a lawn or moving some rocks in the yard it still counts as exercise!
You can park a little farther away if time allows, you can use the stairs, you can swing a baby carrier like a kettlebell. Make sure it's your baby.
Actually, don't do the last one. Not because it's unsafe or unsettling to your baby. Your baby will love it and will probably fall asleep. And your baby will probably wake up the moment you stop and because your baby wields an otherworldly power over you, you will find yourself swinging the carrier, with tears running down your face, because this is now the only way you find peace.
Born to Walk, maybe to Run
(Warning - Nude Torso Thumbnail Alert)
I enjoyed Dr. Lieberman's book Exercised. I found it to be a very grounded look at exercise, with the added benefit of looking at it through an evolutionary lens. Interestingly there are probably no aboriginal torsos that look like the above thumbnail. This video summarizes some of the main practical takeaways in my own words:
Born to walk - 10,000 steps per day, spread throughout the day is probably the best single, sustainable thing we can do for our health. There is nothing magical about walking 10,000 steps it is just a good goal
Walking is definitely good for knees and running recreationally probably is. These conclusions are well supported by evidence
If you can't walk, do whatever locomotive activity you can do on a daily basis
Lifting, carrying, throwing are 'use it or lose it' activities that we can and should enjoy through our entire healthspan
There is nothing better for brain health than exercise, particularly aerobic exercise
When it comes to activity and putting your body in a variety of natural positions like bending, squatting, kneeling, crawling, etc. be like a pop star - never stop never stopping
The Exercise Snack
I guess I discovered exercise snacking in grad school but didn't really appreciate the value until fatherhood. Now if I had to choose between one structured long session (meal) or several shorter sessions (snacks) totaling an equivalent amount of time, I'll take the snacks thank you very much. Why?
Joint friendly - research suggests that it only takes 10 minutes to stimulate connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone. After those first10 minutes the tissue is just getting increasingly stressed
Intensity - It's far easier to put in an intense effort for 10 minutes than it is for a full hour. It doesn't HAVE to be intense but if you're looking for quick 'bang for your buck' 10 minutes of HIIT or sprinting up a hill, stairs, etc can do the trick
Focus - This is the mental aspect of intensity. When I work out for an hour, my attention is typically nowhere near as sharp in the last 20 minutes as it was in the first 20 minutes
Evolutionary rhythm - Dr. Lieberman states that aboriginal cultures rarely did anything for very long. They were very active but also spent a lot of time resting and doing pretty mellow activities. The main difference was that they weren't sedentary for nearly as long at a stretch as modern people and didn't become dramatically less active as they aged
What I Just Told You
Exercise can be intimidating, boring, even unpleasant if it is put into too small of a box. Expand the definition of exercise until it includes things you like and can do. Short bouts of exercise are great for maximizing focus and intensity and caring for your joints. If you are able to walk, walk frequently. If not, do whatever movement you can do. Break up your sedentary times with movement and activity. Stay active as you get older. Squat, crawl, roll, sit on the floor. Never stop never stopping.
If you need help, I'm here for you