From the moment we’re born, we want to move.
It starts small. We lift our heads. We roll over. And then the real fun begins.
New parents marvel at how quickly their babies take to mobility. Crawling turns to walking. Walking turns to running and climbing. Those same parents who couldn’t wait for their child’s first steps find themselves hurrying to keep up with their kids. No matter how many times children are told to stay in their seats and stop squirming, they ache for the park and the playground. They’re ready to jump and skip and twirl. They are made to move.
In both young and old age, unassisted movement means freedom. There’s no waiting for someone to ferry you from point A to point B; you can go anytime you want. But sometime after childhood and mandatory PE class, many of us forget to run and play. We trade sports for desk jobs, and physical activity takes a backseat to the daily grind.
Those decisions can lead to alarming health outcomes.
According to a 2016 Mayo Clinic study, less than 3 percent of Americans meet the basic qualifications for a “healthy lifestyle.” For the purpose of the study, subjects were deemed to have a “healthy lifestyle” if they engaged in moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, had a diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index, had less than 20 percent body fat (for men) or 30 percent (for women), and were non-smokers. Less than half of the 4,745 people in the study (46.5 percent) actually got enough exercise.
If you read those stats and think, “Surely, I’m not among the ‘unhealthy’ population,” the University of Southern California has more news: Americans tend to believe they are more active than they really are. In a USC study, adults were asked in a survey to report their physical activity on a five-point scale, ranging from inactive to very active. They also wore a fitness-tracker so scientists could measure their actual physical activity. There were two interesting findings from the study. First, Americans tended to rate themselves at the extreme ends of the scale, either as “very active” or “inactive.” Second, Americans were much less physically active than both the Dutch and English.
As we age, movement becomes even more important. According to a 2010 study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, resistance and flexibility exercises can improve the amount of time it takes older (60–75 year old) individuals to perform activities like sitting up and standing up. Another study in the Journals of Gerontology found that a moderate-intensity resistance-training program can improve mobility and strength in older adults with diabetes, potentially reducing the rate of mobility loss during aging.
Just like when you were a kid, exercise can bring you joy and help you find a sense of calm. It's not just fitness magazines promoting the anxiety-fighting benefits of fitness; even the Anxiety and Depression Organization of America says that exercise can help relieve stress. The group explains, “Studies show that [exercise] is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate. When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well.”
All four forms of exercise—endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility—can help you live a longer, happier, more active life. As the US observes Independence Day, remember that exercise and movement are critical to your own long-term independence. Want to feel free? Go for a run. Want to feel strong? Hammer out a set of atomic push-ups with your TRX Suspension Trainer. Want to feel satisfied? Keep up your routine, day after day. And remember, from your first step until your last, your body is made to move.