Movement Needs to be Nurtured (Part 2):

Back to the Basics

Movement requires nurturing throughout our lives, as derailment can occur early on and may become compounded further as we age. Usually, when things go wrong, it’s related to the lack of movement variety, quality and quantity: That’s to say, in order to properly nurture movement throughout the various stages of our lives, it’s important to engage in a variety of activities that are performed well and often. Further, if it’s going to be truly effective, this process needs to start in childhood!

Homo sapiens: We started out as movers, now we’re here.

As Homo sapiens, we’ve evolved into very proficient movers. For nearly 200,000 years we lived quite the mobile lifestyle as we gathered, hunted and responded to the challenges of unstable environments. Then, with the advent of agriculture some 12,000 years ago, our activity patterns changed. We still had to work hard for our food, but the increase in abundance and reliability of access to good food sources eliminated the need for such traditional undertakings as seasonal migration or regular scavenging. As a consequence, our ancestors were able to live easier lives, with more opportunities for prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour.    
It took millions of years of evolution arrive at the characteristic posture and function of Homo sapiens. Designed for the hunter and gatherer lifestyle, our bodies were utilized to their full potential for many thousands of years. It’s only in our most recent history where we see the crippling de-evolution of posture and movement that accompanies our modern lifestyle.
This was just the beginning of our movement “de-evolution.” Even a few generations ago, prior to the Industrial Revolution, our lifestyle forced us to move more frequently. Research shows that as economies develop, the level of activity of the population progressively decreases. This has certainly been the case with the dawn of the Technological Revolution, where our always-on, always-connected lifestyle keeps our heads down and bodies bent over ever-smaller mobile devices.


The constantly adapting body

In order to maintain healthy and liberating movement that’s free from limitations and the burden of pain, you need a generous repertoire of quality movement that’s maintained on a regular basis.
Harken back to when you were a baby: As with all infants, you likely showed a natural affinity for movement that mirrors that of our ancestors and our physiology’s true design. Infants move often and in all kinds of ways, which reinforces our movement skillsets, prepares us for more complex movement patterns, and aids in the development and maintenance of our joint stability and mobility, our strength and our anatomy as we age. In a previous post, we learned that infants naturally move well due to the CNS coding that they inherit, which dictates their early movement strategies and development. All of this is meant to help them become the proficient movers they’re designed to be. But a challenge arises soon after infancy: When we begin to engage in the structured formalities of today’s modern society—that dictate how, where and when we must perform our daily activities—physical activity is progressively and systematically engineered out of our lives as the opportunity and perceived necessity for it declines. The catch: As a species that’s designed to move, we still need physical activity to survive! To maintain healthy and liberating movement that’s free from limitations (including pain), you need a generous repertoire of quality movement that’s performed on a regular basis. NOTE: It’s outside the scope of this article to discuss the hundreds of reasons your body needs physical activity to live. The goal here is to argue for the preservation of healthy human motion, which can only be accomplished with proper movement!

Your body is a machine that’s constantly adapting in response to the activities you do (or don’t do) in your daily life.

As we get older, we may not be able to shape our anatomy like we did in the first four years of life, but some aspects of our anatomy continue to change. Case in point: Our bodies adapt to the postural strain we put them through during our 9-to-5/five-days-a-week desk jobs. Now, imagine the all-too-common scenario where a fairly inactive person sits in a functional* body position at a desk for eight hours a day, with very little opportunity to move. (*“Functional” is being used loosely, as head forward/shoulders rounded/mid-back slumped is in no way a functional posture for daily living, and I’m not even including the slouched sitting that continues on the living room couch after the workday is over…)
This may be okay for a little while, but once this person subjects themselves to this for months, or even years, they’re bound to experience some negative consequences. The likely result: a stiff, rounded-forward mid-back that’s difficult to straighten out; forward tilted shoulders due to shortening of the pectoral muscles; reduced shoulder mobility; and, potential changes in muscle coordination around the shoulder and back area. The reason? This adaptation is a result of the frequent and unvaried postural strain that, after a while, your body considers the new “normal.” If the
individual in this fictional account then decided to take up an overhead activity such as throwing a baseball or lifting weights overhead—both of which require active mid-back extension and backward tilt of the shoulder blade in order to be performed properly—they’d probably find that they’re not be able to safely perform the activity, and an injury to their shoulders or neck is the likely outcome. By contrast, if that same individual “nurtured” their active range of motion in the mid-back and shoulders throughout their career—say, by including some form of exercise that both passively and actively explores the ranges of motion in need of maintenance—they’d be more likely to maintain these functions, and significantly lower their risk of injury, while they’re at it.

Conclusion: It’s as simple as “use it or lose it.”

Realistically, if at some point you possessed a certain function and you continue to practice it, it’s very unlikely that you’ll lose that function in the future. And the practice of maintaining healthy movement is no different! Movement requires nurturing throughout our lives, including careful attention to the variety of activities, the quality as well as the quantity of movement you pursue. And if you do find that you’ve lost a function along the way, it needs to be properly nurtured back to health with the right movement regiment. This is not unlike a patient who, following a heart attack, would need to eventually perform cardiovascular exercise to regain healthy function of the heart and cardiovascular system. As individuals move beyond developmental stages and continue to mature as movers, it’s vital that they look to nurture ongoing exercise practices—that include frequent, variable and quality movement—in order to maintain optimal muscle coordination, postures, ranges of motion and general resiliency of their muscles and skeletal systems. Because just as the body can and will adapt to movement in a favourable way, maintaining our abilities to move well, it can also adapt unfavourably when movers no longer move.

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