Basic Health Habit No.4: Physical Activity

The best happy pill

We are designed to move. The meaning of the saying survival of the fittest has changed throughout human history. In early human history we were physically fit in order to obtain food and to not become food. Now we do not have the same motivation to be physically active. Our sedentary lifestyle is directly affecting our health and leading to chronic inflammatory disease; obesity; adult onset Type II diabetes; cardiovascular disease and stroke; depression and anxiety; high cholesterol and blood pressure, and cancer, are some of the direct results.  

Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional and mental states. 

Seismological engineers know that the structural integrity of a building requires a mobile foundation and flexible supports. Rigidity spells disaster in an earthquake. This is true for the human body as well. Human structural integrity depends on healthy muscles and healthy muscles are both strong and flexible. This supplies the resilience for the demands of life in the 21st century. Please visit HEALTH COACH: Stress-Free Posture And Body Mechanics: Part Two: A Modern Posture

The basic purpose of exercise is to condition the body; develop aerobic conditioning; build healthy muscles that are both flexible and strong; to create resilience - especially in response to unexpected demands, and unplanned stress.

 Physical activity is a Basic Health Habit.

Flexibility, balance, and muscle strength are key indicators of longevity.

Exercising makes you sore.
Unless your exercise is unusually demanding and injurious, it would be more accurate to identify that it is a neglect of Basic Health Habits that creates pain in the soft tissues of the body.

It is not the use of, but the care of muscles, that is at issue. The best response to soreness, is to increase your Basic Health Habits, and to adjust your physical activity to include conditioning which increases circulation, muscle strengthening, and flexibility.

Your body is like a building in an earthquake zone. Buildings in earthquake zones are now designed to move. When the force from an earthquake moves through a building, it is more likely to cause damage wherever movement is restricted or impaired. 

If our body has flexibility, as well as strength, the daily physical demands of life are less likely to do us harm. Our muscles are our shock absorbers. We can effect and change muscle through physical conditioning to make ourselves, at any stage in our lives, more resilient. If our muscles are not flexible and healthy, we increase the risk of injury to tendons, ligaments and joints.

Proper hydration, rest, and nutrition, along with customized, and personalized calibrations of the other Basic Health Habits, build resilience and health.

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I realized as I aged that I had become less physically active; even though my work is active, flexibility and strength conditioning, needed to maintain that level of physical demand, was lacking, and this caused me some concern about my health. I thought back to childhood and remembered how I never used the word exercise. I remembered when movement was directly connected to feelings of fun and utter joy. I decided to make the simple change of how I talked to myself, removing the word exercise from my vocabulary and replacing it with physical activity. This small shift can make all the difference. It is time to re-connect with this fun and joy.

Unless you are training for the Olympics, your activity does not have to be an Olympian workout routine. Medical and health care professionals are seeing an increase in the number of hip and knee replacements in young people, who are engaging in extreme forms of exercise with less focus on moderation and conditioning, without the support of Basic Health Habits

Being physically active not only gives you pleasure and quality of life, flexibility and strength, it also rewards you with better sleep, healthier lifestyle choices, more energy, coordination and balance, agility, physical grace, endurance and stamina, power and speed, self confidence and improved health. 

Traditionally, there existed distinct gender differences in getting motivated to be physically active, for men and women. The main motivation for women to be physically active is to lose weight and for men the motivator is muscle tone and size. Gender stereotypes are in flux, but everyone is now motivated by an idealized body image. Canada has two new eating disorders related to health dieting trends, and a new psychological disorder, Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD), that now includes a growing number of young boys and men, as well as girls and women; engaging in extreme fitness, health dieting, drug use, surgery, augmentation, and supplementation behaviours.

When the focus is on weight loss or muscle bulk the motivation shifts from pleasure and health to goals which can disappoint. Weight loss can be slow to achieve and once achieved, the activity is often abandoned. When the focus is muscle tone and size some are willing to employ methods which can harm health and risk injury such as steroid use and extreme exercise routines.

Hypertrophy, Hyperplasia, or Microtrauma? 
What Really Happens When A Muscle Is Developed?

Each muscle cell has many nuclei and thousands of inner strands called myofibrils. The nucleus is the control centre of the cell. Inside the nucleus are forty-six threadlike structures known as chromosomes, and each one of these structures contain thousands of genes. 

Muscle contraction happens in the myofibrils in response to nerve impulses. A motor neuron controls, or innervates several thousands of muscle fibres. For fine motor control, when extreme precision is needed, one motor neuron controls only one or just a few muscle fibres

Linked along the length of a myofibril are smaller component units called sarcomeres, composed of filaments of two types of proteins, myosin and actin. It is the interaction of the actin filaments as they slide together along the myosin that cause the muscle to contract.

Muscle development is not caused by the production of new muscle cells (hyperplasia). A muscle increases in size only when its individual fibres become thicker (hypertrophy). This thickening or growth is the result of the creation of additional myofibrils.

The mechanical stresses that exercise exerts on tendons and other structures connected to the muscle trigger signalling proteins that activate genes, causing the muscle fibres to make more contractile proteins. These proteins, chiefly myosin and actin, are needed as the muscle fibre produce great quanities of additional myofibrils.

Please visit HEALTH COACH Stress-Free Posture and Body Mechanics Part Three: ResilienceHow Women Build Muscle for more information

Satellite cells proliferate in response to physical demand. One theory suggests that extreme exercise inflicts micro tears in muscle fibres, and further theorizes that the damaged area attracts satellite cells, which incorporate themselves into the muscle tissue and begin producing proteins to fill the gap. 

The normal physiological response to damaged tissue is the repair by collagen fibres (scar tissue), arranged in a haphazard pattern, thereby limiting the health and the normal function of the repaired muscle tissue.

Individual Choice + Enjoyment 
= Sustainable Physical Activity

The Science of Motivation: The Stages of Change

Stage 1. Pre-Contemplation At this stage you have no plans or desire to be active or to exercise. You aren't even considering it. You are unaware of the health benefits of physical activity and feel that it is not worth it or you have tried in the past and given up. If you are a person who was not physically active as a child it will be more challenging. 
Just reading this information in Health Coach will prime you for action. This is the stage to collect information and to talk to family and friends about what they do and the benefits they have noticed for themselves and how they have overcome obstacles and stayed motivated. Real life inspiration. 
Then you can start to think about physical activity in more personal terms; imagining yourself getting started and examining your fears and hurdles. You are developing your interest and knowledge to compel yourself to take the next step.

Stage 2. Contemplation You are now thinking that you should probably exercise but you still need help to get started. At this stage you have a good understanding that exercise is important and good for you, but it is still a daunting task or you don't think that you can do it.  
This is the stage where you will start to realize that there are many choices and what appeals to you; that you can start small and that it can be fun and it doesn't have to hurt. It is time to starting making a simple plan and to identify your attitude, road blocks and ways to overcome them. 
Stage 3. Preparation You are now primed and motivated. You are ready to start on the plan that you have prepared with a good understanding of yourself. You are being realistic and you have formed a back-up plan in case it rains or you do not feel like exercising. You have made practical preparations like the proper gear and have joined a class or team.

Stage 4. Action You have started. This is when the biggest behavioural change happens. Physical activity is not yet a long-term habit. You need to stay inspired, committed and  maintaining momentum.  Remember: it gets easier once it's a habit!

Stage 5. Maintenance You have been physically active for 6 months at least and exercise has started to become a habit. You have made all the necessary adjustments in your life and schedule to accommodate your activity. You have found something you like to do that suits you and that you enjoy. At this stage you can fine tune your activity to prevent relapse by acknowledging that your routine is comfortable and works for you or by trying new activities to prevent boredom. Keep feeding your knowledge and connecting with other inspired and motivated individuals.
(The transtheoretical model of behavioral change, University of Rhode Island researcher James O. Prochaska)

It is normal for ALL people to cycle back and forth between the different stages. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you absolutely, positively have the power to change.

 some motivation required

Practical Guide
  • Think of physical activity as a menu rather than a diet. There are many different choices that are fun, rewarding and productive. Try something new and exciting.
  • Start. Start small. Make choices that fulfill the criteria of pleasure and sustainability.
  • Go outside and play.
  • Identify whether you are a loner or a team player.
  • Join a team. 
  • You can have both activity and leisure.
  • Ditch the workout and join the party: try Hip Hop dance.
  • Walk the dog. If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough exercise.
  • Exercise videos.
  • Sign up for a class. 
  • Personal Trainer.
  • Cross Training.
  • Set a goal and record your progress. 
  • See yourself fit - make it a part of your identity.
  • Do some floor exercises while you are watching TV.
  • Exercise with a friend.
  • Can't afford a Gym membership? Try the Prison Routine: all you need is a 6 x 6 foot square bit of space and maybe a pull up bar.  Prison Workout
  • The best way to get out of your head is to get physically active.
  • Don't forget about the rewards that being active will give you: increased oxygen and blood supply to tissues improves immune system functioning and decreases risk of disease.
  • Check out: Winnipeg in motion for lots of guidance on activities in Winnipeg, walking trails etc. 
  • Advice for Runners/Athletes about stretching; the latest news in an on-going debate: After many studies, it has been determined that stretching before running does not prevent injury. Because of something called the inhibitory reflex of static stretching (a stretch which is held for 20 seconds or longer), stretching before running may increase the risk of injury. The best recommendation is to have a pre-warm-up followed by a gradual increase in dynamic stretching that aids the range of motion of joints. If you are a runner who is in the habit of stretching before running, stick with it. The best advice is to introduce any changes to your routine gradually.
  • Those who do not find time to exercise will have to find time for illness.  Earl of Derby 

Above all do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday I walk myself into a state of well being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill...if one keeps on walking everything will be alright. Sören Kierkegaard 

 You are alive! Celebrate it. 

Next in the Series of Basic Health Habits: Breathing


  1. The steps to motivation are wonderfully defined! i staryed from the treadmill today in favour of a walk and a sleigh ride for Matthew! It was an absolute delight.

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