As we press on and into the fall and winter holiday periods, we must all consider our movement health as our daylight hours dwindle, temperatures crawl toward freezing, and our appetite for foods of tradition and comfort become a focal piece of our “new normal.”

Perhaps now more than ever, our physical health is under attack as we fight a biological war with a virus in our communities that has caused a drastic change for many of us from our normal movement patterns. Some have found new and effective ways to cope, others are still seeking, and surely some of us have given up and are resigned to accept the collateral damage of inactivity. Here I hope to share some of the immense benefits of engaging in a little bit of movement, even if it is small by comparison to your pre-pandemic self. Every little bit of movement counts, and you may not need as much movement as you think.

Movement as your daily armor

Movement practices, some might say exercises, are often sequestered to certain days of the week, as many people view exercise or workouts as a kind of job that one must do to keep off weight gain, reduce blood pressure or achieve some other outcome that one “should do” for their health. Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with these sentiments, but much like sleeping, eating and drinking, movement is essential to our health and should be a daily practice that leaves us feeling, for the most part, better. How these movement practices should be structured are unique to each person and their goals, but whatever it is you decide is right for you, the result should be a human being who is more resilient to all types of stress and strain. Movement is truly your armor for life.

How much movement do you need? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Physical Guidelines for Americans second edition, states that adults need either 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, plus two days per week of strength and balance exercise. In a seven-day week, that’s just over 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise, which means doing an activity that raises your heart rate, gets you feeling warmer and breathing faster.

Habits build strength with time

By making the commitment to engage in some kind of movement practice every day that is appropriate for your unique circumstance, you are sending yourself a message that says, “This is important,” and “This makes me feel better.” Once you follow through with that commitment and time goes by, you eventually realize that you have formed a very good healthy habit that is difficult to break. Depending on the person, you may need as little as 21 days for the habit to stick.

What should you do? Start small. With any new habit you want to form, motivation will be an important criterion for follow through. When we make goals, our “eyes” are often bigger than our discipline to follow through for any length of time. So, by making the goal very small, it reduces your “entry fee” required to start forming a healthy habit, which acts like compounding interest that builds exponentially over time.

Benefits of healthy movement

It would be negligent not to mention mental health benefits of healthy movement, especially in these trying times. The brain and the body are physically connected by strands of nerves that send signals 24/7 from the brain to the body and back, and almost all of these signals are subconscious and automatic. In fact, some biologists even suggest that the sole purpose of the brain and central nervous system is for the purpose of movement. Indeed, it has long been proven that humans who move less show earlier signs of cognitive decline and evidence of brain atrophy. Whether you are stuck on solving a puzzle, training for a sports competition or fighting to maintain your independence, your daily healthy movement habits will be a keystone habit for your success. The physical benefits of movement are far too many to mention, but one of the most surprising is the role of movement in pain management. When we move less, our bodies become more sensitive to pain signals that can arise simply from being sedentary.

What else? For any health goal, there is a specific movement/exercise practice for whatever health goal you have. Even if you already have a health condition, there is an appropriate and effective strategy that is right for you. While those with complicating heath conditions may have less function than healthier individuals, the importance of the right kind movement becomes even more important. Ultimately, all of us should simply strive to make an achievable and individual daily goal, stick with it, and make healthy movement part of a healthier and happier life.

— Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab in Madison Park.