To prehistoric hunter-gatherers, movement meant survival. These ancient people were always moving because their food source was always roaming. They moved with herds of animals, scavenging for food just like their furry friends. Today our food source is stationary, no foraging is required. Unfortunately, this gives us more of a reason to be sedentary. For most of us, movement has become a coping mechanism, a box to check, or a minimum requirement. It is no longer a way of living. Despite modern advancements, our brains and bodies are still hardwired for movement.
Movement affects the entire body and its ability to function properly, from digestion to metabolism to circulation to immunity. Through movement, our bodies regulate insulin levels and balance hormones,(1) jumpstart the lymphatic system’s detoxification process, and boost the immune system's ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. From this perspective movement isn’t just about surviving, it’s a way of thriving.
Movement (and the food we eat) is our body's most natural mechanism of healing itself. It is the medicine our bodies need to sustain health. According to the CDC, consistent movement reduces and sometimes prevents common chronic health conditions like cardiovascular-related illnesses, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, strokes, dementia, and cancer.(2, 3) Movement improves brain health, helps manage weight, strengthens bones and muscles, prevents injuries, and even extends life expectancy.
Movement can also help combat years of poor posture. Most of us sit in a slouched position, with our shoulders raised, and our necks craned over our phones or computers. This hunched habit has serious consequences for the musculoskeletal system. We have more than 600 muscles in our bodies and they need movement-medicine to maintain proper functioning. This can be a combination of cardiovascular activity, weight-bearing exercises, or stretching and conditioning. As we age, the quality of our muscle tissue starts to degenerate. The best way to decelerate that process is by making movement a daily routine.
Not surprisingly, movement also plays a major role in mental health. Multiple studies show that a single session of moderate to vigorous exercise can improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety, and reduce blood pressure.(2) When our heart rate increases with exercise, our brain chemistry changes, pumping anti-anxiety mood elevators, like serotonin and endorphins, into our system. Serotonin is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and appetite, concentration, and is typically associated with feelings of calmness and happiness. Dopamine plays an integral role in the reward system, influencing motivation, desire, mood, and cravings.(4) Dopamine is associated with feelings of recognition and productivity. Simultaneously movement reduces the body’s levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In fact, physical exercise has been used to treat depression, as an alternative to anti-depressant drugs.(5, 6, 7, 8) Movement is the least expensive and most convenient mood-altering “pill” you can take.
Whether you are looking to increase mobility, strength, or flexibility, optimal function depends on your movement. If you are new to movement or you want to revamp your routine, here are 10 low-impact exercises to make you mobile.
10 Favorite Low-Impact Ways to Move
Benefits: Swimming is a full-body workout. From head to toe, every muscle group is engaged. Swimming can increase your heart rate without stressing the body like high-impact exercises can. This water-lovers’ activity builds strength, endurance, and muscle tone. It is also a great alternative for those who have injuries. This is a safe exercise for those with arthritis and disabilities. It has also been used to improve recovery.
Benefits: Walking is an easy exercise that can decrease heart disease, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the heart. This is also a bone-building activity, that not only increases your range of motion, but helps keep your joints healthy. A bonus benefit, according to studies from the University of Exeter, is that walking can actually reduce cravings and silence your sweet tooth.
Benefit: This aerobic exercise also has a resistance element. It burns fat and builds muscles, particularly in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Indoor cycling gives you more control over the amount of resistance and allows for a multipurpose workout. Grab some lightweight dumbbells and engage your entire body. Check out the SunnyFit® app for amazing beginner-to-advanced cycling classes.
Benefits: Similar to cycling, the elliptical is another easily accessible aerobic exercise. With a variety of settings, you can choose your own adventure. The elliptical can help you build stamina and endurance. Since your feet never lift off the pedals, elliptical machines are considered a lower-impact exercise. If you have lower body injuries, it is kinder to your knees, ankles, hips, and other joints.
Benefits: What’s better than the great outdoors? Studies have found that regular to moderate hikes can reduce hypertension, “bad” cholesterol levels, and the risk of certain respiratory problems. Hiking builds stronger muscles and improves bone density by strengthening bone tissue. It can also help improve your balance by increasing proprioception, your body’s ability to perceive the location, movement, and action of body parts.
Benefits: Bone density tends to decrease with age, and jumping rope is a great way to combat the loss. Repetitive small, quick jumps can help build bone density. Jumping rope can also improve balance and stability, as your ankles, knee joints, and hips have to work in conjunction to stabilize each little movement.
Benefits: This compact piece of exercise equipment can work up a sweat. The mini stepper is working the same muscles used when walking or climbing stairs, but with an extra element of resistance. Don’t let this little stepper fool you. If you want to target and sculpt your glutes, quads, and calves, look no further.
Benefits: Pilates is one of the best core-strengthening workouts you can do. All movements stem from the core and are stabilized by the core, which means your abdominals cannot be overlooked. Pilates also helps support and stabilize your joints while moving, which is an effective method for reducing the risk of injuries. Pilates is a mind-body practice that focuses on breathing and intentional movements.
Benefits: Yoga centers around body awareness. Focusing on the breath and paying attention to each movement, will not only increase coordination and balance but will also bring you into present-moment consciousness. Yoga stimulates a full range of motion and increases flexibility and joint function.
Benefits: TRX can accommodate every fitness level and adapt to injuries. Since TRX exercises have multiple progression levels, you can modify how challenging each workout is. TRX is known for increasing abdominal muscle activation and is easy on the joints. This equipment is compact and transportable but will give you a killer full-body workout.
(1) DePalma, G. (2021, March 2). How to use exercise to help balance your hormones. Veracity. https://veracityselfcare.com/knowledge/body/fitness-exercise-workouts-hormone-balance Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Benefits of Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Physical Activity Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(4) University of Exeter. (2011). Short walk cuts chocolate consumption in half.
https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_171423_en.html Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(5) Carek, P. J., Laibstain, S. E., & Carek, S. M. (2011). Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. International journal of psychiatry in medicine, 41(1), 15–28. https://doi.org/10.2190/PM.41.1.c Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(6) López-Torres Hidalgo, J., & DEP-EXERCISE Group (2019). Effectiveness of physical exercise in the treatment of depression in older adults as an alternative to antidepressant drugs in primary care. BMC psychiatry, 19(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1982-6 Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(7) Paolucci, E. M., Loukov, D., Bowdish, D. M. E., & Heisz, J. J. (2018). Exercise reduces depression and inflammation but intensity matters. Biological psychology, 133, 79–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.015 Accessed 5 December, 2022.
(8) Schuch, F. B., & Stubbs, B. (2019). The role of exercise in preventing and treating depression. Current sports medicine reports, 18(8), 299–304. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0000000000000620 Accessed 5 December, 2022.