Discussing physical activity is something that I, and we, do all the time. There are myriad ways in which we can spin this topic. Today, I’m going to touch on just a few.
First, I’ll review the definitions which I use at TLA. Then I will examine the way in which we frame our physical endeavors. And finally, I’ll mention a few conversations I’ve recently enjoyed.
In The Lifetime Athlete model, I start out with Movement as the comprehensive umbrella under which everything dynamic resides. In other words, if we are not resting, we are moving. Next up is what I term General Daily Activity (GDA). This is synonymous with what is usually referred to as activities of daily living or ADL’s. Mopping the floor, taking out the trash, walking into the office, and every other chore or task-oriented activity constitutes this component. Then we have Exercise, which is that specific thing we modern humans do in a somewhat “official” capacity to impact fitness and performance abilities. The ultimate expression of exercise is Training, in which we give our exercise greater meaning and purpose as we train specifically for outcomes. I’ve evolved this model over several decades and I like it because it helps to clarify and categorize our movement habits.
Most folks are familiar with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition) which recommends certain amounts and types of movement for optimal health and longevity. The Guidelines are adjusted for various age groups and conditions such as pre-school children, adolescents, adults, older adults, pregnancy, and chronic health problems and disabilities. These standards are based on research and expert opinion. They are good but perhaps not perfect in my view. This is largely because they use the word activity when they are essentially referring to exercise and making a prescription for the types and amounts. The goal is sincere because we desperately need to get people healthy and moving more, and the Guidelines provide finite minimums for people to strive toward. For adults, the basic target is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training, plus two bouts of resistance training each week. At higher intensities, 75 minutes is listed as adequate, and it is also acknowledged that 300 or more minutes of moderate-intensity workout can provide additional benefits. Older adults are also advised to include balance and mobility training as part of their repertoire. A lot of people have to start somewhere, and that’s what the Guidelines provide…a starting point.
I believe everyone gains from training. As modern humans, we benefit significantly from this mindset. However, people who are really active, such as farmers and lumberjacks, actually need less official exercise than office workers and truck drivers. High amounts of GDA lower the level of exercise needed for optimal health. But, and this is a big one, there are some types of training, such as working on speed, agility, and power, which simple daily activities alone do not optimize. Activity gets most of your health requirements out of the way, but training optimizes performance and function. We need both. And it’s all movement. I think we need at least 10-15 hours of movement per week, with 7-10 hours being GDA, and 3-5 hours being training. This isn’t an unreasonable suggestion and the effects are amazing.
Here’s where I get into that framework, or framing up of a viewpoint, a bit more. I often hear people say “I never look forward to a workout – and I hate doing it – but I sure feel good when it’s over.” To me, this is only a partially successful mindset at best. I’m not trying to diminish that thinking, but to further develop it. Getting your workout in, and getting it done, is indeed an accomplishment that you can feel good about. You are hitting your movement needs, satisfying a perceived requirement, and creating a “win” in your checklist (real or imaginary). In coaching many clients to go beyond and above that style of thinking, I like to provide a few additional points.
- Let’s take willpower, motivation, and decision-making fatigue out of training by simply making it a regular habit. This would be daily in the ideal circumstance. Turn training into the same process as brushing your teeth. You don’t have to drag yourself to it and it just gets done.
- Start to create as much process orientation as product-focus with your training. I’ll speak to how I approach this personally and how I encourage others to do this in a similar fashion. I actually don’t think of my training as something I have to get done or through. I look at it as the chance to be a mobile, vital, robust, and resilient organism. The feeling I get during training is unique and primal, and I can’t get it anywhere else. Sure, I can feel elated over a beautiful day, positive feedback from others, loving relationships, and many other things that make this life great. But that feeling of being physically capable and maximally alive is only attained in training and athletic competition. It’s a privilege. It’s a right. It’s even a responsibility.
- Use multipliers to magnify your training’s impact and effectiveness. I love the gym, both home and commercial, but take your training outdoors whenever possible. Sunlight, oxygen, grounding, and natural beastliness will be optimized. And, no matter how much of an introvert or loner you see yourself to be, do some of your training with a few or many peeps on occasion. Social upregulation is proven to help you, and to make your workouts more enjoyable most of the time. There is still a place for solitary, meditative sessions, but find a good blend in this realm.
As you can see, I love talking about Movement. It’s been the basis of my career for almost 40 years now. Activity is important. Exercise addresses specific parameters of function and performance. Training and competition take you to the ultimate level. Competition can be viewed in several contexts. It can be a familiar contest in a sporting arena of any type. But it can also be a target peak performance such as a long backpacking trip or even a landscaping project.
Speaking of backpacking, I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on the Backpacking Light Podcast. I got together with hosts Andrew and Ryan to discuss hiker-specific training and the prevention/management of foot injuries. That was a great chat with some awesome people who are truly Lifetime Athletes. Theirs is a fantastic community.
I also had a deep-dive conversation on the evolution of physical therapy practice on The Lifetime Athlete Podcast with my friend and colleague Amy Pakula, DPT. We talked about how our profession is evolving on a global scale as well as what we are currently up to in our own journeys. All of that centers around using movement as a powerful health enhancer as well as refining human movement in our clients for optimal performance outcomes.
Those are just a few of my thoughts about “physical activity.” No matter what you call it or how you slice and dice it, making your movement practice the best it can be is my goal, and I bet it’s yours too! Thanks for being with me today.