Humans are meant to move. The structure of our body is built around that truth (if you haven’t already, check out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall). We’ve gotten away from that default state because of desk jobs, automated transportation, and laziness combined with society’s ever-increasing convenience. And once our default state becomes still and inactive, our cycle of endorphin addiction is broken and we forget how great moving makes us feel. This is likely because we’ve evolved to enjoy and seek out laziness and rest. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors certainly needed it after a full day of chasing buffalo and gathering tree nuts. But Joe in accounting, a desk-ridden 45-year-old on track for heart disease who takes the subway to work then the subway home to watch the Sopranos before sleeping and doing it all over again does not.
It can be the smallest effort: getting up and walking for 5-10 minutes every hour, taking your hour lunch break to eat and walk, or combining your call meeting with a stroll (muting when a hill comes along). When a colleague asks to go for coffee, suggest a walk and talk instead. Get back into that endorphin cycle, remind your mind how much it loves and craves this vital hormone.
I’ve always been a borderline insanely active human, so I never thought much about this. But the way I was active was by purposely going to the gym to have an intense workout then stop and go to work and sit. I’m kinder to my body now. I still have those intense workouts, but they’re not the be all end all of maintaining an active lifestyle for me anymore. I have a couple of ‘rest days’ where I sprinkle movement throughout the day, long walks through the city mostly. Sometimes yoga and stretching as well. And since starting this, even on my intense gym days, I have urges throughout the day to get up and use the body perfectly designed for movement. I used to have an ever-present dull lower back pain, tight muscles, and afternoon antsiness. These have all nearly evaporated. It’s such a simple solution, move.
I read a lot about evolution (Sapiens, On the Origin of Species, The Selfish Gene, Sex at Dawn, Idiot Brain…), and it’s amazing how many solutions come from going back to basics and looking at how our ancestors lived and behaved. It informs much of what we need in order to thrive in our own lives today. As we know, evolution is significantly slower than societal development, i.e. our modern daily lives are a bit different than our hunter-gatherers’ but our basic needs align in more ways than we know.
Make your rest days active. Raise your default state to periodic light movement. Avoiding days of little to no movement will keep you healthily in that endorphin cycle that’s so key to human existence. Doing so will also make it easier to add on a few of those intense gym days a week.