On April 16, 2020, with his walking frame and a steely resolve, he completed 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday. Soldiers from 1st Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, formed a Guard of Honour for the final laps of his walk. Captain Tom was promoted to corporal and knighted for his determination and dedication. His initial goal was to raise £1,000; to date, his efforts have raised £33 million for National Health Service Charities.
This is a powerful example of positive movement, which can not only boost our health, happiness, and well-being at every age, but can also be applied to help individuals, communities, and society. We can use our strong bodies and positive movement to help ourselves, others, the world, and our environment.
What Is Positive Movement?
Positive movement is the intersection of the teachings of positive psychology, appreciative studies, exercise, and sports medicine, fitness science, human movement studies, and embodied well-being. The aim of Positive Movement is to create a meaningful quality of life, longer healthspan, and greater sense of fulfillment, in the service of others, our environment, and our own actualization. The highest form of Positive Movement is the Transcendent Movement (TMo), which connects us to our highest potential by applying intentional movement practices that inspire care, respect, kindness, and love. TMo strategies contribute to our health, our healing, our environment, and our humanity.
What Positive Movement Can Do for Individuals
My research and practice encourage people to move more and to move well at home, at work, and at play. Like traditional positive interventions, more novel positive movement interventions can help people flourish on multiple levels. Our daily mindful movement can make a difference in how we think, feel, and behave.
- Alleviates stress
- Improves our self-esteem
- Offers us an authentic self-perception
- Helps us sleep better
- Improves cognitive functioning
- Boosts brain and cardiovascular health
- Strengthens immunity
- Boosts individual and social fitness.
- Enhances body awareness and body acceptance
- Improves mental clarity
- Connects us to nature and the outdoors
- Helps us develop compassion.
What Positive Movement Can Do for Society
Positive movement can lead us toward a better, kinder world by uplifting education, commerce, leisure, civic, green, and global well-being. There are so many thoughtful ways we can use our healthy, strong bodies to help others and our environment. For example, Habitat for Humanity India has built homes for over 386,400 families, often in the aftermath of disasters. People are using their construction skills and physical labor to help provide shelter while generating goodwill and building thriving communities.
As a pioneer dance/fitness instructor, I set out to raise funds for the American Lung Association through positive movement. I invited the Shore Fitness dance/fitness instructor team, our students, friends, and my company to help. My vision was to train dancers who would perform in the first National Football League Halftime Show. The event I produced included 200 dancers, performing a 10-minute choreographed routine. The best part was seeing more than 50,000 Giants and Jets fans up, moving, and dancing, many for the whole 10 minutes. We raised $50,000 for the Lung Association. Dubbed “A Giant IDEA for Better Breathing,” this concept was adopted across the country, and eventually raised $6 million for the Lung Association.
What Positive Movement Can Do for the Planet
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a simple intervention like walking to school can make a positive impact on the planet, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. One study looked at Americans who walked 30 minutes each day instead of driving. The research showed this would cut the annual US emissions of carbon dioxide by 64 million tons, saving about 6.5 billion gallons of gasoline. Further, the walkers would shed more than 3 billion pounds, and gain greater fitness.
A University of California at Berkeley scientist also had important findings. The average person walking half an hour a day would lose about 13 pounds a year. Additionally, they would burn a total of 10.5 trillion calories, creating a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Want to give it a try? A free calculator to measure your carbon footprint is available at Carbon Footprint.
An innovative positive movement practice known as plogging is a combination of jogging with picking up litter. Plogging started as an organized outdoor ecological activity in Sweden around 2016 to reduce plastic pollution, and has since spread to other countries.
Tips for Building a Positive Movement Practice
- Think about which activities you enjoy. What are some ways you liked to move as a child? Try new activities and ways to move daily. Consider tai chi, dance/fitness, sport, recreational activities, and play.
- Be in the moment: Consider how you move, stand, sit, and walk. Move with intention and joy whenever you can. Remember that little actions, over time, can yield big results.
- Try to build in the meaningful movement at home, work, and during free time. You don’t need a lot of time to fit in some cool moves. Play music you like to get you moving.
- Join forces. Create meaningful activities and fun movement experiences with family and friends.
- Create a safe, welcoming space to inspire movement.
- Consider your process and long-term goals as you move toward greater health, happiness, and vitality.
Dr. Elaine O’Brien will speak on “The Shapes of Loving Movement: Six Ways to Embody Positive Energy and Spark Joy,” at the WBI/JCC Online Positivity Hour on May 4, from 12:00–1:00 pm. Register here.
Elaine O’Brien, PhD, MAPP, is an educator, trainer, program designer, producer, writer, presenter, and pioneer in health/fitness promotion, positive aging, positive exercise, and the art and science of positive psychology and human movement. Elaine is creative director/CEO of Lifestyle Medicine Coaching & Training, a consultancy, and FitDance: Move2Love, delivering positive community/group exercise programming and training protocols to help boost exercise safety standards, motivation, adherence, enjoyment, whole health, and well-being. Elaine has offered training programs and consultation throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Sweden, United Kingdom, Korea, and China, working with governments, universities, and companies to bring people together and to inspire celebratory learning, best practices, and optimal experiences. She has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, and the University of the Sciences. Her mission is to elevate, educate, and help move people toward positive health, greater whole well-being, and more love.