With my dance background, I have never liked the word “exercise” even though I have used it to describe what I teach to non–dancers. To me, “exercise” implies mechanical repetition, directly contradicting an understanding of movement that engages the whole person.
Sure enough, my dictionary explains that the word exercise derives from Latin and its literal meaning is “to drive on, keep busy.” No one has to tell a healthy baby to “exercise,” yet from birth, s/he will be moving during its waking hours and often during sleep. At times an infant may seem to be doing “repetitions,” yet these motions are merely preparation for more complex coordination. Once the coordination has been developed, the infant will continue exploring and interacting with its environment and does not return to previous repetitions.
When s/he is ready to sit up on her/his own, the posture will be perfect—because that is the easiest way for the child to support its weight in verticality—and so on, through standing, walking, running, skipping, and jumping. Then, in modern life, comes school and eventually being still and sitting for many hours a day—and admonitions, proscriptions, and prescriptions to “exercise.”