To get the required level of exercise for health, some people pack in a few intense sessions a week and see it as completing their weekly movement quota (perhaps following minimum government guidelines). If you do intense, especially high impact exercise, it’s actually really important to have days off that type of exercise to achieve your goals (weight loss, increased muscle mass etc), but it’s important not to forget about movement the rest of the time. Obviously, any exercise is far better than no exercise at all, without a doubt. BUT….
How much do you move the rest of the day?
The emphasis placed on the word ‘exercise’ and how it has been positioned (primarily by the ‘fitness industry’) means that people don’t realise there are still health risks to being a ‘sedentary athlete’; someone who hits the gym for an hour’s class three times a week, but then sits for the rest of the day to eat, drive, work & relax (the average adult sitting time is 9.5 hours a day according to the British Heart Foundation).
What happens to our body when we are sedentary or sit for long periods?
When we sit on chairs, cars and sofas (and particularly slouching), we are not using many muscles to stay upright, rather we are using the support of the chair. We are not weight-bearing in the way we are when we are even just slightly more active or sitting in positions that mean you need to move and change your sitting shape regularly (such as when you sit on the floor).
The less we move, the slower the heart rate, meaning less oxygen & nutrients get to all the cells of the body and the metabolism is lowered. When our physiological systems slow down our ability to be mentally sharp and stay happy are also impaired - after all the brain is a key organ needing good blood flow. I could go on...weight gain, osteoporosis, blood pressure and increased risk of many mental & physical diseases are all potential outcomes.
Tissue adaptation to ‘chair shape’
Additionally, for those ‘sedentary athletes’, when the body adopts the ‘chair shape’ over long periods of time, our body’s tissues adapt to that position. People complain of tight hip flexor muscles, weakened gluteal muscles (key for supporting the lower back), shortened hamstrings & calf muscles, over-tight armpit & chest area due to working with our arms in front of us so often. If this occurs and then we suddenly go off for a run, these areas of tightness or shortening can then pull the body’s posture into poor alignment and, adding in high impact - basically you’re asking for trouble!
I believe that when rehabilitating myself from injury, when I started to really understand the effect my movement patterns and posture were having on my body all day long, I started to aid my treatment and see decreases in my chronic pain.
Stack your life with movement snacks
To counteract the potential effects of being sedentary, regular movement throughout the day is key. Moving little & often throughout the day are just as important as the few ‘exercise’ sessions and may even help towards pain reduction or aiding weight-loss.
What are movement ‘snacks’ and what is meant by ‘stack’?
The phrase ‘movement snack’ is used in restorative and natural movement communities and refers to small bites of movement throughout the day, and the phrase ‘stack your movement’ means to add in movement when you are also doing something else you need to achieve. Here are a few ideas.
Working from home
Set a timer to go off at 55 minutes past every hour and stop what you are doing to get down on the floor and stretch or move for 5 minutes. Have a bank of stretches and low impact exercises you can use, or just roll around and move in ways that feel good.
List your daily household tasks that involve movement and slot them into each movement break - unpacking the dishwasher, loading the washing machine, taking things up and down the stairs or preparing the evening meal - sprinkle the jobs throughout the day and think about your posture as you do them. For more tips on posture and alignment in movement see my social posts.
Add in a half-hour walk daily - around your neighbourhood, with a friend, before or after you are doing a job out of the house - e.g. park at the supermarket, do your shop and then walk nearby.
Sit on the floor - just the act of getting down to and up from the floor adds in lots of healthy joint movement and positively changes the pressure in the pelvis. Try to sit in as many different way as you can (see my earlier sitting positions post on my Youtube channel). Think of jobs you can do sitting on the floor - folding the washing, writing a to do list or fixing something.
Put on your favourite music and have a dance!
Working in an office
Sit differently - figure 4 position, sit on the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the ground so your pelvis is upright, rather than tilted back and create a tall spine, tuck one leg under your rear and then alternate. Dare I say it, squat on the chair - ok, might not go down so well, particularly in a meeting!
Walk and talk - batch up your calls and walk either around the building or even better out in the fresh air. Take a notebook and pen for your action points.
Request standing meetings to be more efficient and to create a different body shape.
Go out to either buy or eat your lunch and then have a quick walk afterwards.
Do some standing stretches every so often - you might even inspire others to do the same!
It’s all about awareness of what you do and don’t do in your day and most importantly awareness of how your body feels. If you can notice how your body feels after sitting for too long, particularly if you feel joint stiffness or muscle aches, and then notice how much better you feel after you’ve moved (both in body or mind) - this awareness will help make and sustain good healthy movement habits far easier than if you lack this awareness, so it pays to really ‘listen’ to what your body is telling you.
And as I said in earlier post and a recent interview - you wouldn’t drink your 2 litres of water all at once as you’d feel so thirsty later on - try to connect into when your body is thirsty for movement so that you can respond and feel better all day long.