This is a guest post from expert biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Don’t Just Sit There! Tomorrow, Sept. 2, is the final day to receive the $10-off early-bird discount and several bonus items when you purchase the online multimedia program Don’t Just Sit There! Learn all the details here and gain access today!
What research has demonstrated in the last few years is that people aren’t either active or sedentary—they can be both. Even the active people are, by a new definition coined in movement research, actively sedentary.
Our totally body movement often tends to boil down to what we do for a bout of exercise each day. Trying to extract all of your movement needs from one or two hours of daily exercise is like trying get all your dietary needs from a single daily meal crafted from the same handful of foods every day. This approach just won’t do.
In light of this data on active sedentarism, it is clear that the solution to our movement deficiencies lies outside of our time dedicated to exercise. We all need to become more physically active throughout the day, and move more of our parts in varied ways, in order to provide the mechanical inputs (i.e. movement nutrition) your body needs to thrive.
Here are thirteen ways you can get more movement into your day:
Don’t “run” errands in your car—walk them. Combine your “exercise time” with your “errand time” and walk to get groceries, mail packages, and see friends whenever possible. What seems like a drag will become a habit, and your habit will become a pleasure as you reconnect with your inner walker and your neighborhood too.
Walk to work if you can (even part of the way—can you get off the subway one stop early?), and also walk at work. Take phone meetings on your cell outside, and ask colleagues to join you for walking meetings. You’ll be more energetic and creative in motion.
Create a dynamic workstation—if you’ve picked up a paper in the last year you know that sitting is out. But swapping one static position (sitting) for another (standing) won’t cut it either. You’re still just standing there! There are many brands of desk components on the market that allow you to vary your position and muscle use while continuing to be productive, and many ways to sneak movements while at work. Make it so that you can kneel, lie down, stand up, sit down, and walk around (for detailed instructions, check out Don’t Just Sit There!, of course).
Carry your stuff in a different way. Instead of on your back, or always over your right shoulder, carry your backpack or messenger bag on the front of your body, or in any way you find challenging. Or ditch them altogether a few times a week, and allow your arms to take the load of whatever you need to carry. Carry a basket at the grocery store instead of using a cart. And then walk home with your awkwardly shaped bag! Using your arms in different configurations will awaken sleepy muscles, even in weightlifters. Note: “stuff” includes “little kids.” Get them out of the stroller to walk, and when they get tired, carry them yourself.
Get a chin-up bar in one of your doorways, either at work or at home (or both), and hang out there every time you go through. Change your grips—palms toward you, palms away from you. Start with ten seconds, and work up to hanging for a minute every time you go through the doorway. If you’re already hanging-savvy, turn this into ten pull-ups every time you go through the door.
Take a hike.Walking over natural terrain (vs. the unnatural flat and level ground of the city) gets your feet, knees, hips, and brain working in new and challenging ways. Bonus points if you take off your shoes for a while and really let your feet work how they were supposed to.
Seriously, take off your shoes. Did you know 25% of your body’s bones and muscles are in your feet? And that if you’re a typical person in Western culture you’ve had those incredible feet casted for almost your entire life? Sedentarism isn’t just about the big motions we make—you can be moving across the ground and still have clusters of sedentary cells because of adaptations your body has made to our sedentary, cast-wearing culture. Wake up your sedentary feet and start using all those neglected muscles. Start slowly and work up to a lot of barefoot or minimalist shoe time. (Learn more about transitioning safely in my book Whole Body Barefoot, and in Mark’s book Amazing Feets! which is part of the Don’t Just Sit There! program.)
Sit down. Wait, I’m not done. Sit down on the floor. Floor sitting is one of the most amazing ways to change your joint configurations and work on your balance and strength (as you get up and down!). Why save your floor sitting for your fifteen-dollar yoga class when you can floor sit all the time at home? You don’t have to get rid of your couch…yet. Just choose the floor more often.
Get back up again…without using your hands (no touching them to the ground or placing them on your legs, either). See if you can get up in a similar manner but using your other leg to lead. Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.
Change your habitat. I just told you that you don’t have to get rid of your couch. It’s true that you don’t have to get rid of your couch. But you should start to consider where your sedentary habits are centered, and start changing the things that allow you to be comfortably sedentary. Your habitat is where your habits are at, and oodles of time spent outsourcing your body’s work to your furniture is facilitated by your furniture-rich habitat. Keeping junk food in the house makes it more difficult to eat well, and the same goes for the setup of your home and office environment. If you’re not happy with your habits, consider changing it up to something that’s more nourishing for your body.
Consider movement-friendly media. I’m an information junkie, but all that screen time takes its toll on my body. Find a few podcasts you like, and get some audiobooks (did you know many public libraries offer audiobooks for download now?), and combine your information loading with some movement, either a stretching session at home or—you know what I’m going to say—a walk.
Get a walking buddy. I know, we already talked about walking, but seriously, find someone who will meet you at 5:30 a.m. all year around (or whatever time works for you both), without fail. Being accountable to someone other than yourself helps you get out of bed, and getting to chat and socialize is invaluable. Being an isolated mover is a step up from being sedentary, but being in a community of movers is miraculously health-making in every way.
Dress differently. This is a bonus tip and it’s kind of sneaky. Maybe you are super motivated to move, maybe you know how sedentarism—whether whole-body or spot-specific—negatively impacts your health. But you still find yourself falling short of your movement goals, perhaps especially at work. Try this: stop wearing constrictive clothing. No more jeans, no more stiff shoes, no more uncomfortable bras. NO MORE SPANX. No more belts that dig in a little. No more suit jackets that make it awkward for you to raise your arms over your head. Each of these items of clothing, whether you are aware of it or not, can discourage you from moving throughout the day. A waistband that digs in if you bend might be keeping you from bending. Are you really going to let your pants boss you around? There are more and more options for professional-looking clothes that are completely stretchy and comfortable. If your office is crazy uptight, at least eschew high heels and constrictive undergarments (tighty whities and pushup bras) and send your body “Yeah, it’s okay to move!” signals. Your body’s going to be pretty grateful.