The evidence is all around us—we can't offset or undo several hours of stillness with a single hour of exercise. Here are some ideas on how to inject more movement into your day.
I am not the first to say it, but it's worth repeating—we are living in a movement-drought. Even us regular gym-goers, pool-dwellers, and trail-runners are essentially sedentary when compared to the amount and diversity of movement our much healthier ancestors engaged in on a daily basis. And I'm not even talking about some paleolithic, spear-wielding, cartoon caveman. We only have to go back three or four generations to see how much more movement was required and expected in day-to-day life.
Now, since we can’t all get in a time machine—nor do most of us want to, because life is pretty good in the 21st Century—here are some ideas and practices that can help us not fall victim to the trap of being someone who crushes it at the gym and then, for the remainder of the day, crushes the chair.
1. Morning Full-Body Warm-Up Routine
Pretty much every morning, the first thing I do (after a trip to the bathroom and putting the coffee on) is my full-body warm-up routine. This ritual started as a way to deal with some ongoing aches and pains, but over time it has evolved into a real ritual. I use the word "ritual" because this routine means more to me than just any series of movements. It is the way I prepare myself mentally and physically for my day. I truly feel different if I miss it.
I start with my feet and ankles, then move up to my knees, hips, low-back, mid-back, shoulders, arms, neck and face. The series, movements, and the order I do them in has been a work in progress and remains malleable to this day. I have chosen these movements, in this order, to suit my particular needs and no one else’s. You can certainly use my routine as a basis for yours but please change it to suit you and your body. This is not a one-exercise-fits-all situation.
2. Dedicated Exercise Time
I am a morning exerciser. I exercise in the morning not because it is scientifically proven to be the best time to workout but because it fits my schedule and I like the way it kicks off my day. You may not be, but the importnat thing is to find some dedicated exercise time that works for you.
I stand by my claim from a previous article and podcast: “Sure, science says that your body temperature peaks in the afternoon, which means that I might be able to do my hard workouts even harder later in the day. Sure, that could theoretically result in me getting a bigger fitness boost from that workout, but you know what else gives me a bigger fitness boost? Getting the actual workout done.”
But back to the matter at hand—making time for some sort of dedicated exercise time each day. This becomes less of a chore if you choose activities that you enjoy and switch it up. For instance, today I did an easy jog to the pool, swam for 20 minutes, then walked home. Tomorrow I may walk to the gym, lift some heavy weights, and walk home again. The next day I will likely get on my bike and follow the bike trails out to the gorgeous University of British Columbia campus and back. You get the idea - switch it up regularly and it will be more fun.
3. Dynamic Work Station
Yes, I am one of those people who adopted a standing desk back in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. At first, I was hardcore about it, only sitting down when there was no other choice. But then I met Katy Bowman, who pointed out that swapping one static position (sitting still) for another static position (standing still) was not the answer to the sedentary question we were looking for.
So, my work life is now spent moving through different locations, surfaces, levels, and areas of my office. (I created a video walkthrough of my day that you can check out). And because I have a chin-up bar in my office doorway, I can even swing and dangle from time to time. I encourage you to sit, stand, squat, kneel and pace throughout the day. Be dynamic in your work life and you won’t get as stiff or as sleepy.
Although my Apple Watch makes me mad, from time to time, the one thing I do appreciate about it is the "stand up" alarm. I used to have to set a timer on my phone to go off every hour to remind me to stand up and turn some of those under-used leg, core and back muscles on but my Apple Overlord now does that for me.
Swapping two minutes of sitting for two minutes of movement each hour was shown to lower the risk of premature death by 33 percent in a 2015 study. So, whether you let your watch boss you around or you set an alarm on your phone, computer, or old-timey egg timer, getting up for a few minutes each hour is not only a great way to get more movement but it is also a great way to get energized, refocused and ready for whatever is next on your to-do list.
4. Lunch Time Walk
Again, to borrow from biomechanist Katy Bowman, “Walking is a superfood and it is the defining movement of being a human.” Sure, there are other species that walk on their hind legs but we do it our own way and for our own reasons.
Planning for and taking a walk immediately after lunch and before diving back into work is as important to me as my morning dedicated exercise time because walking bestows so many benefits. Too many benefits to list all of them here but here are a few of my favourites.
15 minutes of walking after eating, improves blood glucose control.
Ten three-minute bouts of brisk walking or one 30-minute bout of moderate to brisk walking after a meal lowers postprandial blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Walking has cognitive benefits, improving cognitive control and academic performance in preadolescents—particularly in those who need it—and boosting creativity in pretty much everyone.
It reduces stress and is a surefire way to lower cortisol.
Just going for a 30-minute walk increases killer T-cells and other markers of immune function.
Because walking is not difficult, we can take that time to also concentrate on our thoughts, work through problems, come up with new ideas, and discover solutions.
Walking wakes you up (especially walking up some stairs) and makes those afternoon board (bored?) meetings much more tolerable.
5. The Commute
I sold my car nearly ten years ago and it was one of the greatest things I have ever done for my health and well-being. And while I know not all of you can live a car-less existence, I think pretending we don’t have one occasionally is a great idea. And your commute is an excellent time to employ that line of thinking.
For some of you, walking or riding your bike to work is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. For others, the distance may be too great or the personal risk too high, but that doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and get back in the driver’s seat door-to-door. Getting creative with your commute can not only help you score some extra movement points but it can also lower your carbon footprint.
The Happy Commuter study found that people were happiest when they walked, rode the train, or cycled to work—in that order. People reported lower satisfaction when they traveled by car, subway, or bus—in that order. Interestingly enough, that aligns well with getting some extra movement in our day as well. As long as you don’t fight for a seat on the train, subway or the bus, maintaining your balance on a moving vehicle (and I don’t mean "transit surfing" on the outside of the vehicle) counts for some interesting muscle activation.
6. Do Errands on Foot
We all have things we need to pick up from the store, or appointments or lessons to get to after work or dinner. That's another perfect time to ditch the car, grab a backpack and get it done under your own power.
I can still picture my 4-foot-nothing grandmother, who never learned to drive a car, carrying two huge bags of groceries on the bus when she was well into her 90s. When I find myself feeling too lazy to walk to the store to get a particular item, I think of her. If I still feel too lazy, it is likely a good indication that I don’t really need that coconut ice cream as much as I thought I did.
Sure, walking can take more time than getting in the car, but with a little planning ahead and some practice I know from first hand experience that the resulting clear head and invigorated body is well worth the extra time. And really, did you need to hurry home to watch yet another episode of Fill in the Blank on Netflix? Which brings me to my next point about TVs.
7. TV Time is Movement Time
Use some double-sided carpet tape and stick your remote control back onto the TV where it belongs. In many ways, I see the invention of the TV remote control as the beginning of the end for healthy movement. Let's face it, we are literally sitting on our butts, relaxing, and we still can’t be bothered to get up and move more than our arm to change the channel once every 30 to 60 minutes. That spells trouble.
During TV time, use commercial breaks as a cue to get up and move. We all hate being advertised to, so why not get up and leave the room? Pro Tip: don’t go into the kitchen. That is a surefire way to kick off some unnecessary snacking.
My final piece of advice for TV time is to put a yoga mat or mat-like rug between you and the TV. If you can spend at least some of your watching time sitting on the ground, stretching, moving and getting your body into some underused positions, you will be contributing to your mobility rather than lowering it. Mobility is a true case of use it or lose it, so use it!
8. Bedtime Stretching
In my podcast and article about how bedtime yoga can help you sleep better, I did a deep dive into how beneficial even just some simple stretching before bed can be. If you have aching muscles or joints, some gentle stretching and deep breathing can help ease your aches and allow you to get to sleep faster. This can also help release any tension that you built up during the day and when you go to bed feeling relaxed and at ease, you know that you will have a more restful night.
An added bonus is that the 15-20 minutes you spend focused on your body and your breath is also 15-20 minutes that you are not focusing on the TV, work email, or social media. These activities and the devices we view them on have been shown to disrupt your sleep and even impair your body's ability to secrete the sleep hormone called melatonin.
This one is truly a win-win—you get more movement in your day and you get better sleep!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please don’t feel limited by my ideas. Be creative, be bold, be exciting! Go do squats in the bathroom stall at work. Drop and do 20 push-ups before that long meeting. Jog up the stairs in the subway two at a time. Make 5 small trips up the stairs with that load of laundry instead of one big one. Chances to get more movement in your day are everywhere if you know where and how to look for them. It really is all about mindset. The question you have to ask yourself is are you actively sedentary or are you actively active?
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