sitting is the new smoking

Exercise = Moving Less? Part 2

4746815579_c5bb26afaa_zLast week in part 1 of this post we took a look at The Licensing Effect- research which has demonstrated that people who take a multivitamin then behave in less healthy ways throughout the day because they believe, subconsciously, that their dietary supplementation gives them license to do so- and applied it to exercise and movement. As in, if one works out regularly via some fitness regimen, do they then subconsciously move less throughout their day? (We did  a whole lot of looking at the difference between exercise and movement in the last post, so if you're stumped you can give that a read.) But I believe we left off somewhere around here: “Well my life depends on sitting most of the day, so I guess I’m hopeless. I will have terrible chronic pain, joint dysfunction, and die from this ‘lethal activity’ [sitting] that is required by my job.” In other words, destination: Bummersville.

To avoid abandoning all hope let's dive in and take a look at my low impact, not hard, fairly movement-rich day looked like yesterday:

Yesterday I had set aside a blissful 12 hours to work on current and upcoming projects. Which means I wasn't seeing clients. Which means it was me and the screen, mano-a-mano, all day.  

  • I woke up and worked out at the place that I train 1 or 2 times a week, Tuff Girl Fitness, which is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) gym for, you guessed it, badass ladies. Here I spent maybe 30 to 40 minutes jumping around on one leg in staggered patterns, doing pullups, pushing heavy sleds, climbing ropes, and getting up and down while holding heavy weights- to name but a few of the movements that the trainers devise for us. My heart rate was up, I was a sweaty mess, and I do this because it is fun for me. Not because I believe it gives me permission to sit still for the rest of the day.
  • Then I came home, giddy with excitement to have a whole day of writing and creating ahead of me. Hooray! Oh, but wait, there is the screen...
  • So I grabbed my yoga block and my laptop and set up at my coffee table, sitting on the block on the floor. This is one of my favorite configurations lately, as sitting on the block on the floor causes me to shift and move around a lot naturally. I got a lot of writing done (as I am now) sitting on bent knees, sitting with one knee up and one on the floor, and sitting with both legs extended out in a wide angle in front of me.
  • Then I had a lot of videos I needed to catch up on watching/listening to, which I did in a squat for a while, then standing working with a therapy ball under one foot (and alternating), then listening while rolling around on the floor with the therapy balls.
  • I did some more writing standing (now the laptop goes on the low bookshelf that divides my living room from my dining room), and even did a tad of sitting with a rolled up towel under my ischial tuberosities to avoid the C-curve schlump. I timed it for you guys: I sat in an actual chair during my 12 hour writing/creating project day for 23 minutes.
  • I also took 2 breaks (I should have taken more, yes) to walk around my chilly but beautiful winter wonderland of a neighborhood for about 15 minutes each time. (Often on project days I will set a timer on my phone for either 30 or 40 minute intervals during which I will then go outside and move for 15 minutes before resuming work, but on this day, well, I didn't, so I wanted to give you a realistic picture of what this particular screen day looked like.)

It made for a diverse day of movement, and I have gotten here gradually from someone who used to segregate her work days into "standing/moving client days" and "sitting writing/project days". What I've noticed as I've gradually transitioned to more movement on my screen-heavy days is that the more I do this, I am now very uncomfortable in a chair. You'd think the 23 minutes I spent sitting in a chair was me virtuously prying myself out of the chair and back to standing, but really I got up because it felt icky for my spine.

You can get creative with your work set up- I like to call the myriad of places my laptop winds up through a day my roaming work station- and you can also set a timer or just plain take breaks for movement.

And this is all well and good for those of us who work from home or who have an awesome employer who gets it. But what about those of you who are working for The Man? You know, the one whose capacity for understanding productivity is reduced to quantifying how many hours you work statically in your cubicle. That one. The one who gets a capital T and a capital M.

You're going to have to fight the power. Gradually and incrementally. Here are a few helpers to nudge your work environment into being more movement friendly:

  • Get yourself a better desk set-up. Standing desks are trendy enough that even if your employer is the crustiest of capitalists he or she should have heard about them and understand that they are a part of many conventional workplaces. And there are standing desk options that adjust so that you can stand for part of the day and sit for part of the day (which you will likely want to do as you adapt, and getting up and down counts as at least some movement). If you have a laptop, your "standing desk" can be any old box you have lying around that will prop it to the right height for you. Toss it on the desk, put your laptop on top of it, and voila: standing desk. If you have a desktop, you will need a little more equipment, but I like this easy version which means an employer wouldn't have to suddenly invest in a brand new desk for you. 
  • Walking is your friend. Come up with reasons why you need to be on the move. Lie and say you have a bladder infection and make a million trips to the bathroom. Or something less humiliating. But figure out the walking routes of your office building and find some reason why you need to be the one putting them to use regularly. Walking is powerful medicine.
  • Pitch the idea of holding walking meetings. Hey, there's even a TED talk you can show your boss about it. It's about 4 minutes long and she's a big Silicon Valley hotshot who has launched 18 billion dollars in products! So how could they argue with that...
  • Knowledge is power. If you want to start a movement (pun intended?) at work towards more, well, movement, it might be best to get your fellow employees on board first. Start from the ground up and send around posts like this one/two part-er (hey now!). Or the great one Katy Bowman did on Breaking Muscle. Or, wait, look! Even Outside Magazine is talking movement not exercise! Show them the research on inactivity, and then watch the break room grumbles turn into a bottom up revolution.
  • Get help. There are actually organizations that can help your employer to see with a broader vision. As one example, Partnership for Prevention is working to make evidence based disease prevention and health promotion a national priority. At this link they have some resources you can download. I'm sure there are other great organizations out there who are helping businesses to implement more wellness initiatives, so if you know of one local to you, get in touch with them! Just be sure to vet them that they are not pushing the same old status quo idea that people need to get more exercise. They do, but they also need to work in an environment where they aren't considered a weirdo for sitting on the floor and frequently walking around. 

If you're taking this on in your workplace, whether that's a larger corporate environment or your very own living room, let me know how it goes! I'm going to sprint around my house now. Bye!

DIY Friday: Keeping Your Body Complaint Free At Work

diyfriday (2)

*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

Most of us spend a hearty portion of our lives at work, which these days means we spend a large amount of time sitting (or standing) at computers, using our smartphones, and being pretty limited in the ranges of movement we're utilizing. We all know inactivity is a problem, but that's not what I'm talking about in today's post. Sadly, we've gotten so focused on the "inactivity problem", that we're just viewing it as a, "Is my heart rate getting up at some point this week?" question. I'm all for getting your cardiovascular health in order, but let's take a look instead at getting your myofascial and alignment health in order.

In English, what I'm asking is how do we deal with the amount of pain- primarily low back, neck, and shoulder pain- that our work days leave us with? Because heading to the gym after work will get your heart rate up, but it's doing nothing to address the pain,  the tissue dehydration and glueing, and the joint thinning that is happening by being static in poorly aligned positions all day long.

Funny businessmanLet's start with the sitting. In case you missed the memo, sitting is the new smoking. New research shows that it significantly increases mortality from all causes. In fact, every hour spent sitting shortens life span more significantly that every cigarette smoked. True story.

Ok, fine. Sitting = bad. Got it. I'll stand then. I'm off to buy a standing desk right now, so it's all good!

Prediction: Standing all day instead of sitting all day isn't going to solve our chronic pain problems. It will just give us a slight variation on the current problems. (Though is likely to be more beneficial for staving off cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers, so that is a total bonus)

Here's the deal- doing any one thing all day long is not going to be good for you. And doing any one thing poorly all day long is definitely not going to be good for you. I'll get to each point one at a time:

First, doing anything all day long is not what we're built for. We are designed for constantly varied movement, so it is the sheer limitation of picking one thing and doing it for an entire day- in this case sitting or standing, looking at a screen, with your arms bent at the elbow out in front of you and your fingers working away furiously on a keyboard of some kind- that is causing us so much trouble.

To address our need for constantly varied movement:

  • This September I transitioned into a work schedule that is now about 50% Rolfing® and Tune Up Fitness®, and 50% writing. So half of the time I physically work with bodies to help them to heal themselves, and half the time I write about how bodies can heal themselves. As you may have guessed, that latter half requires a big increase in the amount of screen time in my life. Since the irony of writing about bodies feeling better while glued to a computer was too rich, I decided I needed a new system. I've been tinkering with different options, but at the moment I'm very happy with dividing my time in a routine of 40 minutes/10 minutes of writing to moving.

This is my particular adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer on my phone for 40 minutes, and during that time I single task on whatever project I'm working on. Single tasking as in no social media and no other distractions. I am just working on what I have as my top priority in that moment. So, for example, right now my timer is ticking away while I write this post. I will only write this post during this time. When the timer goes off, I will switch it to a 10 minute interval, during which I will move in whatever form feels good. I work from home so I will often be doing Yoga Tune Up corrective exercise or therapy ball self-massage here in my office. But I've also been known to sprint down to my neighborhood beach (a block away, lucky me, I know), sprint around my house, and generally jump around, climb over things, and make a nuisance of myself in the neighborhood. Fortunately many of my neighbors know what I do for work. Others have decided I'm crazy. It's all good.

But you don't work from home and your boss already thinks you're crazy? I admit that being in a conventional work environment makes this more challenging because not only do you need to move, but you also need to take on your work culture's phobia of movement. I understand it can be a tall order depending on where you work, but I think it's a really valuable thing to take on for the sake of your own health and the sake of everyone's health around you. I recommend slowly getting them used to the idea (no hurdling over the cubicle dividers!), with simple stretching at the wall, or briskly walking to the break room and back, or holding walking meetings (fab 3 minute TED talk on that here). If you are going to be trying to shift your workplace's movement phobia please email me. I would love to help out and follow along as best I can.

  • Even without 10 minute movement breaks (which you should totally take btw), you should at least switch up your positioning so that you're not sitting in one configuration all day. Here is Katy Bowman's How Much Do I Sit  quiz which you are likely to find very enlightening. It also has a list of options for increasing your movement throughout the day. 
  • I also adore Katy's Think Outside the Chair poster, with the myriad options for how one can sit when a chair is removed from the equation, but unfortunately after much searching I can no longer find it except for in this expired Facebook post about it. Please tell us you'll bring back the poster Katy!? Pleeeeeeaaaaase!?

Next up, whether we choose to sit or we choose to stand, or some combination of those, we are, for the most part, doing it poorly. When we sit we typically sit on our sacrums, this creates a C-curved spine, which we then remedy by working like hell in our spinal muscles to pull ourselves upright, and I think you've already discovered that that lasts approximately 2 minutes before you collapse back into a slump from muscle fatigue. With standing, we are generally standing with our pelvises out in front of us (past our ankles) which tweaks our low back, not to mention everything else, just the same.

To address our poor alignment (and the havoc is wreaks) in sitting and standing: 

  • Esther Gokhale and her Gokhale Method are recent discoveries of mine, but thus far I'm into it. Here is a great article on her in the New York Times where they call her The Posture Guru of Silicon Valley. And if you're wanting to see her method in action, and how it can help you to sit better at work, this is a video of her demonstrating it at the Ancestral Health Symposium.  

Now go move in varied ways and be happy at work!