I am frequently asked how often people should exercise. The question I would prefer people to ask is how much should they move. Our society has become increasingly sedentary, with both work life and home life being based around a seated position, more often than not a similar position in a chair or sofa repeated from one venue to the next. Recent research is showing that taking exercise a few times a week, whatever the style, is not enough to counteract the ill-effects of the hours and hours of sitting that have become our norm. Our cells nourish themselves through movement, so to stay healthy we need to be far more active than is currently normal. However that activity doesn’t have to be a ‘workout’, it can simply be regularly changing the shape in which we hold our bodies. It’s easy to forget about moving around while caught up in the busy workday, so it can be helpful to tie movement and changing positions into events that happen regularly during the day:
Commuting to work: replace all or a section of your commute with walking.
If taking the tube, walk up the escalator. Stand up in the tube or on the bus – if you are pretty stable, practice standing without holding on to challenge your balance and make your commute a workout.
At your desk: invest in a sitting/standing workstation and alternate between positions.
If that isn’t possible kick your shoes off and explore how many different seated positions you can find on your chair (cross-legged, one leg tucked under with the other on the floor, kneeling…) and then change position frequently. It can be useful to tie this in to a reminder – for example every time you send or receive an email stand up, look away from your computer screen to rest your eyes, then sit back down in a different position.
On the phone: never sit down to make a phone call. Walk around while you talk. An added bonus – If it’s an ‘important’ call you will automatically sound more authoritative if you are standing up.
Bathroom breaks: if possible use a loo on a different floor of your home or building so you walk up and down the stairs each time
Mealtimes: experiment with changing your mealtime venue. Set your placemats on your coffee table and kneel, Japanese-style, to eat your meal. Take more picnics, even indoor ones. Sit on a blanket, with a few extra cushions for the stiffer members of the family!
Reading/watching TV: stand up and stretch every time there is an ad break or you come to the end of a chapter. When you sit down again, choose a different position from the one you were in before. Best option – sit on the floor. You won’t be comfortable staying still in the same position for very long, which will make you move around without thinking about it.
Schedule a daily walk. Escape your TV and laptop screens and increase your daily dose of fresh air. Build up to a minimum of 30 minutes daily and try to add one longer walk per week.
Free your feet: as a bonus extra to all of the changes above, ensure you are looking after your feet. Thanks to a lifetime of wearing rigid shoes with heels and narrow toe boxes, our feet are frequently the most immobile and un-innervated parts of our bodies. So slip your shoes off whenever you can – let your feet breathe and move! For walking, start to transition into minimal shoes: vibram five fingers and vivobarefoot are good choices. However your foot needs to adapt to getting less support from your shoe, so start with short amounts of time walking in your minimal shoes and build up gradually. Try to walk on natural ground rather than manmade surfaces as much as possible.
For a fuller analysis of the foot have a look at the Foot section of this blog.