In case you haven’t heard, a sedentary lifestyle is a dangerous one, and the simple solution is more movement! This is usually understood as more exercise, but in most cases, more exercise is not the answer. Or at least not the entire answer. Sedentarism is not measured by lack of exercise, but by the amount of time spent not moving. If you exercise for one hour every day, but spend the rest of the day sitting in chairs, you could still be considered sedentary. In fact, even if you do move frequently, if you are only moving in a few different ways (think repetitive movements), you could still have sedentary parts of your body. Remember, sedentarism is about the amount of time spent not moving. The solution to this problem is still more movement, but more specifically, more movement variety. The good news is that increasing movement variety generally results in increasing movement frequency, so it’s a win-win!
Movement frequency reduces the sedentarism of our whole body, and movement variety helps reduce sedentarism of our body parts. If you want more movement frequency, take more walks, shift positions more frequently, and simply move more often. To get more movement variety, you have to move in different ways and get your bodies and limbs moving through different positions.
Think about what positions you spend your day in. For many of us, it is going to be a combination of sitting and standing with a rounded forward posture (think driving, using computers, smart phone usage, eating, reading, etc.). In addition, many of us keep our arms somewhere between hip and shoulder height (cooking, working at a desk). If we want to add movement variety, let’s look first at positions opposite of what we normally do, then outside of our typical range of motion, and then add variety in the environments you interact with and how you load your body.
How to Incorporate More Movement Into Your Life
Your body wants to move, we’ve just spent 10-20 years of our life being conditioned to sit, suppressing the urge. It’s still there. Follow it. Move when you think of it. Change your position when you think of it. When you feel that need to shift weight, change position, or stretch – listen to that feeling.
Set an alarm to do something every 4 hours. Then every 2 hours. Then every 1 hour, and so on. This isn’t just a practice in movement, but a practice in taking a step back from what you are doing and slowing down. Make stepping away manageable. Even if it only lasts 10 seconds, it can feel like a challenge just to step away! As this gets easier, so will moving more often.
Add variety to your movements and to your stillness. When sitting, sit differently – cross your legs, or sit on the ground. When standing, stand differently. Stand on one foot! Add squatting to your “stillness” options – reclaim the squat as a resting position. Learn new ways to sit, stand, and to work. Cater your movements to you. Think about how you normally move throughout the day, then practice doing the opposite of that. Move outside your normal ranges of motion, and change up how you load your body.
Move Outside the Box
Counter the Car and the Computer
If your shoulders are rounded forward, you back is curved forward, and your head is pushed forward, stretch in the opposite direction. Pull your shoulders back, together, and down, slide your chin back (make a double chin), and reach your arms out and back, with your palms up. Do this, as often as you think of it.* Here’s a demo of this movement from Chad Walding and The Sitting Solution.
*Unless you’re driving, then do the “car safe” version by isolating the movement to just the chin slide and shoulder blade squeeze.
Reach, Stretch, and Extend
You know when you wake up in the morning after a good night sleep and the first thing you do is stretch? You know, when you just try to extend everything in as many directions as possible? It’s time to bring that out of the bedroom and into your day.
Start from the bottom up: Stand up, squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and extend through your knees and ankles. Stretch up onto your toes if you feel stable. Get tall through your back, all through your spine, and up through the top of your head. Finally, add a reach, and try to get a stretch through all your joints from shoulder, elbow, wrist, and all through your fingers. First, just reach up, as high as you can, creating as much space as you can through your whole body to reach a little higher. If that feels good, add a slight reach back, so your whole body is curved in a big long arch from toes to finger tips. End by making the biggest “snow-angel” with your arms as you can, stretching your hands up, out to the side and down.
Squat, Squat, and Squat
Our hips, knees, and ankles spend a lot of time in the 90 degree range of motion. Or whatever angle gets made with our hips, knees, and ankles when we spend a lot of our time on 16-18” tall sitting surfaces. Even if you stand for work, your resting position generally will come back to the same sitting height. Let’s get out of the sitting box with a little squatting. Remember, we’re talking movement, not exercise, so you aren’t exempt even if you do squat at the gym. Actually, if you squat for strength, spending more time in squatting positions is only going to help your mobility, alignment, and strength!
There is no one way “best” way to squat and variety is really the spice of the #squatlife. Start with squatting down how you can. Anchor your hands with a chair, a doorway, or some other support so you feel stable. Squat to an elevated surface, like a yoga block. Squat with your feet closer together, further apart, with your heels down or your heels up. While standing, bring one leg up to a chair surface or higher. While kneeling, bring one leg up to a squat position. See how long you can stay in any one of these positions, pain free. They may not be comfortable at first, but discomfort is not the enemy. Eventually, you can incorporate squatting positions into your still position options. I try to squat down when I’m wasting time on my phone.
Not sure if you are ready to squat? The Ultimate Squat Prep (in my opinion) is You Don’t Know Squat by Katy Bowman.
It’s Time to Switch Loads
Due to the fact that we can safely travel across the ground, don’t live in jungles, and a for myriad of other reasons, we tend to load our body from the ground up. Whether sitting, squatting, or standing, we tend to spend most of our time getting compressed, trapped between the force of gravity and the ground. But our bodies aren’t just built for compression, they can also handle tension, like when we hang from our arms. We tend to not need hanging movements to survive (no need to jump up and pull ourselves away from danger on the ground), but our bodies are still wired to want that load. It’s time to find some time to hang out. Same as squatting, hang how you can, including keeping your feet on the ground and putting only as much weight into your arms as you feel comfortable. Find a low tree branch or low bar at a park. Get a pull up bar for over a doorway and use a stable chair to support yourself. Or if you’re tall enough, hook your fingers over the door jamb. Use one arm, both arms, palms away from you or towards you, or mixed. Find different surfaces and sizes of things to hang from – tree limbs are exceptionally good for providing variety. Playgrounds usually have a few different options as well.
Add movement variety to your walking by simply stepping off the easy, beaten path. Walking on the grass and up and down hills may not feel different to you, but can add a lot of variety to your feet, ankles, hips, and knees. It’s a small change that can offer a lot of rewards including stronger and more mobile feet, ankles and knees. And you don’t have to increase intensity to feel the benefit! Find easy hills to start with or just take your time up the big ones. The point is to just get off of the flat, level surfaces that we normally encounter as often as possible.