The data is in, and an hour of daily exercise doesn’t seem to meet our healthy movement needs as we once thought it would, especially when that hour is surrounded by many other hours spent sitting. Which leaves us in a pickle. We require a ton of movement, but our lives aren’t really set up for it. Or is that really the case?
There is actually a ton of non-exercise movement to be found in our lives—movement that can be reclaimed with little effort that comes with numerous benefits. But here’s the problem: We tend to have an exercise mindset. Non-exercise movements (as I’ve laid out below) don’t seem like they count. We’re used to the idea that beneficial movement requires a mode, special clothes, a special place, an hour to ourselves, often a teacher and a shower when we’re all done. We’re also used to the idea that we can exercise off our all-day sedentary behavior.
Despite repetitive messaging that we need a bout of daily exercise, we’re essentially an entire culture made up of sedentary and “actively sedentary” (people who do their one hour of exercise a day diligently but spend the rest of the day unmoving) folks.* Our collective sedentarism has become a public health issue. But GOOD NEWS: It’s actually easy to move more once you start seeing just how often we outsource our movement or actually choose sedentary behavior.
As a work-at-home parent, I often give movement tips based on that lifestyle—I have flexibility in my workday, and I use it to move more. But I recognize that many people are trying to fit more movement into a 9-to-5 conventional office context.
So below, I’ve laid out a full day of movement opportunities that are available to you—especially during an office-oriented day. Some of these tips you’ll be able to implement immediately; some will require your office culture to be a bit more flexible in terms of what it thinks of as acceptable or professional behavior.
Sometimes you have to be the pioneer in the workplace, which isn’t terribly comfortable. But it wasn’t all that long ago that women weren’t even supposed to wear trousers in the office (or be there at all), so remember that even corporate culture can change. And by making the workplace more movement-friendly for yourself, you’ll be making it so for everyone else, too. You may be surprised how many others wish they were moving more all day!
If your office is slow to change, just focus on the movements you can do outside the work environment.
Allow me take you through an average day to see how to quickly ramp up movement hours. These are all suggestions. You can adapt each to best match your personal ability and capacity for movement.
Cool off your shower. The colder your shower, the more work your body is doing to heat itself. Every single goose bump you get is the action of a tiny muscle, and it counts.
Dress well. Are your clothes keeping you from moving some of your parts? Find clothing that allows you more movement throughout the day. Can your arms reach overhead in that jacket? Can you squat down to the floor in those jeans? Bend at the waist with that belt? Spread your toes in those shoes? Now you’re looking good and moving well.
Ditch unnecessary chair use and put your socks on standing up. Not only will you be adding a little extra balance and mobility work, but you’re also decreasing your sitting time for the day. (Yes, those minutes do add up!)
Chew your breakfast. The jaw muscles are some of the most powerful in the body, yet we’ve outsourced the bulk of our face and teeth’s work to processed food. Skip the smoothie and let your jaw do the processing work you usually outsource to a blender.
Let your coffee move you. Use a hand grinder for your coffee beans, or instead of driving through, park and walk in. Researchers of the Hadza, a hunter-gathering tribe with very few disease markers, say their constant hunting and foraging strategies keep them moving all day, but note we could find similar benefits in modern equivalents—even simply walking to a coffee place farther than your usual.
Add movement into your commute. Taking the bus? Walk to a farther stop before you hop on. Dropping the kids? Park a block away from school so they can get a little fresh air and a stroll before they go inside. Driving the whole way to work? Park at a farther spot or even another lot. A few minutes of walking can have big benefits.
Check your bags. We often carry things to and fro throughout the day. Do you always pack them in a single bag, making it easier on you? Instead of loading everything into a backpack, give your arms some work to do and bag things differently. Always carry your bag in the same way? Mix it up and let different muscles get a workout.
Create a dynamic workstation. Cycle through sitting on the edge of your chair (no slouching back and letting a chair do the work of holding you up), crossing your legs (or just one) in your chair, standing up, or if your office is ultra-relaxed, bringing your laptop to the floor.
Hang out. If you think your legs barely get any movement, consider that your arms are likely even worse off. Reach and stretch your arms overhead at least a couple of times an hour. Use your doorway as a reminder to reach and grasp the jamb every time you pass through. Add a chin-up bar if you can, and add some stretching and hanging. If you get a morning break, get to the nearest tree and spend a minute or two there. Sure, do chin-ups if you can, but if you can’t, hanging is also fabulous for “un-mousing” your arms. If hanging’s too much, stand and grasp the bar above to toughen up your hand skin.
Group move. When your team needs to meet or you have a phone call scheduled, make it a walking meeting. If your team has different fitness levels and abilities from you and you have to move slower than your usual walk, that’s great. Walking at different speeds is natural and lets you focus on aspects of your walk other than just intensity.
Find somewhere outside to eat your lunch. Let your body experience the cold, the heat, the rain and the snow. We use so many external tools to regulate the temperature around us all the time that we are no longer able to be comfortable in varied environments. You might stay under protective gear at first, but after a while, you’ll likely grow to appreciate your interaction with nature during this part of your day. Consider bringing a change of clothes to work for super-rainy days or days you might sweat through your shirt.
Back from lunch? Check your voicemail either standing up or doing some floor stretches. Remember to reach above your head as often as you can to keep your shoulders limber and healthier.
Cross-train your eyes. Muscles in your eyes are moved by the distance you’re focusing on. Thus, looking at your computer screen is one eye-muscle movement, and looking to the wall beyond is another. If you’re lucky and have a window near your desk, looking farther still gives you yet another eye movement. The farther you look, the longer (read: more relaxed) the ciliary muscles in your eyes, which not only helps you use the full range of motion of your eyes, but it also can help maintain eye health.
Warm up (way) ahead of time. If you’re hitting the gym after work, there’s no need to use 10 minutes of that time warming up and de-chairing your body! Start using your dynamic workstation in “standing mode” the later half of the day. Start stretching your calves, and if you can kick off your shoes (low-profile), stretch your toes and feet. Shift your weight back and forth and side to side to start mobilizing your hips.
Volunteer to use your body. There are often movement-related tasks to be found around the office. Change the watercooler jug or help unload reams and move paper into the copy room. If your workplace has a community service program, spearhead a food bank support effort and spend this time stacking and sorting donations. Start a rooftop, balcony or outdoor garden at your office and grow some fresh food for your workmates or for a local shelter, even if it’s just a few containers of fresh herbs.
Move for your food. And I don’t mean work out so you can justify your dinner. (You incorporated some more movement in your homeward commute, right? Maybe you bussed to a store, picked up your groceries and walked home with them in your arms!) Once you’re home from work or your workout, move for your supper. Eschew overwrapped and pre-chopped food (see “movement outsourcing”) and get chopping your own veggies. Arrange your kitchen so that your most-used items require you to reach up, bend and squat down to get them.
Do your chores, gratefully. While the food cooks, get some extra movement into your chores. Instead of tossing wet clothes in the dryer, hang them over a rack indoors or on a clothesline outside. Give the Roomba a break and use a broom, or skip the wet mop and wipe the floor on hands and knees.
If it’s date night, pack up that supper because you’re going on a …
Date hike. (You also can make it a family hike, depending on kids’ bedtimes, of course. You also could pick them up from school and go straight to a family hike with a picnic you prepped the night before. Just saying, there are a lot of ways to move more.) Instead of sitting at a restaurant or watching a movie, meet up at a park or wilderness area and move together. This is the perfect time to connect while building up some endorphins together, and to train your body to move over natural terrain.
Night moves. If the sun’s going down now, don’t let it stop you. Spend some time outside in the dusk and/or dark. Let your eyes move in the dark (they’re rarely exposed to low light in our chronically lit lives) and allow them and your ears to do some of the navigating for you.
Get down on it. The floor, I mean. If it’s time for TV or Netflix, skip the couch and sit on the floor, opening your hips and letting your knees work at different angles. Less comfortable than a couch? Definitely, at least at first, but you’ll also cycle through many more positions if you’re not in a cushy couch, which will lead to much more comfort in your own body in the long run.
Bedtime! Is your body so stiff that it only feels comfortable on one mattress, on one side? Time to mobilize. Swap sides at first, and if you’ve got a guest bed, sleep in that to let your body adapt to a different pressure. (Expert tips: Use mobility balls to roll out stiff muscles ahead of time, and spend at least five to 10 minutes lying on the floor on your back and then stomach—it helps get the kinks out!) Feeling extreme? Lower your bed or sleep on the floor so that every night you’re getting down on the floor and every day you start by getting up from the floor.
Your pillow works like an orthotic, and it actually holds your neck in the same position night after night (year after year). Transition, over months, to using fewer, then thinner and then eventually no pillows. I know it sounds uncomfortable, but in the end, your neck, shoulders and upper back will be gently moved all night long.
*There’s a third group of people, as well—those who labor (i.e., move) all day for their work, but that movement is highly repetitious in nature, so even though their total movement is high, their movement diversity is low. These people don’t need to move more so much as they need to move more of their parts.
Photo credit: Spencer Watson, Unsplash