It goes without saying that I absolutely love Restorative Exercise and am a firm believer in it’s healing powers. Since beginning a regular practice a couple of years ago, I feel stronger and healthier, have lost weight, and am able to do the activities that I love (hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding) better and with less pain.
However, are the corrective exercises enough in and of themselves? Even if you’re doing one hour, or two or even three a day, what does the rest of your day look like? Chances are it goes something like this: sleep for eight hours (if you’re lucky) in a squishy bed that conforms to your body and encourages the very alignment you’re trying to work your way out of, sitting at a kitchen table to eat breakfast, sitting in the car or bus on your commute to work, sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours (either with or without a lunch break, probably also spent sitting in a chair), going to the gym or doing some other movement (yay movement!) for an hour or so at most, commuting home (sitting), eating dinner (sitting), down time (probably sitting plus looking at some sort of glowing screen). Repeat.
Notice a pattern? That is A LOT of sitting! There’s been a lot of press lately about the negative health effects of sitting, and you may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. So, what about a standing work station? Voila, problem solved! Or maybe not... It turns out that the real problem isn’t sitting, per se, but the fact that we sit in exactly the same position for up to 16 hours a day. Staying in one position (whether sitting or standing) creates a whole host of health issues that deserve their own post. Let's just say for now that not moving on a regular basis is a sure path to disease and ill health.
With our busy schedules, how do we get enough movement throughout the day? The first thing I would suggest is to use your furniture less. Here’s a photo of my living room. Seriously, that’s it - what you see is really what I use on a daily basis. I promise I didn’t hide the couch in the closet! The low table in the middle is my multipurpose space for computer use, meals, and even as a stool if needed. I’m not saying you should drag your couch and easy chairs to the curb right this second (though if you want to you have my full support!), but maybe try experimenting with sitting on the floor in a couple of different positions while watching your favorite TV show tonight. One tip - I highly recommend sitting on a yoga bolster or stack of blankets. This will help keep your pelvis in the correct position and make your floor-sitting experience much more comfortable. The tighter your hip muscles, the higher up you should sit.
Another great option is to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. If you’re at home you can use any sort of elevated surface as a workspace. Here’s one of my favorite spots to be at the computer (the bar stools are for guests only!). Not only does it encourage me to move, but I can also get in tons of calf stretching. If you don’t have a high countertop or other surface, you can try setting a cardboard box on your kitchen table or existing work desk in order to elevate the surface. If you want to get extra fancy, IKEA now has a motorized desk that moves between sitting and standing levels with the push of a button. But remember - standing in one spot all day really isn't any better than sitting all day, so be sure to change things up occasionally.
Another thing that I strongly encourage while at work is to set some sort of timer that keeps you honest about getting up and taking a break from your desk and screen. My favorite is a free app called Time Out that grays out your computer screen at set intervals. It’s totally customizable, and I have mine set to gray out for 2 minutes after 18 minutes of work, which automatically gives me 6 minutes of movement per hour (or nearly an hour of movement during a typical work day!). During the break I get up, do a little stretching, and give my eyes a break too by looking into the distance for a minute or so. Without this I find that it’s way too easy for me to push back a break indefinitely. Before I know it, I’ve been sitting in exactly the same position for two hours and am so stiff I can barely move when I stand up...never a good sign!
When you do move for larger chunks of time, think about how you’re choosing to do so. Does your workout consist of going to the gym and using the same cardio machine or lifting weights for an hour? While some movement may (or may not, depending on how you look at it) be better than none, most machines that you find at the gym incorporate the same few repetitive movements, and leave huge sections of your body unused. I’m not just talking about adding some arm movement to an elliptical trainer, because that’s still using your arms in just a couple of planes of motion, out of the infinite number that they’re capable of. Instead, think of replacing some of your "workouts" with other activities, including yard work, house work, or other physical chores. Not only will you get a wider range of movement than at the gym, but your house will be cleaner too!
Also, don't forget walking - it is the ultimate form of human movement. We have evolved over thousands of years to walk long distances for our survival (finding food, shelter, etc), and it’s still essential if we want the best health possible. It uses a huge number of muscles and helps develop appropriate strength-to-weight ratio in the lower body. When done properly (yet another topic for another post), it can raise your metabolism and burn just as many, if not more calories than high intensity workouts. If you’re not quite ready to give up your current form of exercise, there are still other ways to get more walking in throughout the day. If you live within walking distance (and really, what ISN’T within walking distance if you have enough time?) of a store, library, or other location that you frequent, try leaving the car at home. If you absolutely must drive, try parking farther away than usual. Getting a pedometer and setting a daily step goal is also a great way to stay motivated.
However you choose to move throughout the day, keep in mind that small changes can have huge positive results over time. Even if it doesn’t feel like much at first, your body will thank you.