If you’re at all interested in health, you’ve probably come across the studies popping up in recent years. They point to this fact: inactivity is killing us and we’re doing way too much sitting.
Worse, exercise does NOT make up for the dearth of movement. This means that if you have a sedentary lifestyle and work out an hour a day, you’re still going to experience more health problems and troubles in old age than someone who wiggles all day.
We may not want to hear it, but the news is in: we must add more movement to our day. Not just “exercise”.
And I’m not talking about having an end goal of weight loss or looking good (although that is often the result). I’m talking about improving our health and feeling better, reducing chronic aches and pains and being able to move like these ladies, average age 80, when we’re… little old ladies.
Here are some ways I’ve been working on this in the last couple of years. And please trust me when I say that I struggle as much to get off the couch as anyone. I’m not naturally a mover. Some people are, but not me. I am normally very still and quite content to sit and read for hours. I have to force myself to move around, but when I do I find that I feel so much better, so I’ve learned to incorporate a few small habits into my routine.
1) Standing to use my computer
I don’t have a treadmill desk nor do I want one, but standing to do my computer work is good enough. Why? Because when you stand, you don’t just stand…still. You wiggle. You shift. You bend. You stretch. You take more breaks. Etc.
2) Parking farther away
When I go shopping, I typically park by the buggy corral, not by the entrance. I know we all hear this tip everywhere, but obviously few people do it. The next time you are in the Target parking lot, take note how many people park far away from the door intentionally.
3) Going outside every day
Going outside means I’ll be standing at the very least, or walking around picking up stray shoes and trash, or lifting kids up onto the trampoline, or pushing babies on the swings, or chasing babies away from the road, or going for a short walk. Movement.
I admit I slacked in this department when the weather got so rainy and cold, but I had a streak of several months where I was walking every single day, and plan on getting back to that. I have an old neighbor who I’ve dubbed Old Faithful because he’s out walking EVERY morning. In rain he’s donned his hat, Wellies and raincoat. In cold weather he’s in many layers. But he walks, nonetheless. It’s inspiring!
5) Sitting on the floor
I’ve trained myself to sit on the floor to play with the little ones, and to do schoolwork with the bigger kids too. Because when I sit on the floor I don’t just sit… I stretch, wiggle around, move from side to side, lengthen my hamstrings, etc. If you have trouble sitting on the floor then you need to make it a practice to do this a lot! We think that we are stiff and sore and that’s why we don’t sit on the floor, but it’s the other way around. We don’t sit on the floor… and so we’re stiff and sore. Little kids and babies don’t have this problem!
When my mom comes over I encourage her to sit on the floor to play with the kids. I told her that some Doctors are now requiring their older patients to demonstrate their ability to get down on the floor and get back up. This “exercise” could save your life. Just think: every time you get up from the floor, you’re “weight lifting”!
If you have trouble sitting on the floor, try putting a pillow under your butt, and make sure you aren’t tucking your pelvis under. The point is to lengthen your tight hamstrings. Children do this naturally and easily, and the reason we can’t is because we stopped trying.
6) Adding stretches and bodyweight exercises to my daily to-do list
Literally. I do calf and hamstring stretches to try to counteract the sitting that I do. They feel awesome, and may just give you a little energy boost too. Our modern lifestyle with an abundance of couches and chairs everywhere have given us super tight hamstrings and calves, and that can result in all sorts of pain and problems (just one: if you don’t want to rely on Depends as you age, do your calf and hammie stretches! Tight hamstrings lead to pelvic floor problems).
I also do push-ups every day in the bathroom when I do my skin care routine. Just 10 or so keep my upper body strong and my arms from getting flabby (ahem, this becomes a big issue when you hit 40).
7) Buying a pull-up bar and using it
One of my big, hairy goals is to do a pull-up. I work on it using a cheap pull-up bar that hangs from my doorway. I can’t do one yet, but I’m making progress.
8) “Playing” at the playground
Instead of sitting on a bench watching my kids play, I hang from the monkey bars, climb up the rock wall (and over the top to the other side), or at the very least walk around.
9) Throwing away my stroller
When I realized that the baby stroller I had was encouraging my baby to curve her spine and tuck her pelvis (BAD habits for anyone, but especially a growing child!), I threw away my stroller.
Disclosure: I did end up buying another stroller, but I don’t use it when we go for walks. When we walk, the babies walk. Even the 18 month old can walk a mile, easy. I use my stroller to hold stuff when I go to my favorite thrift store (they don’t have buggies there).
10) I stopped using baby carriers (mostly)
Using a sling or baby carrier loads the baby’s weight in ONE way on your body, but if you hold baby in your arms, you’re going to move that baby from hip to hip frequently to change arms. I’ve heard of so many moms giving themselves chronic pain from babywearing.
I love attachment parenting and my baby is welcome in my arms anytime, but using my body to hold her means we’re both healthier. Now I only use a sling or carrier on sick or extremely fussy days when I must have my hands free, or to help navigate difficult/dangerous situations with baby in tow.
11) I sit up straight – even while driving
Car seats are absolutely awful for posture. They make it nearly impossible for you to sit up straight with your head atop your shoulders, instead forcing you to jut your head forward.
To compensate, I allow a few inches between my back and the seat, and put something there to keep me from sinking into the bucket-shaped seat. Standing up straight is a passive way of working your abs. Their job is to keep you upright, and if you’re always slumped over, they’re not activating.
Also, I read blogs like this. Our culture focuses far too much on “exercise” to the exclusion of “natural movement”. One of the things I’ve noticed when I read about French women is that they generally do not do le sport (exercise).
12) Bonus: bike or walk your errands!
If there is a destination close enough for you to walk or bike to, do it! You’ll have more energy all day, save money on gas, and enjoy the beauty of the natural world all around you. Bike or walk with a loved one and it’s even better.
We need to get away from the way of thinking that health means sweating it out at a gym in spandex.