Are You Actively Sedentary?

Last Saturday morning I met a friend and Restorative Exercise Specialist™, Galina, for an early morning walk along Lake Washington Blvd. Afterward, I was thinking about the changes I’ve undergone in the last couple of years, regarding health and movement.

When I had a regular job, sitting mostly, at my computer, I would go out for a lunchtime run, and come back to my seat, getting up only to get quick bite of my lunch. Then I’d commute home (usually by bike), eat dinner, and crawl up on the couch for an evening of surfing the web. My back would be stiff and sore when I got up, and my legs tight.

Meanwhile, at my  annual check ups, my blood pressure started creeping up – not a good thing with a familial history of cardiovascular disease – and my weight, despite the running and cycling, seemed to plateau. I attributed it all to getting older.

Then, I was laid off from my job. About a year before,  I came across Katy Bowman and (now) Nutritious Movement. With extra time on my hands, now was the time to sign up for her certification program in Restorative Exercise™. I started a two year program in January 2015; the first year involved weekly assignments around moving. We learned how we move, how frequently we move, what we move over, and what parts might not be moving as well as they could. I got rid of my couch, started walking more (and over textured terrain, in minimal shoes), sitting on the floor, stretching tight muscles (like hip flexors) and strengthening weak ones (like hip stabilizers), and did more calf stretching. Over time, my blood pressure returned to normal, and I lost about eight pounds, without ‘consciously’ doing anything. All I really did was move (heh) from being an actively sedentary human to one who moves more.

The term ‘actively sedentary’ is now used to describe how, in our modern lifestyle, a supposedly active person (think: runner, cyclist, for ex) might be as unhealthy as a sedentary person, if other than that activity, they sit most of the day. In other words, sitting, then running or cycling or fill-in-the-blank for your favorite ‘cardio’) then sitting, can be as hard on your body as just sitting all day.  In sitting frequently, and for long periods, our hip flexor muscles get tight, and over time, become physically shortened, as do other muscles. Cardiovascular health is also affected; going for a run (immediately) after sitting all day does not automatically restore length to those muscles, and in some cases, can be harder on your heart. Going back to sitting with muscles still warm just helps mold them back into that shortened ‘L shape’. Cycling (especially road cycling), followed by sitting, doubles the hip flexor tightness too!

Walking after a dentist appointment. Rain stopped; so I picked a bus stop farther away

I’m NOT SAYING don’t bike or run! Incorporate walking into your exercise; transition via walking, especially if you’ve been sitting all day. Even more important is to move throughout the day. Here are five ways you can move more. Think of other ways to create your own!

  • At home – Try standing up while you eat breakfast.  Or squat, like you might around a campfire. If you have a window nearby, you can check out the scene outside, giving your eyes a stretch. (Once, when I did that, I caught two huge raccoons in the process of digging for grub – right in our backyard!)  I keep a half dome under my kitchen table, and get a calf stretch in while I drink my espresso.
  • Commute – do you drive to work? Take the bus? Sitting for an hour or more is HARD on your body! Try parking farther away, or get off the bus a few stops earlier, and walk the rest of the way in. Give your legs a nice stretch before settling in to the workday
  • At work – if you are sitting in front of a computer or workstation, take a break every thirty or so minutes. Even standing stations can stagnate our bodies – watch this. It only takes three minute for a break, but that movement adds up over the day! If you have a window nearby, take an eye break, too! Stare at something (trees, clouds, birds) far away- you’ll be relaxing those eye muscles that work to focus on that screen!
  • After work – you get home and either pick up dinner (on foot!) or prep it. If your usual MO after dinner is to sit on the couch and veg out, switch it up! Try sitting on the floor. Not ready? Ease down! First move to the edge of your couch or chair and stretch your legs out straight. As that becomes easier, drop down to a footstool or crate that’s lower than the couch or chair. Over time, move to a cushion on the floor. When you sit on the floor, you have to get up, too. That equals more movement!
  • Before bed – take a night time walk. My friend Amanda takes a night time walk with the whole family. It’s a great way to catch up and, it’s been shown that a walk before bedtime promotes a better night’s sleep. As good as a hot bath, it warms you up before bed without taxing your body.

When you think outside the box (car, bus, home, office, etc), you’ll find other ways to work in more movement through your day. In the end, your body will thank you!