Friday, 3 June 2016

Healthy Sitting

"Sitting is the New Smoking" has been making headlines lately. I was surprised to hear that regular exercise cannot undo damage done from spending hours each day sitting in a chair or on a sofa. It got me thinking.

I have a 'desk' job. My work days are spent on a computer at a desk in an office. I work from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. To get to work, I either drive (sit in a car) or ride my bike (10 km through the park). At home I sit on a sofa for hours while I crochet, spend 'fun' time on my laptop or watch tv. I do get outside to walk the dog at least three times a day; early morning, after work and before bed. 

I usually manage to reach my Garmin goal of 10,000 steps per day, BUT my days are focused around activities that involve A LOT of sitting. 

A few weeks ago while crocheting and listening to podcasts, I discovered Katy Bowman and her theories on Nutritious Movement. I began reading posts on her blog and listening to "Katy Says" podcasts. I was intrigued with her recommendations to counteract damage created by sitting and lack of natural movement.  

Katy recommends a movement based lifestyle for improved health and function. She explains what that looks like by describing a day in her family's life here

Katy's family uses low tables and the floor instead of sitting on couches and chairs. She recommends an almost furniture-free home to encourage more movement. She also moves regularly throughout her day. Katy will sit at a low table then move to stand at a high counter when working on her laptop. She takes regular breaks to do chores or go for a walk; never sitting or standing in one position for an extended length of time.

Katy recommends walking to places you might normally drive. She always wears minimal shoes or goes barefoot. Minimal shoes are wide, flexible, and totally flat allowing more natural movement through the whole body. If you are used to wearing shoes with support and heels (even just 1" heels), she recommends transitioning slowly to minimal footwear. 

Katy also recommends sleeping without pillows to encourage more natural postures and movement while sleeping.

I took a look at my total LACK of movement throughout my day and decided to make a few changes. 

It has been five weeks, since I started sitting on the floor at home. I placed my laptop on a plastic bin and sit on a cushion beside a low table. Sometimes I ditch the cushion and sit on the carpet. I tend to change position a lot to keep from getting stiff and sore. I also practice standing without using my hands. I can do it most of the time now. Sitting on the floor has been a simple change, but definitely not easy. If you're not in the habit of sitting on the floor, give it a try. You might be surprised by how difficult it is at first. 
The low table to my left is perfect for drinks and food. So far my husband has refused to join me on the floor, so we eat dinner at our kitchen table. It's funny, our poodle and cat also refuse to join me on the floor. They like to sit comfortably.
I have also stopped wearing any shoes with heels. I don't have a lot of options and I haven't yet purchased any 'minimal' footwear. I figure that's fine as I need to transition slowly to avoid injury.
These Nike water shoes qualify as minimal. I wore them on a few hikes in Cuba this year. They are comfortable, so I will wear them to walk the dog and see how it goes. I would also like to find some 'ballet' flats for the office and the few occasions when I dress up. Hopefully it's not too difficult to find something I like.
What other changes have I made?

I ditched my pillow. I was using a relatively flat pillow, so this was easy for me. It still felt a bit strange at first, but I've totally adjusted and love sleeping pillow-free.

I have started walking more often and longer distances with the dog. This is easy because it's summer. If it's too hot, we walk later in the day once it has cooled down. I'm not sure how it will work in the winter when the weather is really cold. We'll have to bundle up and do it anyway. It'll be good for us.

I try to take regular movement breaks from my desk at work. I get up and stretch every 40 minutes or so and do some tasks while standing. 

I ride my bike to work. Bike riding is another exercise/movement that keeps your body in a narrow range of movement. Long distance riding puts a lot of stress on various parts of the body. I love bike riding, but it hurts after a couple hours. I'm not sure if long rides are good for long-term health. In Cuba, we rode mountain bikes on rough roads. The rough roads necessitated more movement than normal bike riding, but it was still painful after a few hours. I will continue to ride because I enjoy it, but maybe not as far or as long.

Although floor sitting at home is going well, I have not been motivated to crochet. It's probably because crochet requires more focus and concentration than I can manage while fidgeting to stay comfortable. 

The impatient part of me says, "it's been five weeks already". The wise part of me responds with "it's ONLY been five weeks". I will continue to sit on the floor. I want to be able to squat keeping my heels flat on the floor. Years of chair sitting, shoes with heels and biking have shortened my calf muscles making proper squatting very difficult. 

I would also like to be able to play on the floor with our grandchildren the next time we see them. It's all about making movement a more natural part of my day. I am enjoying this new challenge. 

There are many free resources available on Katy's website. If you're intrigued, check it out here. Be sure to let me know what you think.

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  1. Interesting, Beth. I am fortunate to have a job that requires me to move around a lot (10,000 steps per day, that's easy and I still drive to work... all of 3 kms!)

    One thing to think about is to set up the computer so your hands are in a good position. I often work on my computer at a lab bench that is weirdly set up at table height, but I am standing so my hands are at a too-large angle to my arms and I can get some strain in the back of my hands if I spend too much time in that position.

    Same applies to your bike shifters and brakes, especially if you are a woman with small hands. You and Lee go to "performance" bike shops and they may be setting your bike up as if you are going to ride the Giro or the North Shore. I have found the bike mechanic that understands you are small and mighty and you have a brain.

    Another thing is that standing at a computer screen without moving around (think of grocery clerks) is a strain on your legs. Just standing isn't a very good substitute for sitting. You really have to move around. Ask your supervisor to move your coffee/tea break place very far away from your desk. Volunteer to be the person in the office who goes to pick up things.

    Personally, I am really proud of my feet. As I said, 10000 steps/day is my daily work routine and then three days a week I run 10-20km. I have five pairs of tried and true shoes: a pair of 1/2 inch heel Clarks for work, Mizuno Projects (the Cervelo of run shoes) for running, Birks for summer sandals and indoor house shoes and Keen hiking boots for trails and winter. I rarely go barefoot and use flip-flops only at the pool but I also am injury-free using these shoes that work for me. I wouldn't walk very far in water shoes mostly because they are designed for being in the water and they have elasticized parts that might rub on your heels and cause blisters. These things work for me.

    I am not sure how old Katy Bowman is. I'm not judging, but if your feet are not young, you should know they don't have a lot of muscles that you can pump up. As for the rest of the matter that makes up a foot, my impression is that the best thing you can do is support it at the age it is.

    I think it is important that we each choose things that work well for ourselves. It takes a lot of work. As you say, if you have only just started thinking about what you put on your feet, "it has only been 5 weeks".

    Do you know the exercise called "walking A's"? We have very few muscles in our feet. That exercise helps strengthen both those few muscles and our legs that support our feet.

    Good stuff!

    1. Your movement level at work is excellent and you have a very active leisure life as well. You're well set for good health and function as you age. I haven't heard of Active A's, but will google it. Thanks for giving me helpful feedback.

      I don't believe aches and pains have to go hand-in-hand with aging, yet I seem to have quite a few already ... hoping to be able to fix that.