Movement Medicine: How to Prevent Sitting Disorder
July 23, 2015
Rushing between meetings, emails, and spreadsheets, my students show up to relieve their creaky necks, backs, and hips. As the In-House Yogi at Clif Bar & Company’s onsite gym I unravel aching bodies and soothe frazzled minds. I teach movement medicine — the antidote to sitting disease.
As a leading maker of organic food for athletes and other active folks, we take sustainability seriously: both of the environment and our bodies. As cyclists, triathletes, and rock climbers we’re propelled by outdoor adventures but acknowledge the current research: being a weekend warrior doesn’t make up for a lack of movement Monday through Friday.
Sitting narrows the range — of the joints, the cardiorespiratory system, and our thinking. Information-age work confines our bodies and constant interruptions exhaust our minds. Dire warnings about looming heart disease, diabetes, and obesity only contribute to a sense of caged panic. With stiffness, anxiety, and restlessness, we immediately feel the effects of sitting.
So we’re learning to value movement beyond the bike, the climb, and the workout. To care for our information-aging bodies we’re moving beyond the all-or-nothing thinking and opting for smaller, daily steps.
As a fitness trainer and yoga teacher, I dismantle the residual postures of sitting before breaking into an aerobic sweat or attempting elaborate poses. Through and beyond posture, here’s my holistic response to sitting disease:
Address pain. Our team of a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, massage therapists, and fitness trainers, does a lot of hands-on bodywork. We relieve aches, educate students on self-massage, and troubleshoot the origins of the pain.
Realign posture with every exercise. Rounded back, stiff hips, and head forward — many folks exercise in their vulture-like desk positions. With each warrior pose and kettlebell swing we fortify the spine, recharge the hips, and re-center the neck.
Focus inward. “Heels under your hips, toes slightly turned out, squat with a long spine.” Following exercise cues builds proprioception (a sense of body position.) This fundamental body awareness improves balance, coordination, and prevents injury.
Build an appetite for “movement snacks.” With standing desks and stretch breaks during meetings, we fit little bursts of activity into the day.
Get outside. On a walk, run, or bike ride, the legs pump and the mind wanders. With eyes off the screen and the heart pumping, we burn through stress and often come up with our best ideas.
Metabolize emotions. After a sleepless night we opt for a restorative yoga sequence. During an aggravating day, we pound the punching bag. The gym is a safe place to rock out in Zumba or unwind in the quiet nap room.
Train for intensity and variability. Crawling up stairs, climbing on the bouldering wall, or lifting heavy weights, students are reminded of their resilience and adaptability.
Train to relax. Shoulder circles on the TRX, backbends over the exercise ball, and abdominal breaths in savasana: we train ourselves to calm down.
To overcome sitting disease we need to realign our entrenched postures and refresh our mental patterns. As we stir up a culture of movement, we’ll recharge our solutions for public health quagmires.
Here are some ideas for what employers can do:
Hire a teacher to offer yoga, exercise, or Zumba class.
Hire a massage therapist for on-site chair massages.
Create a nap room.
Distribute pedometers and start a walking challenge.
Subsidize gym memberships.
Make standing desks available.
Create active team-building activities.
Offer facilities for bike commuters (racks, showers, and tire pumps.).
Here’s what employees can do:
Start a lunchtime walking group.
Bike to work
Plan walking meetings.
Take “movement snack” breaks during meetings.
Gather a group together to hire an instructor for a lunchtime class.
Eat lunch outside
Install stretch software on your computer.
Drink lots of water so you have to go to the bathroom.
Use a bathroom on another floor.
Use a fitness tracking device.
Find active ways to unwind outside of work.