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Functional Fitness: Finding little ways to add in more movement

Written by Alli Cost, Occupational Therapist and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.  

We often hear advice to “exercise more.” This can be daunting for several reasons… lack of time, lack of interest, lack of coordination. Fitness has become a generic term that can mean everything from losing weight to running a marathon. Expand your definition and approach this from a different angle. Move more.

Consider how often you actually move your whole body. Do you stand on escalators and avoid taking the stairs? Do you sit at a desk all day? Do you get home and lounge on the couch until bedtime? Not everyone sits all day. But many folks do. And although most New Yorkers walk to the subway and regularly get up to go to the bathroom or grab a fresh cup of coffee, there are extended hours without really doing anything beyond moving our hands and eyes.

We have become so accustomed to our behaviors and don’t realize how they impact our health. The increase in our sitting due to computers, desk jobs, and tv watching (hello Netflix Marathon!!) decreases our metabolism and increases the risk factors for most chronic diseases. It even counteracts some of the benefits of your 30 minutes of “exercise” done earlier in the day. Mike Reinhold explained this well when he said, “It’s not sitting that is bad for you, it’s NEVER moving that is bad for you”

The good news is that the solution doesn’t need to be expensive or overwhelming. Simply focus on 3 strategies to blend into your daily routine:

1. Prioritize breaks. Every 25 minutes pause your work for 5 minutes. You can use apps on your phone or even just set a timer for the Pomodoro Technique. The 25-minute rule directs your attention to work for a period of time that is long enough to complete a task without getting mentally fatigued. And five minutes is short enough that you don’t lose any momentum. Plus, this break has been shown to improve your brain function and make you more productive, counteracting stress and reducing your chances of getting chronic diseases.

2. Get up and move. In that 5 minute break, walk somewhere and fill up your water bottle (yay, hydration). Once a day, try to do a longer break for 15 minutes with a mini workout. I’m not saying you have to get dripping sweaty, but get the blood flowing. Even a 2-minute burst of movement you will provide you the benefit of extra oxygen to your brain as if you did a 30-minute moderate workout. Remember that more is not necessarily better. Better is better so use your time efficiently.

If you’re at a place that allows being on the floor, Perry Nickelston once gave out a great suggestion at a workshop for a quick brain and body warmup. Place one of your hands on a body part such as your knee or shoulder and lie down flat and stand back up without taking your hand off. This helps your brain to learn new movement patterns and your body improve balance.

If you’re a bit skeptical about that, consider a simple hinge. NPR recently published an article about “The Lost Art of Hinging” and how our current bending patterns are the catalysts to spinal injury. And to expand past just the hinge, learn a little Foundation Training, which gives your spine space to counteract the compression from sitting. Besides helping you learn to move more like your anatomy intended, it also helps decrease & prevent back pain. One of the key exercises is learning to brace your body in a lengthened, hinged position.

3. Don’t take shortcuts. Avoid escalators/elevators.  Skip delivery and go pick up your order. Walk to the next subway station rather than getting on the one closest to you. These little things might seem insignificant and inconvenient, but every choice you make is either moving you closer to health or closer to disease. The choice is yours.

If you are in doubt if these changes will make a difference, then try it out. Yes, it does demand more structure and awareness than you might be used to. But you can’t expect things to change if you don’t change something. And we are here to help! We have health coaches who are trained in guiding and supporting you to make choices to support your goals. Our personal trainers are here to provide you with full body workouts created just for you, and built to highlight your strengths while accounting for any limitations. Let us know what we can do to support you in your pursuit of functional fitness.