Movement snacking: changing the way we view exercise
I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t enjoy a good snack. Whether it’s an afternoon pick me up or a pre-lunch boost, it’s something that keeps our bodies going throughout the day. So why do we limit snacking to just food? What if we applied the same concept but to our movement?
I’m not sure when sitting down every day for eight-hours became the norm. To me it seems like the most unnatural thing in the world to do. I remember starting my first ever job after graduating. I was given a desk and told that I’d be sat there from 8:30-6pm. 8:30-6pm. That’s 9.5hrs of just sitting. Granted, you might be lucky if you get a half an hour lunch break included within that time, as well as the occasional trip to the toilet, but to me it seemed like a hell of a long time. And that was before I even factored in my commute into London which involved sitting on a train for two hours a day. By the end of my first week at work I was in physical pain. My back constantly ached and I felt lethargic.
As someone who was new to working in an office environment, the culture of sitting seemed strange to me. The unwritten rule seemed to be that the more you were seen sitting at your desk the more productive and hardworking you were considered to be. Of course there have been numerous studies which show that this is not the case and that the opposite is in fact true. Despite this, however, there still seems to be a culture in offices which frowns upon those who take regular breaks which involves physically stepping away from a desk.
It wasn’t until 9-years into my career that I started to realise the full effect my seated lifestyle had impacted on my body. I found my chest had become tight and my neck ached from leaning towards my laptop screen. It was through practising Pilates that I began to realise how tight my hips had become. Years of sitting with my hips flexed had caused them to tighten up, while my glute muscles had pretty much become non-existent thanks to sitting on them every day.
So what’s the solution? While I’m not advocating that we all quit our jobs and become Pilates teachers (although it would help) we can try to change how we view the movement of our bodies. The reality of the modern world is that many people spend it sat at desks working. We try to counteract this sedentary lifestyle by hitting the gym a couple of times a week to combat this. Typically gym classes will last an hour, but an hour of intense movement once every few days wedged in-between 9.5 hr days of sitting doesn’t seem to stack up.
An excellent case in point is a study that was published in the American Journal of Human Biology. It involved monitoring the heart rates of the Hadza hunter gather group in Tanzania over four two-week periods. They found that the group moved much of the time, but rather than vigorous bursts of activity they moved regularly at a moderate and sustained level. Their findings showed that the group showed no evidence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. So what learnings can we take from the study? One idea is to try incorporating regular movement into our days in the form of snack-sized chunks.
A good way to do this is to walk more often. In her book Move your DNA, biomechanist Katy Bowman advocates duplicating the walking distance of hunter-gatherer populations, which equates to about one thousand miles a year. This may sound like a lot but it breaks down to walking 2.75 miles per day. However as Katy says, if we always walk 2.75 miles we won’t benefit from the physiological and tissue-strength adaptations necessary to walk longer distances. Therefore we need to divide our twenty miles of weekly walking into variable distances.
Monday: Two miles
Tuesday: Three miles
Wednesday: Eight miles
Thursday: One mile
Friday: Five miles
Saturday: Zero miles
Sunday: One mile
In her book Katy explains how we can apply the idea of movement snacking to walking:
“Walking uses a greater number of muscles (when done naturally) than most other activities, which means taking yourself for a walk is like taking your cells out to eat. If you walk your daily three miles all at once, and then follow them up with stillness, your body must wait a full twenty-four hours until it’s next “feeding” and waste-removal session. If you walk one mile three times a day, the cells are fed smaller amounts throughout the day and waste is removed more frequently”.
So step one on our movement snacking journey is to try walking more often.
In addition to this we can take a movement snack break every 30 minutes. These don’t have to last long, the key is to do anything other than sit. To be consistent, try setting a reminder on your phone or computer. If you’re stuck for movement ideas then why not try the following:
· Standing roll down
· Shoulder rolls
· Side bend
· Doorway chest stretch
· Chin tips
There are also plenty of ways to incorporate movement into your everyday life. Walking meetings are a great way to get outside and be productive at the same time, while working at a standing desk can help alternate the different loads you put through your body. You can also try walking to a colleague’s desk to ask them a question rather than emailing, or maybe don’t rush to grab that commuter seat on the train, after all you’re going to be sat at a desk most of the day so what’s the rush to be seated?
We can also start to change our views about movement in the workplace by considering that more bums on seats doesn’t necessarily equate to increased productivity.
So remember to be kind to your body and treat your cells to something to “eat” on a regular basis. It will thank you in the long-term.