Movement is Medicine.
So we keep saying.
But what does that mean exactly?
Movement is not a pill you can take. It requires A LOT more effort. And in our current situation, it also requires motivation, adherence and perseverance.
In our last blog we looked at the idea behind the 10,000 steps “myth” – and posed the fact or fiction question.
What did it come down to?
The bottom line: Yes, there is a minimum number of steps per day to keep your heart ticking and yes less than 10,000 steps (7-8,000 to be exact) was a good normal for health, but hitting 10,000 or more steps each day definitely comes with some added health benefits!
Recently in the clinic I have seen a few teenagers whose presentations highlighted the importance of movement. This is in addition to the many working adults who have been suffering with more aches and pains working from home and those that normally struggle with the stress and strain of the sedentary office lifestyle.
So, what about school age children and teens learning from home?
For kids, these lockdowns are hard, if not harder, given they no longer have the same social contact, and their daily movement habits have significantly changed.
There is no more walking to school or walking to/from the bus stop. There is no more walking from class to class. No more recess or lunch breaks where they get to move around. And PE on Zoom is just not the same!
Instead, they are spending the majority of their “school” day in the bedroom. At their desk. Not moving. And now seeking out physiotherapy care for aches and pains more commonly seen in the sedentary office population.
This highlights the many benefits of moving throughout the day.
So why does your movement matter so much?
1. Increases your metabolic rate
Metabolism refers to all the involuntary activities completed by your body (e.g. breathing, circulation, nerve activity, etc). Your metabolic rate is the rate at which you burn calories to perform these bodily functions.
It is thought that prolonged sitting can slow down your metabolic rate. This can affect your ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and break down fat. This may lead to weaker muscles and bones and negatively impact your energy levels!
In a study by Yates et al. looking at breaking up periods of prolonged sitting with short bouts of walking (not standing), they showed clinically meaningful improvements in metabolic health in older adults.
- Resistance training – lifting weights or body weights exercises. Muscle burns more calories than fat and when you have more muscle your body works harder to preserve your muscle mass.
- Stand up regularly. We typically recommend not sitting for longer than 40-60 minutes before getting up to grab a drink, go to the toilet or stretch.
- Perform some body weight movements throughout the day: squats, standing heel raises are some easy ones to do right by your desk.
2. Reduces muscle fatigue/Increases blood flow to your muscles
Who can sit perfectly all day?
And as such, the importance of regular physical activity is demonstrated.
With prolonged sitting many people report muscle fatigue, which can be felt as achiness or burning in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back and buttocks.
A study by Waongenngarm et al. looked specifically at which muscles fatigue after an hour in office workers, and detected that prolonged slumped sitting may relate to fatigue of the internal oblique and transverse abdominal muscles. This may compromise spine stability, which is one of the reasons it can be hard to sit for hours! Your muscles get tired. When prolonged and ongoing muscle fatigue can lead to pain.
Movement tips to ease/prevent muscle fatigue, increase blood flow to your muscles:
- Practice the 20/20/20 rule: Active sitting x 20 minutes, Active supported sitting x 20 minutes, relaxed and supported sitting fox20 minutes
- Or the 15/15/15/15 rule: as above in 15 minute blocks with the 4th block to get up and move around!
- A mix of standing and sitting, e.g. 40 minutes sitting, 20 minutes standing or any combination, more standing if you prefer
- Regular stretch breaks. Try one of our favourites – the table stretch is a great whole body stretch. Add some calf stretches to ease tension through your legs. We offer many “Reset” stretch sessions on Redo Online.
- Whole body movements such as squats are a great way to move through your hips, knees and ankles to get blood flowing through your lower half!
3. Decreases eye strain
The shift of school age children to devices is not new, but with COVID and learning from home, kids are getting a lot more screen time on the computer and likely less time outside during the equivalent of the “normal school day”.
As such, there have been reports of increased eye strain leading to myopia or nearsightedness.
In a longitudinal study of over 5,000 children Enthovan et al., found that computer use in young children was associated with myopia. Prolonged hours of reading also had a strong association with nearsightedness. What they, and other studies found, is that the effect could be lowered by outdoor exposure. Getting outside and away from screens allows the eyes to relax.
Movement tips to ease eye strain:
- Take regular breaks from devices/screens. Morning tea or recess and lunchtime are the perfect times to get away from screens, get a drink/snack, do some stretches or move your body – Bodyweight exercises or a walk around the block.
- Get outside. Get some fresh air. Allow your eyes some time to relax.
- Make sure your desk set-up is ergonomic. See our tips here.
4. Breaks up the (monotony of the) day
After almost 3 months of lockdown and a lot of time cooped up at home on screens, kids and adults alike are struggling.
With focus, motivation and energy.
Everyday is like Groundhog Day and when that’s what your life comes to, it is understandable that it can be hard to keep going.
Speaking to a few of my younger patients and their parents over the last week, it is not uncommon for them to stay in their room ALL DAY. Some barely even leave their bedroom and if they do it’s for food and then back they go.
When kids are missing out on the social contact they would normally be getting, isolating themselves in their room on one device or another only fuels the monotony of the day.
- Any breaks to be had – make them outside the bedroom!
- Get outside – walk around the block, take the bike for a short ride or even get the family out for a 20 minute walk after you eat!
- When getting outside for a walk, mix it up – take a different route the next time you head out!
5. Improves your breathing
Prolonged sitting or hours at the computer often lead to postural changes like slumped sitting and forward head posture. With this, muscles around the neck and shoulders tightened. Consequently there is more potential for breathing dysfunction.
In a study of young healthy males they found that slouched sitting postures reduced diaphragmatic tension and movement. This suggests that with prolonged sitting and subsequent slouched posture, breathing patterns change, likely to a more apical or chest pattern. With this, more breaths/minute, more work for the neck, shoulder and chest muscles, leading to more muscle tension at rest.
- Ergonomics are key. Sitting in a slouched position minimizes your “breathing window”, reducing movement of your diaphragm and shifting work to your neck and chest muscles. Practice active sitting and make sure to sit back in your chair.
- Get up and move – go for a walk, do a few of your favourite stretches – table stretch, chest stretch, eagle arm stretches
- Meditate! Check in with your breathing. Focus on slow breaths in and out through your nose. Next time you sit down, before you start your work, try taking 5 slow breaths!
6. Brings mental clarity/reduces brain fog
There are many documented ill effects to our cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health from prolonged or excessive sitting. Prolonged sitting has also been associated with poor executive function, memory and attention which are important cognitive aspects of performance for school and work.
One study on sedentary office workers found that by breaking up prolonged sitting with standing or light-intensity exercise at the workplace one could see positive effects on cognitive performance. They also found positive effects on postprandial hyperglycemia (high blood sugar after eating), insulin resistance, inflammatory markers and hormonal regulation (e.g. cortisol and dopamine).
- See all of the above
- Move and move often
Those are only 6 reasons why movement matters. There are countless others. When we move regularly we are able to achieve all of the above. Our digestion, sleep and mood will benefit too!
Regular movement is best as a part of our daily routine. This is in addition to other exercise routines – yoga, weights, running, cycling, etc. Keeping your body moving through the day will only benefit you, keeping you strong and mobile when exercising and therefore that much more enjoyable!