This past Sunday, I went for a walk with friends at the habitat and wildlife sanctuary in Belmont. After a small hike, we were able to lie on the grass in the garden and feel the warmth of the sun on our bodies. It was amazing how much this small action affected our moods and lifted our spirits. Our bodies were given the space to move again, after such a long winter of being covered, sheltered and cooped up. It felt like we were breathing in a whole new way, which is essentially what took place. Humans are designed to move. And movement is actually the muscles’ way of breathing. When we move our muscles, fresh oxygenated blood travels throughout our body, and clears away stagnant energy and toxins. It also elevates mood enhancing chemicals and hormones.
Winter often causes us to become more sedentary. However, even with the coming of Spring, many of us are still confined to office jobs that promote sedentary habits. Below is a diagram that shows the effects of prolonged sitting on the body:
Here’s a summary of how prolonged sitting has been found to effect the body:
- Blood flow slows down, which creates poor circulation and fluid build up in the legs; muscles become idle, which creates increased insulin (sugar) levels in our blood; bones become soft due to the lack of weight bearing activities; the spinal disks become inflexible; the back, neck, shoulders, and hips become tight, limiting our range of motion; and our abdominal muscles and glutes go unused, growing soft over time.
Among many other benefits, movement:
- Boosts antioxidants to kill free radicals that damage cells; allows muscles to pump fresh oxygenated blood to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals; and lubricates the spinal disks, which enables absorption of blood and nutrients into the body.
Luckily, it doesn’t take much to counter some of these effects. The first step is to simply heighten our awareness of how long we are sitting each day. As a general rule of thumb, getting up at least once an hour will help counter the effects of sitting. A great way to guarantee getting up often is to drink a lot of water! Drinking 8 (8 oz.) glasses of water a day is good general guideline. Another great way to calculate how much your particular body needs and guarantee enough water to flush lymph and toxins from your body is to drink half your ideal body weight in ounces of water each day.
Small increments of activity throughout the day will give your body respite from sitting. This may include taking a short walk (or even walking around your home/office when on the phone); taking brief stretching/yoga breaks (some examples illustrated in the diagram above); opting to take the stairs when you can; or walking over to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing them. Even simply standing for one to two minutes every hour can help counter the effects of sitting! The author of this article sets an alarm every hour as a reminder to get up and move. The sample movement schedule he lists here may seem like a lot, but there are great suggestions on how to add small routines into your day to help keep you moving.
Just considering some of these options without placing any judgment or pressure on yourself is a great place to start. Taking one step at a time, literally placing one foot in front of the other is an easy way to slowly introduce more healthy habits for your mind and body this Spring.