Last week, I bought a new garbage can for the bathroom. This may not sound exciting but I had been searching for a small, lidded one to replace my tall, open-mouth one for months and lucked up at The Container Store. Had my son not been with me I probably would have made many more fun purchases because that place is my version of Toys “R” Us. Yes, color-coated bins and kitchen organization tools make me giddy.
Now, you might not think that the swap of one garbage can for another would impact my health, but it has. Before, I would stand at the sink and let my floss drop into the can’s open mouth, requiring virtually no exertion. Now, I have to squat and hold it for a couple of seconds while I open the lid with one hand and deposit my floss with another. The same activity has now become a total-body movement. And I do this new pattern several times a day, whenever a refuse opportunity crops up. And, life with a toddler provides many such opportunities.
I made this swap with the understanding that I’d have to work a little harder to achieve a task that used to be easy. In fact, I’ve started making a concerted effort to work harder at a bunch of small chores that definitely add up by the end of the day.
Examples of how I increase my daily movement quotient:
• Holding the water pitcher for several seconds as I fill it rather than letting it rest in the sink
• Squatting to my son’s level in order to take his shirt off rather than sitting on the couch to do it
• Eating some meals while standing or sitting on the floor instead of at the dining table (depending on how much time I spent sitting during the day)
• Buying only the food I need to make dinner for a single day so that I will walk to the store more frequently
• Wearing my son in a carrier while carrying groceries home rather than pushing him in a stroller and putting the groceries underneath it
Rather than eschewing exertion I’m embracing it
Part of the reason I’ve done this is to actually use the strength, endurance, and mobility that I build in the gym for something other than gym activities. After all, what’s the point of training if you don’t ever test its results in real-world scenarios (to know if your gym time is being used wisely)?
And, when my time is tight and I can’t make it to the gym or I’m not able to swing some ketllebells at home because I’m on mom duty, I can count on chores to provide me with a chance for movement.
Another reason I’ve changed my approach to everyday tasks has to do with being influenced by a very smart lady at the heart of a relatively new movement, aptly called Nutritious Movement. Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and admitted science nerd whose work I first came upon when doing research for my forthcoming book on pre-natal fitness. Since discovering her I’ve read three of her books and frequently listen to her podcast. She’s as prolific as she is influential.
One of Bowman’s main arguments is that we are designed to move and that living a more movement-based lifestyle will solve a lot of our physical ailments (and diseases). For example, she has gotten rid of almost all of the furniture in her home because sitting on the floor is more beneficial to our bodies than sitting in a chair. That’s because our muscles and joints are asked to do more to get down and up from the ground than when sitting on a couch.
If that’s hard to imagine then picture your knee. In a couch or chair your knee will be bent at about 90◦. If you sit on the floor the joint will likely be bent at a much greater angle, forcing it to use a bigger range of its available motion. Not only will using more range of motion mean that it will be there for you when you need (hence, the principle of use it or lose it) but maneuvering to and from the ground is a vital life skill that will be preserved with more floor-sitting.
A final reason that I’ve bought into the idea of making my life less convenient has to do with the recent abundance of research that highlights the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. The longer you spend sitting throughout the day the greater the rise in mortality rate. And, even more scary to me, is that these findings apply to those who regularly go to the gym but who still may sit for hours (1,2). As one study concluded, “Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity (1).”
So, it seems that overall lifestyle patterns trump a concentrated effort of intense activity sandwiched by long stretches of inactivity.
What you can do
A simple adjustment can have an additive effect and I urge you to start looking in your environment (home, work, mall, leisure locations, etc.) to create more opportunities for movement. See if you can squat to accomplish tasks that occur low to the ground instead of rounding your back or sitting. Try carrying packages or bags instead of using a cart or other object with wheels. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an oldie but goodie. And vary the positions in which you work at your computer: standing (elevate the keyboard on a crate), kneeling or sitting on the floor (use the crate as a desk on the floor). You are only limited by your creativity.
Your homework: make a list of common tasks that you perform in each environment you occupy during the day. There may be times and places in which you cannot change your habitual patterns. However, I bet there are a host of ways that you can make changes that will benefit your health. And then let me know what changes you make. The more you share your clever hacks the more you can inspire others to get healthier too.
Keep on Movin’