Constant Movement vs. Working Out

One of the big discoveries that’s gotten a lot of play in the media over the past couple of years is the idea that sitting is awful for us.  So, many folks have been switching things up and creating standing desks.  I’m one of them – I switched to a standing desk in March 2014 and I have loved it.  But after I got used to standing all day (which I have to admit I did right from the start – I find that I do best when I jump in and do things “cold turkey” rather than ease into it), I discovered that all I’d really done was switch up one form of immobility for a slightly better one.  Slightly better, I said.

I have also heard about people who have gone a step further, and gotten treadmill desks.  That’s right, their desks are over a treadmill to allow them to walk all day while doing their work on the computer or whatever you might have.  And it’s not just about the walking and “burning those calories.”

The walking is constant movement.  And make no mistake, our ancestors walked a lot, everyday.

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and nutrition expert whose claim to fame is doing things like Ironman triathlons and other massively hard endurance races with as little training as possible beforehand (and he’s also gotten into OCR – check out his Obstacle Dominator plan and podcast with OCR professional and crazy-man Hunter McIntyre).  And that’s not to say he’s being foolhardy about it – it’s actually a very calculated plan that allows him to get the most possible effect from the training he does do.

But the key thing that I picked up from him when listening to his recent appearance on the Primal Blueprint podcast was that an important aspect of this training was his constant low-level movement all day.  He uses a treadmill desk, for example.  He has a pull-up bar in his office doorway and does a few every time he passes under it.  He works small movement spurts into his day, all day.  And notice I’m not saying exercise, I’m saying movement.  Lots of this stuff doesn’t qualify as a full workout, but it emulates as closely as possible the amount of effort that our pre-agricultural ancestors would do during the day.

Our friend Katy Bowman says the same thing. She talks about going out for little spurts of movement “snacks” throughout the day. So does Mark Sisson, who also extols standing and treadmill desks, as well as other lifestyle design methods that allow maximum movement.

And then last week on Facebook I saw this:

The message is pretty clear.  A “diet” of regular, full body movement throughout the day is the most natural way to keep yourself healthy.

So here’s a personal example/discovery:

Sunrise at Burr Oak State Park, OH

A perfect sunrise over the lake and hills of southeastern Ohio.

Last weekend, I went camping with my family.  That’s right: tents and sleeping on the ground, cooking over an open fire, carrying gear around, hiking, having to walk down the road to use the bathroom or refill the water bottle, etc.  It was a little bit of heaven.  (Off-topic: the picture to the left is of the first thing I saw outside the tent Sunday morning. Yes, I’m bragging a bit.)

But I honestly haven’t felt better – less stiff and more mobile – in months.  I was using my body as it was expected – moving around a lot, plenty of walking on uneven ground in minimalist shoes,  and I wasn’t sitting or standing in one place on a flat surface for hours.

The telltale moment for me was when I was down in a “Grok squat” and sat all the way down on my butt for a moment, and then popped right back up into the squat. Sounds simple enough, but I have been trying to work myself into that skill for a while now and haven’t been getting close. I’ve constantly had to give myself a little shove with a hand to get back to that point. But just like that, almost out of no where, I did it.

And, even more telling, since we got back to the world of infrequent movement, I haven’t been able to do it. My body has stiffened right back up after a week of “work” in the office. And that’s with a standing desk.

As a result, I’ve been making more of an effort to move around in my cube throughout the day. Some variations on squats, MovNat tripod transitions, and more stuff just to keep up that constant low-level active movement throughout the day.

And it’s working, but not as well as the camping environment. This goes back to looking for ways to shuck the conveniences of modern living and taking pains to do things in a way that requires moving more, even if it’s not as convenient.

So get out of that chair. Get rid of that electric can-opener or mixer. Sell your leaf-blower and get a rake and a push broom. Do what you can to incorporate movement back into your life. And look at it as getting whatever task you have to do finished while also keeping movement in your life, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

How have you incorporated low-level movement into your routines? Share in the comments!