Rebecca Stiles RD
How to Get More Movement When You Don’t Have Time for Moving More
I know I’m not the only one whose life changed dramatically starting in March of 2020. When my area shut down for covid, it was like someone switched off a part of my life. Like so many of us, that part was the one in which I did most of my movement. I went from full three days a week prepping and teaching yoga classes to barely leaving my house.
Since then, though much has returned to a new normal, I never went back to my automatically movement-rich life. For a variety of complex reasons, I did not return to teaching yoga. I started my own freelance writing business, and instead of a high level of weekly active time, the bulk of my work day is spent at my computer.
I often wake up stiff, my hamstring muscles are tight by the end of the day, and my shoulders and wrists get cranky. My body regularly complains that its needs are not being met.
And here’s the thing: I exercise all the time! Most days of the week, I do a mix of yoga, weight lifting, and biking or rowing for at least 45 minutes to an hour. I tell you this not as a brag but as an example of how exercise is not the same as movement.
Exercise Doesn’t Cut It
Don’t get me wrong, exercise is great. It builds muscle, increases cardiovascular endurance, reduces stress, and sets the stage for better sleep. Dedicated daily exercise is essential to my health and well-being, and I highly recommend everyone find an exercise regimen that works for them.
One of the most important benefits of traditional exercise is the opportunity to do a variety of movements that might be missing from our daily repertoire. Let’s face it, in our day-to-day lives, the ways we move are pretty limited. Exercise truly shines in its ability to get us moving in ways we otherwise wouldn’t.
But, studies increasingly show that a daily bout of exercise is insufficient to counteract the negative health consequences of our sedentary lifestyle. Most of us sit or are otherwise inactive for upwards of 8 hours a day. Even basic math tells us that exercising for an hour can’t possibly balance that out.
Human Bodies Need a Lot of Movement
Our ability to move is one of the keys to our evolutionary success. Early humans are believed to have moved the equivalent of 8 miles every day. When you imagine the conditions in which our bodies evolved to thrive, it’s easy to see why our current sedentary lifestyle contributes to so much disease and bodily discomfort.
How our bodies function and respond to the environment around them have not changed at nearly the pace of the world we live in. Modern culture and technology have improved life immeasurably. And yet, experiencing good health still requires us to move like our ancestors.
This doesn’t mean we all need to go back in time to forage and climb trees and chase antelope. But, we do need to move more, in whatever ways are compatible with our unique life situations. I certainly need to move more, and as my work has become more sedentary, I have had to respond by being more creative.
How I move more (and you can too)
As Katy Bowman says, “Look for the minutes.”
Let’s assume for the moment that you, like me, already have the exercise thing going. Whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour of devoted time, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve achieved the minimum, and I mean that in the best possible way. So many people do not even do that!
But, I’d guess that if you’re already an exerciser, you hope to care for your body so you live better and longer. To do that, what you really need is a movement-rich life. There are 24 hours in a day, and if you only move for one of them, that’s 23 hours where you’re body is movement-starved. Ok, so hopefully, 8 hours of those are sleeping, but you get the point.
And, so I don’t leave anyone out, if you’re NOT a regular exerciser, adding more movement is particularly powerful. While I’m a big believer in the necessity of focused training through exercise, what’s most important is to move more. And that applies to everyone.
How you can move more is highly dependent on what your day looks like. But no matter your situation, I’m pretty sure most of us can find some minutes scattered throughout the day to build better movement habits. Here’s what’s currently working for me.
Set the stage
Moving more starts with the environment in which you spend your time. I continue to work on creating a desk space that has multiple sit/stand options. Yes, I often get super focused and forget to move, but having many body position options available makes me more likely to change things up. My setup includes:
A sit/stand desk
An exercise ball for sitting
A therapy ball for rolling my feet
A half dome to stretch my calves
A yoga mat nearby
A pull-up bar over the door to my office
Some days, when I’m especially conscious about moving my body, I probably look like a fidgety toddler. But it feels good! And I’m just as productive as when I sit still.
Take good breaks
When I need a short break from work, I try to choose something active. It’s tempting to think of taking a break as “resting” or sitting down to chill, but my experience has been that my body receives more “rest” from movement than from more sedentary time.
Maybe what we need a rest from is stillness.
Working from home allows me to routinely step away from work to do a chore. You heard that right, CHORES. Chores are the best when it comes to built-in movement. They are also surprisingly refreshing as a way to break up the workday. Doing laundry, tidying the house, watering plants, and taking out trash are all ways to “rest” in motion. It’s decompression time for the brain and a break from stillness for the body.
Weather permitting, I try to step outside, even if I only wander around the yard for a bit and inspect my garden. You may never have thought of walking around your yard to check out the trees and plants around you, but it’s more interesting than you might think.
Just go outside and have a look around. Who knows, you might squat to pull a few weeds, pick up some trash, or sweep your porch. Once you get your body in motion, especially outside, opportunities will present themselves to keep you moving.
I’ve found my kitchen is one of the best rooms in the house to sneak in movement. Why? Because I never sit in there. It’s one of the only rooms in the house where there are no sitting options making it the ideal place to stretch and move in between cooking tasks. I lunge, squat, down dog at the counter, do push-ups and dips, and stretch my arms overhead.
Heart + Bones has a fun little video with a few ideas if you like a visual.
You’re guaranteed to be in there multiple times a day, so why not make the most of it?
Sit on the floor
Some days, my couch feels like my enemy. It’s so darn comfortable! And I have a lifetime of programming that entices me to sink down into its fluffy depths for a restful time of reading or TV watching.
But, truthfully, I rarely feel great after spending a length of time there. And something strange happens when I sit on my couch. I magically become incapable of moving. Like, I might not even shift my position for a whole 30 minutes. There may be no greater immobilizer than a comfy couch.
So, get yourself a soft rug and maybe a cushion or two and sit on the floor. I like to make a deal with myself that if I sit on the floor for the first 10 minutes, I can move to the couch after that. Sometimes I stay on the floor longer, stretching and moving, and sometimes I melt into the couch after those minutes are over. But either way, sitting on the floor is itself more movement than I’d get on the sofa and most likely, while you’re there, you’ll shift and move and stretch in a variety of ways you’d otherwise never try.
Movement Ebbs and Flows
As I write this now, I’m sitting in my office chair, and I haven’t moved in the last 45 minutes. Clearly, I’m an imperfect mover. All these lovely ideas are sometimes part of my every day, and sometimes I’ll go months when I let things slide.
But I hope to remind myself and you that no movement is wasted. Even if you don’t find a good rhythm where you’re moving regularly every day, could you move right now or in the next 10 minutes? Good. Do it. Do whatever small thing you can.
Your life is unlikely to make moving easier for you. We all face barriers, not the least of which are our own habits and inertia. Keep the bar low and see how many times you can jump over it today. Maybe even jump over an actual bar if you can. It all counts.
As soon as I finish this paragraph, I’m going to get up and walk into my kitchen. Maybe I’ll hang on my pull-up bar for a minute, and perhaps I’ll do some lunges and squats while I prepare my lunch. I can feel in my bones that movement is a deep need, and the more I do it, the better I feel. It’s time to get moving.