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The 5 minute sitting solution

“Sitting is the new smoking!”

“The ability to get down and get back up from sitting on the floor without using your hands has been shown to predict life expectancy ”

The headlines have been every where recently regarding our seating habits.

So the 5 minute sitting solution – stand up and walk around while enjoying this article….sneaky eh?

A chance to think

It is Saturday, clinic has finished and I am on the train down to the coast. I was asked to write a few paragraphs on the journey down about exercises that would help those stuck at a desk all day, however as sanity started to click in with every mile I travelled out of London my mind began to wonder. Fresh sea air, the sound of sea gulls, a horizon which goes on into infinity and freshly caught fish for tea all await. The shoes will be off, the feet will be dipped in the icy cold channel and then challenged by the undulating pebble beach on the way back up to the promenade. It is time to take a deep breath in and to feel alive again. Is the solution to being at a desk all day really a five minute exercise protocol and a series of sticky notes on a computer screen reminding us to get up and walk around? Time for a blog post ‘U’ turn.

How is that we have all become increasingly detached from this incredible environment that inspired us to adapt and evolve? There is nothing in the design of our amazing bodies that has been left to chance. Everything is laid out with precision and purpose to serve us as we rose up onto two feet. We evolved to move. From the well worn notch in the top of the femur that was chiseled due to the obturator tendon rubbing away the bone as we walked, to the direction of the muscle fibres through out our body and the bony protrusions that occur in response to the pull of the tendons on the bones, our form and function are without doubt inextricably linked.

Killing with kindness

In an age when technology has become so advanced that it becomes outdated as soon as it is created, could we actually be slowly killing ourselves with kindness? Is our unrivalled intelligence ultimately going to become our downfall? Have those bodies that became so finally tuned over thousands and thousands of years finally lost their raison d’être?

These musings are by no means unique. Whole books have been written and TED talks given on the subject, however it is on these trips down to the coast that I get a chance to close my eyes and reconnect by plugging myself back into nature. I get a chance to not just read about it, but to feel it in my mind, body and spirit.

The solution (….or possibly not)

In all our wisdom, and being the genius business and marketing creatures that we are, we have managed to create whole new industries to combat the effects of being environmental divorcees.

Cue the health and fitness industry

I entered my first gym over 25 years ago now. I loved it. It was a building that was brutally honest in its intention. Come and lift heavy stuff and get strong alongside other people who want to do the same thing. There was a sense of camaraderie. People did not understand what went on within those 4 walls and that was just the way we liked it.

Enter the 90’s, the decade when tap water became poisonous and bottled water became the secret to eternal youth (add a hint of sarcasm there) and the gym began its evolution to becoming a lifestyle must. In a world where we work too hard, move too little and are starved of natural daylight, the solution was obvious — jump on the tube/cab/car to another box (normally in a dark basement) sit on a bike which goes no where and requires no balance and sweat for an hour. Add on a monthly membership with a stringent cancelation policy to deter any change of mind and after a few initial bemused looks we accept this and it becomes the norm.

Visit the doctor…check

Book the dental appointment…check

Hit the gym three times a week…check!

The body that initially evolved to satisfy its movement and survival needs now requires ‘movement medication’ to maintain it when its reason to adapt has been removed.

The sequel

Now we have become wise to the fact that weight machines and stationary bikes are not ‘functional’ ways to stay fit, so a new type of gym has emerged. The revised solution — remove all the kit from the gym and re-market it as a functional space that is designed to allow movement. The rebranding occurs and before we know it we believe that this new airy/empty space is indeed an evolutionary concept that well deserves its new price tag. Hmmm. Fitness becomes yet more complicated, the human animal becomes more confused about how to do it and those divorced from their environment become ever more reliant on those who prescribe their exercise dose (I should know I am one of those people who prescribes the sets and reps and have found myself questioning my approach and how I can make things simpler). I wonder what those aliens would think as they looked down trying to work out the mind set of this human species as they pedal on their stationary bikes. Surely it cannot be long before setting foot outside of the gym door is trademarked and licensed by a forward thinking fitness provider under the heading ‘Primal Walking Systems’ and we all line up debit card in hand ready to sign up.

A radically new solution

Unfortunately for the business savvy this solution is free, uncomplicated, has unlimited variation and is outside in abundance. Here are a few examples (copy written by danielbaines.co.uk just in case any one is thinking of picking this up and branding it).

  • Lace up the trainers, saddle up the dog and walk. For variation try turning left of right out of the door and shake it up as deemed applicable (I am working on an app to help with the logistics of this decision making.) If everyone walked a little more, I am guessing my practice would suffer, but the human body would be infinitely more resilient. Walking is a great time to breath, think, observe and reconnect with those muscle slings and joints that lay dormant while sat at a desk.
  • Take the trainers off and experience what it is like to feel the grass under your feet. Exchange the grass for any number of surfaces that will stimulate the sensory rich nerve endings in your feet. Walking on pebbles might leave you wincing with pain, but the synapses in your brain will be having a party as they work out how to get the job done. Instead of the inherent clumsiness which we believe we are genetically cursed with, we now present our brain with deliciously rich stimulation, which allows it in turn to create a more refined and graceful movement output. How many sets and reps? Just get from the beach to the pavement with as little pain as possible. Subconsciously driven movement and balance in its purest form. The perfect antidote for fallen arches (other wise known as ‘nature’s insoles’©).
  • Dance. I am kind of bias here as I love it, but what about those people with two left feet? We are the only creatures I know of who can sit and tap their foot in time to the music while humming along and making a cup of tea at the same time. Can you imagine the brain power it takes to do that. Add a smile to your face while you are doing it, a memory of when you first heard the song and the thought of the girl or boyfriend you had at the time and we are talking a huge number of megabytes being fired up. Could dancing be the perfect solution to the focused multi/mono tasking of the working day?  From an evolutionary perspective I am pretty sure we would always have danced in some shape or form. If you do not speak the same language you can communicate with dance (mind drifts to a rum fuelled night in Lanzarote circa 2000). When I teach Movement Geek classes I love to see the look of concentration on people’s faces as they experience the steps. They watch, listen and emulate until the motor patterns start to feel less alien. The brain is literally glowing with activity. As the movement starts to sit they begin to explore their own flavour. A shoulder shrug here a change in fluidity there, then a smile pops in and I know that they are there. Comfortable in their bodies, evolving in front of our very eyes. Comfortable not knowing and responding to their moment and environment. The best bit is that every time the music comes on the radio afterwards it ‘anchors’ the movement, the steps  come back, the feet start to tap and before you know it they are dancing around the kitchen again.
  • Sitting. Yup you heard it right. The radical new solution to sitting all day is sitting! As I was writing this an email popped up in my inbox with a series of different ways of sitting on the floor. Genius! Cross legged, legs straight out infront of you, sitting on your heals, sitting in pidgeon pose, sitting in all variety of shin box variations the list is only limited by your imagination. Even sitting on a chair is not the end of the world, but sitting in the same chair, in the same position every day might be where we are going wrong.
  • I am way over budget on word count now but the list could go on. Cycling, swimming, climbing, any number of sports both group and solo, jogging, hiking, rolling down hills, climbing back up hills, climbing trees, even sex (though I am not sure that promoting that as an outside activity should be encouraged). Our bodies evolved to move in all different directions, levels and speeds with the intention of achieving something. If the word exercise leaves you feeling cold and uninspired try replacing it with something which requires mastering a new skill set. It will re-energise you and make you feel like the child who first managed to ride their bike without their stabilisers-scared, exhilarated and alive.

The desk bound exercise solution 

While I have completely ignored my brief to create a series of desk based exercises, inadvertently my ramblings above might ultimately be my most complete guide for those stuck behind a computer.

The next blog will be a video of all the exercises I came up with while writing this article, but in fact all of this movement was inspired by the authentic movement that our bodies crave when they are allowed to play in their natural environment. Instead of a solution for those who find themselves having to sit at a desk all day, this will be more of a movement ‘sticky plaster’ which I hope you will find useful in your own quest to find peace within your bodies.

On a personal note the day dreaming on the journey down has created movement within myself and questioning the sanity of the rat race on the way down inspired me to return back to the coast and make it home again. The feeling of pebbles under my feet are only a few months away.

Thanks for humouring me for 5 minutes and I hope you enjoyed the walk.