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Ideas for the Desk Bound

One of my friends works on the computer all day. She asked my opinion on a video going around that had a nice upper body loaded/twist exercise as a 30 second quick fix-it for the desk bound. While the exercise felt pretty good to me, I doubt whether a lot of people who spend all day in a chair would be able to actually accomplish it without possible injury (specifically to the shoulder – see my last post), so if you really wanted to do this exercise, it should be taken in steps. (As an aside, would you do this in the middle of your office? I would but I’m the person who squats on the subway platform).

So what is the quick “fix it” solution for the desk bound?

Of course you already know the answer – the quick fix it for years of being sedentary is to stop being sedentary. You’re welcome! Next!

Ok I know, that’s not a very helpful answer. But here’s the thing: we’re still thinking that “not being sedentary” equals “exercising“. We replace our desks with treadmills and bicycles in the hopes that exercising more will offset those hours of sitting. This belief starts at a young age, when we expect our kids to sit quietly for schooling, offset with brief interludes of recess (unstructured play) and “exercise,” i.e., gym (structured play). So all you need to do to offset those hours in front of the computer is 30 seconds of stretching recess, right? I do think any break in sitting is well worth it, but it helps to start to broaden your scope of movement opportunities.

My flippant answer above is really the truth – stopping being sedentary is something you can do right now, this very minute. Sitting in and of itself is not the problem. Sitting in the same position all day is the problem. If you were to stand, before long there would be a rash of standing injuries – if you were to stand immobile all day. The answer is to move – and movement can be small and varied. For example, change your chair to one without back support. (Keep in mind these suggestions might be extreme for extreme cases, and should be transitioned to appropriately.) “Outsourcing your muscles’ work to furniture” is a line that Katy Bowman uses to describe the fact that we don’t use muscles to sit just because we are sitting – most of the time our muscles are turned off and the chair is supporting us passively.

Set your computer up on something (a couple of boxes) and stand sometimes, interspersed with sitting. Change your position a lot. If you are lucky enough to work from home on a laptop your opportunities are endless. I’m writing this squatting on a yoga bolster with my laptop on a stool. If you can stand for part of the day, place something under your feet such as a half dome (calf stretch) or Yoga Tune Up balls or tennis balls, a cobblestone mat (my favourite – and you can buy a boot tray or jelly roll pan and fill it with river rocks from the garden store – or the beach – for a cheaper and wonderful alternative).

Think of the joint positions your feet, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck and head experience the most and start varying them. Most of our work is done with the arms in one position all day long, with very little movement at the shoulder. The fingers are almost always in flexion. I see many people who spent their working lives at a desk who can no longer straighten their fingers all the way. Start stretching your fingers! Raise your arms above your head now and again. This video by Daniel Vitalis shows his workspace, it would be a great goal to integrate one or all of his ideas. I especially love his hanging bar but you could use a door frame and you don’t have to lift your feet off the floor to gain shoulder health.

Another thing we don’t move very much is our eyes. Daniel shows one way to vary our focal point by moving a remote keyboard far from the screen, but you can achieve a varying focal point as easily as looking out a window often and focussing on the furthest point you can see.

Think of these ideas as giving your future self a gift. If only we could look into a crystal ball and see ourselves at age 65, 70, 75 – that would probably be motivating. A lot of the ills that we consider a natural, inevitable result of aging are actually the result of years of mechanical mis-use. And it’s never too late or too hard to start moving more.

ps something to look forward to is the Katy Bowman/Mark Sisson collaboration – a comprehensive multimedia course called Don’t Just Sit There! Together they tackle the public health problem that is the sedentary office environment.

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