A common mistake a lot of people make when deciding it's time to start and exercise program is to throw money at a gym membership and think that by committing financially they will have the motivation to workout more. Most people find themselves making excuses not to workout quite soon after joining and within two months and end up not using the gym at all. So what can you do in general to make yourself more healthy that doesn't involve financial outlay?
One easy way to increase your activity levels, improve posture and increase overall energy levels is very simple: Sit less and move more. A daily workout is a great thing and everyone should do some form of exercise each day. However a lot of the good things that your workout gives you can be undone by your daily habits. If during your workouts you are targeting postural or flexibility issues but then spend the rest of the day sitting, you can undo all that good work. If you workout 3-6 hours a week, that won't offset the 100+ hours you may be sitting each week.
Moving throughout the day is essential to health and well-being, more and more evidence is being released about the necessity for motion. As humans we are evolved as hunter-gatherers, moving continually throughout the day. In modern times we find ourselves in the outdoors less and more and more indoors sat using electronic devices or watching TV in our spare time.
Thanks to modern technological advances we have an array of devices that enable us to track our movement, sleep and calculate how many steps we take each day. By using such a device like an UP band, FitBit or iWatch, this can be the motivation that you need to adhere to a simple yet effective means of become more active throughout the day. With such a device, you can set realistic targets and monitor how much you move.
The walking targets suggested by the medical community is a 10,000 steps a day. For those who are already fit and active, a higher step goal may be more realistic, using this to supplement your workouts and be something to attain throughout the day. For those who are less active and do't currently workout, start with 7000-8000 steps with a goal of attaining the 10,000 step mark after 4-6 weeks of onset.
If the weather is unbearable such as hot humid summers, or during bad weather, you may choose to walk indoors on a treadmill. This is a good alternative, however it does have its limitations. There is no wind resistance to slow you down, so increase the incline to 1-2% to replicate the challenge of walking outdoors. Also you can vary the incline in general to replicate walking up a gradient. When looking at technique of walking on a treadmill, it is always best to trust your balance, swing your arms and work on keeping an upright posture. When swinging your arms you will burn 13% more calories and it allows for proper gait, improves balance and works your core more than holding on to the treadmill arms.
One of the modern day epidemics that doesn't get a lot of air time is sitting. We sit far too much. Think about your own life and think through the day how much time you spend in a chair or sofa.
Think about morning, we wake up and sit to have breakfast, then most people drive to work sitting, or sit on the bus or train. Whilst at work they then spend approx. 8 hours sitting at a desk, breaking to have lunch, which usually is consumed while sitting.
After work they go home getting back in the car/bus or train. If this is the time for the gym, do you do your exercises sitting? (biking, weight machines etc?). Later it's dinner time, which is usually while seated and afterwards maybe sit and watch TV? Even in bed the sleeping position may be on the side in the fetal position. All this puts tremendous stress on certain parts of the body, and what results is a lot of excess stress on the lower back.
I have had back pain at various points in life, but I'm fortunate enough to have a job that requires a lot of motion and I make an effort to work on posture and core strengthening and I stretch every day. What I do know is bouts of back pain can be serious and cause sick days and loss of income. It's funny that as I approach 40 my No. 1 fitness goal is to keep pain and injury free, and I think that's a wise mantra for most people.
Questions: 1) why do we get back pain from sitting? and 2) how do we do something about it?
The Why: The seated position causes major muscle imbalances through the body. The most common of these are Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) and Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS). When added together they are known as Double Crossed Syndrome (DCS).
Upper crossed syndrome is when the muscles on the chest shoulders and neck (the upper trapezius, levator scapula and pectoralis major and minor) are tight and the (upper back muscles (middle and lower trapezius and rhomboids) are weak and unable to stabilize the shoulder girdle. The typical look of someone with this condition is rounded shoulders and forward head lean. This condition can cause a pain in the upper back and neck.
With Lower Crossed Syndrome the low back extensors are tight as are the hip flexors ( iliopsoas and rectus femoris), while the hamstrings, gluteals (butt) and lower abdominals are weak. This person typically resembles a larger than normal curve in the lower back (often known as swayback) with the pelvis tilting forward (a belt line that tips from back to front). This is often a major cause of low back and hip pain.
If you have either of these conditions and go swing a golf club, there is a high percentage that you will experience back or hip pain and possibly injure yourself. It's therefore a great idea to get a postural and FMS screen and and work with a trainer on addressing these conditions. By addressing thee muscular imbalances, you can get your posture more stable and muscles firing correctly, allowing you to swing the golf club with better efficiency.
The Solutions: ways to avoid sitting, move more and address imbalances.
If you have the chance to walk to work, or take a bus or train where you can stand, try it. If you drive to work, try parking further away from the building making you walk the rest of the way. At work, get a standing desk. It's better for your back and you'll burn more calories. If you can't do that, then take regular breaks each hour, even if it's to go to the water cooler and stretch your legs. Take phone calls while standing. If you have to hold meetings, see if the party involved would want to walk and talk, getting some fresh air.
If you drive to the mall, park at the outskirts of the parking lot and walk over and take stairs over escalators/ elevators. Schedule regular walks with friends and enjoy the outdoors, anything that gets you moving more sets you on the way to being healthier.
As for the imbalances that sitting poses, you should regularly stretch (2-4 times per day, 30-60secs per stretch) the hip flexors, quadriceps, chest and upper trapezius. When working to address LCS, strengthen your gluteals and hamstrings with butt bridges plus lower abdominals with pelvic tilts. For UCS, stretch the chest and lats while strengthening middle and lower trapezius with Y-T-W-L shoulder series and the rhomboids with rhomboid rows.
If you are unfamiliar with a foam roller, it'll probably be the best $20 you'll ever spend. Use it to roll your quadriceps, hip flexors, gluteals, chest, lats and back (being careful to avoid the lower ribs in the low back area, spend more time on the mid and upper back).