When we look to find new strategies to improve our health, we often go to two general areas- diet and exercise. And there are many ways to skin a cat. Yoga, CrossFit, Ketogenic, intermittent fasting, and paleo are all great, and obviously diet and exercise strategies are important factors for improving the body, mind, and spirit. And as athletes we tend to keep an eye on our overall health because it improves our time in the water, on the mountain, or whatever else we enjoy doing. However the missing link, or something we may have overlooked is not what we do in the gym, or on the yoga mat, but rather it is how we compose ourselves and carry our bodies throughout the rest of the day. We are wired for movement not muscles.
There are many ways to tackle this idea, however it begins with a simple state of mind – awareness. And it’s best to start with addressing some fundamental and dramatically problematic movement errors that many of us have adopted. These errors do not stem from laziness or lack of willpower, but rather an unawareness to our daily movement. You see, we are designed to move and our patterns are imprinted in our DNA. They are biomechanically fundamental to our existence as humans. But thanks to modern luxuries we have forgotten these natural movement patterns and developed some nasty movement habits.
If you want to drastically limit the chances of becoming part of the staggering population of people with chronic pain, unnecessary injury, and low levels of energy, I urge you to pony up and think about how you move….all the time. Below are some common faults that can be easily fixed with a little awareness and you can start right now as you read this.
1. Death by Chair. Sitting at 90 degrees
You most likely have heard it by now. Sitting is the new smoking. Well that is a clever statement to get your attention. But here’s the deal, it isn’t new. Sitting has always been bad for us. The problems however are now in the forefront of physiological science. When you sit down, your leg musculature turns off, your blood glucose rises, and your hips and lumbar spine compress into a compromised position leading to back pain, and brain fog.
Why is this though? When you sit, you inhibit any muscular contraction in your lower body, which in turn affects the rest of the body because it is the muscular contraction that facilitates lymphatic drainage of all systems of the body. The whole system is wired for movement.
So what do we do about it? Never sit? While that would be great in a perfect world it certainly is unrealistic living in modern society. The reality is that there are times when we can’t avoid it. So whats the answer? Well, we optimize our position and we find new ways to avoid sitting in a chair. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Standing desks
- An ottoman to sit indian style, kneeling, or with a organized spine.
- Cultivate a flat footed squat as often as possible. It is the natural resting position of the human body.
- Move often and do not spend more that 20 minutes in the same position. Move from standing, to sitting (with good posture) to kneeling, etc.
- When forced to sit for long periods of time, pony up and take care of your body with some decompression exercises
2. Sleeping in a compromised position.
We spend about half of our life sleeping. It only make sense to consider the position in which we are in while doing so. Adjusting your sleep position is one of the most effective ways to hack your quality of sleep, which in turn affects the quality of your daily life. A simple way to know if you are sleeping in a good position is to analyze how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Are you achy and groggy? Chances are that you are in a compromised position.
It is important to know that there is not one best position. Everyone has different body shapes and do well in different positions. Here are a few of the best positions to try.
Sleeping on our back makes it easier for our head, neck, and spine to align and keep it in a neutral position. No extra pressure or curves are being added to the back. You are in a safe position as your spine stays in natural alignment all night long. It is important to keep the shoulders back while in this position as this will keep your spine from going into extension, causing lower back pain and tight hips over time.
There are 3 curves on the body that you should be paying attention to. One in the lower back, one in middle of your back, and one near the neck. The goal is to try to maintain these natural curves when you sleep. If you are like most and find it hard to sleep on your back, consider sleeping in the fetal position with a pillow between your legs and under your shoulder. This will keep your spine in a neutral position and inhibit your shoulder and hip capsules from cramping up into junkie positions.
3. Holding your phone like Golem
Texting is killing you. That is not an exaggeration. I’m not talking about nude photos and cancer from EMF, that is a whole different can of worms. I am talking about the fact that smartphone users spend 2-4 hours hunched over their phone reading emails and text messages. The problem is not the phone though. The problem is how you hold the phone.
Your skull (and the stuff in it) puts about 10 pounds of pressure on your spine while in a neutral position. Thats ok though. Your spine is designed to support that. When you hunch over like Golem to send your significant other a text, you double that amount of weight on your spine. That is not OK. That is a problem and it is going to cause you some physiological malfunction in your future if you do not take notice.
A simple solution to this problem is to pay attention to how you hold your phone. When texting keep your shoulders back and neck neutral. It is easy to fall into the slouched forward position. If it happens, it’s OK. Take notice and check yo self before you reck yourself.
So pay attention to these three common movements and how awareness of them can improve your overall health each day. Because the longer you keep your body as close to 100% as possible, the longer you’ll be out getting waves.