Have you heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”? We all know about the dangers of smoking but are we aware of the dangers of being inactive?
More people are working in a sedentary job where they sit all day and then they come home and sit again. How many people walk to the shops? You can have your shopping delivered direct to your door – nowadays you don’t even need to walk around the supermarket if you don’t want to.
Why is movement important?
- When you’re active your body releases ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins. That’s why even if you struggle to get out of the bed to go for a run or do yoga, you feel energized afterwards. Starting your day well helps lift your mood, boost your energy and this naturally leads to more productivity in everything else you do.
- Your joints are surrounded by synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant. Movement helps push the synovial fluid around the joint keeping it moving freely
- movement boosts circulation and brings a fresh blood supply to joints and muscles which brings nutrients and oxygen to tissues
- It builds muscle. Movement encourages the body to build muscle. The reverse is also true. A lack of movement means muscle tissue shrinks. You really want to have as much muscle as possible. This is even more important as you age. Part of the ageing process is muscle loss. The more you manage to slow this down the better off you will be! More muscle means less injury and a higher metabolism (which means you can eat more without gaining weight)
What if you don’t move enough?
short term issues from lack of movement
Have you ever woken up from an extra-long night’s sleep feeling stiff and sore? Or notice that after a day of sitting your back feels stiff? If you don’t move your body enough things get stiff and achey.
long term issues from lack of movement
A lack of movement over a long time leads to decreases in muscle strength which can lead to pain and increased risk of injury. Lack of movement is also implicated in serious diseases like heart attack, stroke, cancer and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
How much activity should I do?
Many people think (and this used to be me) that if you go to the gym a few times a week or do a couple of aerobics classes you are covered! This isn’t true. You cannot offset 8 hours of sitting a day by going to the gym a couple of times in the week. You need to have regular movement breaks.
A great way to start is to measure your steps. I have a fitbit watch which I wear every day and this tells me how many steps I take and also shows me my activity hour by hour. I love this as it helps me see when I am going long periods without moving.
You can get these fairly cheaply and I would suggest wearing one and noting any patterns.
For example are you more active on certain days? Why is that? What is your average number of daily steps? Find out what your baseline is and then look at ways to increase it:
- a 10 minute walk is about 1000 steps. Could you do 2 10 minute walks over the day and get an extra 2k steps?
- How about a quick walk in your lunch break?
- Could you stand when on long phone calls? Perhaps pace around the room?
- how about a dance class (try youtube for ideas)
Don’t be a weekend warrior
In other words don’t stay inactive all week and then attempt to walk 10 miles on Sunday afternoon. Spread your activity out and build up gradually. Otherwise you risk an injury which could set you back for weeks.
What if you have an injury or are in pain?
If you have severe or sharp pain especially following a fall or accident please get yourself checked out by a medical professional before trying to move through it. Similarly if pain persists for weeks check with your doctor you don’t need any treatment.
However if it’s a minor injury or ache and you know nothing is fractured or torn you need to keep moving!
Don’t get me wrong – if you’re injured you don’t want to be doing your normal workouts but you absolutely should keep on with some activity. Otherwise you risk secondary deterioration.
What is secondary deterioration?
Secondary deterioration happens when you get an injury, you can’t move as much or at all and the muscles at the site of the injury get weaker because they aren’t being used. The joint then has less support (think of your muscles, tendons and ligaments as being like a corset that support the joint) and is at greater risk of further injury.
Any rehab program will aim to reduce secondary deterioration as much as possible.
For example if you’ve sprained your ankle in severe cases you might not be able to put weight on it at all for a few days. You could however keep weight off it but circle your ankle around to keep the joint mobile. As the joint starts to heal you could probably do a little walking, perhaps using crutches to put a bit less weight on the joint at first. Then you could progress to walking without crutches and so on. There would be a little secondary deterioration at first from not weight bearing but by incorporating movement from day one that will be reduced and you will heal faster and have less risk of getting injured again.
If you have back pain perhaps you could go for a short walk a few times a day and do some easy stretches?
The main rule is to work within your pain threshold. A little bit of discomfort is fine, sharp pain is not. The exact plan you follow depends on the severity of the injury, your current fitness level and what your goals are.
Anna is a Sports Therapist based in Birkenhead on the Wirral. For more information contact me.
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