Let’s face it – the days where human beings live like cavemen/hunters and engage their bodies physically and move a lot out in nature, are long gone and not likely to return in a comfort-driven technology-oriented culture. Instead most of us Westerners spend their waking hours inside an artificially-lit building, slouched over a desk, staring at a glaring computer screen for hours on end and wondering at the end of the day why we are feeling tense, stressed, and exhausted even though our bodies were hardly challenged physically. Practicing physical non-activity day in day out for years on end will result in a crippled human body that is working way below its full potential.
To forego the detrimental effects of your current working position, I want to propose some practical hacks that may in the least slow down these effects. They all revolve around breaking the habit of sitting down for too long by interspersing regular bouts of physical activity:
1. Standing Desk
If your job forces to sit at a desk all day long, invest in or build your own Standing Desk. Sitting for an extended period of time not only forces you to adopt bad posture but also makes you feel more sluggish and drains you of mental energy.
Standing up is an easy fix to regaining a more upright posture and better shoulder alignment. Because your lower body muscles have to support your bodyweight they get activated a lot more than during sitting. The first few days of working while standing up will leave you tired and pretty exhausted. Take it easy at the beginning and gradually increase the time you stand up.
2. Just Get Up
If you can’t afford a standing desk or you don’t want your co-workers to think you are complete nutter or your type of job forces you to sit at a desk, at least try to get up every half an hour and do something physical. This could be just a 5 min walk (ideally outside), pushups, bodyweight squats etc – whatever makes you feel better afterwards. The crucial message here is that you just get up and move your body.
3. Convert Your Working Environment Into a Gym
Almost every workplace offers some kind of „equipment“ that facilitates movement. For example, if you are based in a multi-storey building, you could just do bouts of uphill stair sprints. Or, as I like to do, just bang out a bunch of pullups on the doorframe (grip strength needed). Also, currently I am lucky to have access to a gym at work where I will drop in occasionally for 15 min, and perform anything from machine-based movements to handstand pushups on parallettes. Or just do dips in between chairs. There are millions of options. My favourite on at the moment is to use our lab’s Segway and have fun on it.
4. „The Next Position is the Best“
The above is a quote by MWOD creator, Kelly Starrett. What he is trying to say is that regular shifting and change of position is probably the most optimal position of all. Even if you have a standing desk, it is still not optimal for your posture to stand up for hours. Standing for too long will fatigue you and yo end up with no core tension and slouched over shoulders. The upgrade to the standing desk is the Treadmill Desk where you walk roughly 2-4 km/h while working on tasks at your desk. Again, walking for too long isn’t optimal either. If you really have to concentrate on a task mentally, slow walking on the treadmill will probably be hindering your creativity.
Therefore, the fix to static sitting, standing or walking is to move to the next position. You could split up your workday into these 3 positions and not be fatigued from one single one of them. For example, when I work on my standing desk, I will just raise one leg on a chair and balance my weight on one leg. Makes a huge difference. HERE is K Starrett explaining to a tech crowd how to fix their workplace posture.
5. Jump Up & Down
In my opinion, moving your body in a vertical plane by simply jumping up and down is an incredibly effective method to get the fluids moving in your body. Not only does jumping increase your blood circulation but I have also found that I have more energy that can be converted into better productivity in cognitive tasks. Next time you notice the afternoon sleepiness ruining your productivity, just jump up & down. Of course, you could use a jumping rope but it’s not necessary.
As I learn more about the effect vibration has on the body in my current project, I am growing more convinced that movement (which is essentially vibration generated by the body) is crucial for optimal health. Allowing the Whole Body Vibration platform in our lab to vibrate me for one minute feels like I had just been massaged by a therapist.
6. Defy Gravity
Gravity is universal and dictates which direction everything moves on this planet. However, defying gravity occasionally is a great hack to break up workplace routine. You don’t have to book your next Virgin Galactic ticket to experience zero-gravity, you can always just perform handstands or headstands at work (not quite zero-gravity). Getting some blood rushing to your head and looking like an overripe tomato is kind of fun and will have your co-workers think you are even weirder than they thought. Give it a try!
7. Dynamic Stretching
When sitting down for long, our hip flexors (in particular the Iliopsoas muscles) are constantly in a contracted position. Anybody who has ever stood up after 3 hours of sitting will have noticed that their trunk area feels kind of tight and stiff. This is probably due to chronically shortened hip flexor muscles.
There is a quick and easy hack to fix this. Get into a lunge position and lean backwards slightly with your upper body while you feel the hip flexors getting a noticeable stretch. Keep it for 5-10 sec and repeat a few more times. If you want visual footage on how to stretch your tight hip flexors check THIS out. In addition, HERE is a brilliant video on how to improve your posture (hat tip to CriticalMAS)
8. Power Naps
Taking a nap is a normal practice in Japanese businesses. It is usually not accepted in the US, Canada or Europe. Nevertheless, if you have a good relation to your boss and can show that napping makes you productive, by all means take a nap. Just don’t go over 30 min. You will feel more tired afterwards and you won’t be able to feel asleep at night. Last week, I didn’t take a nap per se but simply laid down at work for 10 min with my eyes closed and it made huge positive difference to my energy level.
These are just a few suggestions people can try out. There is a lot more that I am willing to learn about to optimise my working position. Share yours.