I try to get a good long warmup in before every practice. Why? Because for most of us we are showing up at training with tight muscles and a low heart rate after sitting at our desks and in I-495 or I-66 traffic for about 10 hours each day (myself included). Which got me thinking…
Take a minute to enjoy this recent New Yorker cover. I think it poses a significant question: why are we forced to pay hundreds of dollars a year and cut time out of our schedules in order to exercise? Why can’t our lives outside of 6:30-7:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays involve healthy activity too? Why is healthy activity the exception to our routine, rather than the norm?
The answer of course, is industrialization. If you live in the United States (which I believe is the case if you’re reading this email. Or you have a very long commute to Ben Brenman every week), there is an 80% chance that you are working a service job. In other words, it is more productive for you to move electrons with your finger tips than moving boxes with your core muscles, or crates of corn with your arms and legs. Also, around 80% of us now live in congested cities with urban layouts from the 1950s when population was half what it is now and each of those people were about half the size of todays average person. In other words, it is more convenient (or only possible) for you to sit in a car for an hour commute every day rather than biking or walking to the office. You also probably work a nine hour day. In other words, you spend the majority of the day sitting indoors, and the minority of the day being outdoors and active. In short, the dystopian world of laziness portrayed in Wall-E isn’t far off from Northern Virginia circa 2013. Our society is generally sedentary.
But this isn’t true everywhere. Studies of longevity and happiness show that places where people’s lives involve routine, light exercise as required by their environment (i.e. job, location, cultural norms, etc), live longer and happier lives. Whether those people are Italian pastoralists who have to herd goats up a hill each day, or Greeks who live on a car-less island and have to walk to the local market, or Japanese farmers who move through gardens all day, each of these peoples show us how to stay active without running marathons or having a Gold’s Gym membership. It is this routine, light exercise that keeps them healthy, rather than occasional jolts of high intensity exercise, which more often than not leads to injuries rather than improved long term fitness. As Americans, we have been forced to perform short-jolt workouts because of time necessity, not because they are better for us.
So the challenge for us then becomes, how does an average American merge their Excel spreadsheeting with the lifestyle of an Italian goat herder? (Probably not a question being asked frequently enough). While I am not recommending bringing a crop, leather sandals, and a sheepdog to work, there are some ways to bring light, frequent activity into your daily routine to improve general health (and running performance). The links in the next paragraph have recommendations for exercises, stretches, and good habits that can be done at the office.
As a runner, the benefits of routine, frequent, light exercise at the office include improved flexibility (and reduced chances of injury), better circulation, improved posture, and improved core and upper body strength. As a human being (assuming you’re not Pete Townshend, “I hope I die before I get old”), light exercise and stretching at work can improve your overall health. As a member of the training group, you’ll be showing up pre-warmed up, pre-stretched, and able to get more out of the day’s workout (going straight from the sitting at a desk and a car to sprinting 800 repeats is a good way to strain muscles). Much of the day spent sitting or standing can be put to use stretching or doing light exercise (e.g. toe raises while brushing your teeth or stretching your quads while waiting for dinner to cook). Since we usually only hold a stretch 30 seconds at a time, a little goes a long way.
So, lose the elevator and walk the stairs, stretch at your desk, do your leg lifts in your office chair, or lose the chair altogether and stand. Some of these exercises are a bit eccentric, so hopefully you have your own office with a door that closes.
Now you may be thinking, Charles, your job depends on people assuming that they require a designated trainer and an allotted slot of time each week and a chunk out of their paycheck in order to exercise. Obviously, the fact that this isn’t entirely true should be kept in the dark between myself, Bruce, and the rest of the secret society known to the outside world as personal trainers. But, as much as we may aspire to bike to work, take a walk during our lunch break, and stretch under our desks, for most of us modern life will still require going out of the way to work out. Making your daily routine more active helps, but designating a specific time workout time is still important. So, for the time being, Bruce and I remain relevant. See you at practice.
- The 12 Biggest Myths About Stretching (endomondo.com)
- Pre Work-Out Warmup Exercise 3: Lunges (hifitnessclub.wordpress.com)
- 10 most common excuses for inactivity (motivade.com)
- Three Tips to Maximize Exercise Results Each Session (deathofthediet.com)
- Can 12 Minutes of Exercise Weekly Make a Difference? (livescience.com)
- Finding Good Health And Fitness – Tips For You! (fitnesshealthexpo.com)
- Guidelines for Beginning An Exercise Program (girlfriendscoffeehour.com)
- Back Pain and Exercises (isaiah3020.wordpress.com)