Guest post from James Morgan
HPC registered Physiotherapist
Our brains and bodies are designed to perform physical functions, i.e we are organised and wired to move. If you’re spending significant hours a day in a compromised position or simply just being static you’re going have to undo that posture. Poor nutrition, smoking, drinking and poor sleep habits make us more susceptible to the problems that make us less efficient and less optimal in all things; sedentary behaviours belong on that list. Prolonged static sitting is the physiological equivalent of smoking. The health detriments are no different; increased risk of spinal pain, musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, metabolic disorders and cardio vascular disease…. independently from diet and exercise.
For musculoskeletal health you have to have a process in place to support the grind and strain of everyday postures and habits. We know how to fix it, you don’t have to be an professional athlete. You just have to practice.
Everyone should train for physiological health, it is not attained nor maintained through passive processes. We should train to be better and more efficient human beings. You have to do something with progressive loads and do something for your heart and lungs; for efficient ‘engines’ you need to train them. For your whole system to be organised and work efficiently you must exercise; for example strength training, yoga or running will all make a more robust platform for resilience against postural strain and compromised sustained positions. In order to express better movement you need to specially train the systems of movement. Part of this should be dedicating 10-15 minutes a day to undoing each days effect of gravity on our habitual positions and compromised postures. You absolutely need to do some form of maintenance.
We can function with chronic conditions, how common are chronic diseases? From high blood pressure to low back pain to arthritis?….Common, but are these states normal? We strive for good health; we try to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. These things are good and they will make our bodies more resilient but they will not undo the effects of sedentary behaviours, we need to take specific action to address movement health.
So what’s your aim? Do we want just functional? Or do we want optimal? The human body is one functioning unit. We may compartmentalise systems in the fitness and health professions but in reality they are continuous with each other and one will effect the other. Therefore, how you control movement is linked with not only musculoskeletal pain, but also general health. Health at a tissue level, cellular level and chemical level with performance in activities of daily living from putting your socks on in the morning to sitting at a desk, it influences athletic performance at the most elite levels.
Too much emphasis is placed on flexibility in the sense of gross range of movement, strength and power. Not enough emphasis is placed on the software programming. The the body will easily compensate for movement inefficiencies, at least for a time, but with compensations come reduced power output (“horsepower”) and reduced movement economy (“MPG”). Only when a compensation fails do you get pain, the signal to protect a damaged structure. This is a latent indicator of a dysfunction – it is the last sign of a problem, not the first.
Bring mindfulness to how you move so it becomes a wired biological habit, patterns of behaviour are really skills in the brain. The neural pathway that lights up most of the time is the pathway that is reinforced physically in the ‘map of movement’ in the brain. It is important you realise that you are undergoing practice all of the time.
Take our most common culprit in poor movement behaviours, sitting. In sitting the front of our hips are flexed. The muscles in the front, hip flexors, get tight and jammed up over time. Also we are sitting on and compressing the muscles that provide the “horse power” to drive extension of the hip and that stabilise and control the back and pelvis (the glutes). Prolonged pressure can create a lack of blood flow to an area and reduce neural drive to a muscle making it lazy. So with sitting it means that the glutes get under active and the hip flexors get tight. Take any normal sports activity that requires explosive or quick motion, like running or jumping. Your glutes try and fire but they are trying to work against a tight hip flexor. What is the end result? You might end up with some pain or, at the very least, you get inefficient movement and inefficient force production. You have got to get out of the sitting position frequently; the absolute maximum sitting time should be 60 minutes. Your chair should be set so that your hips are higher than your knees and your pelvis should be supported in a neutral position. You should break up sedentary behaviours with some sort of anti-sitting movement every 30 minutes and you should carry out daily anti-sitting practices for example four minutes of hip flexor stretching, five minutes in a full squat position or some gluteal activation practice like some simple bridging exercises.
Sedentary behaviours are bad for us. Passive postures and poor movement habits negatively effect health and performance, independently of our efforts in the gym and in our food choices. Even in the presence of good postural habits gravity is constant; it will result in mileage on our bodies. So in the same way it is necessary to hit minimum nutritional requirements to maintain health. It is also necessary to pro-actively address the effects of gravity. Doing so will not only improve long term health but also improve performance in sporting and athletic endeavours.