We know we need to build physical activity into our days. The more stationary your work is, the more important those movement breaks are.
That’s what we preach at EWI Works. But it’s not always easy to practice what you preach, let alone what you don’t preach.
My Journey to Movement
Movement breaks every hour, using a sit-stand desk, walking to your colleague’s desk instead of messaging them, going for walks, stretching and exercising at work – it seems like a fantasy for most people. And I used to count myself among them.
I knew what I was doing – sitting most of the day, at work and at home – wasn’t good for my health. You don’t need to work at an ergonomics company to realize that a body designed to move is going to have problems when it doesn’t do that one thing.
But, I’m human and sometimes we do things we know are unhealthy, like eating fast food because it’s quick or using drugs to relax.
“Where I am going to get all the time for those breaks?” I would think. “What a waste of time interrupting your workflow to stretch at your desk.”
I didn’t change until I didn’t have a choice.
The Day My Movement Journey Started
On New Year’s Eve, I was knee deep in powder, inhaling snowflakes as I floated down Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
Conditions were impeccable; there would be no wasting time with lunch breaks today.
As the runs flow toward the valley below, the snow starts to harden up and the impatient skier’s skis stop turning as his mind drifts to the pillow lines awaiting him at the top of the lift.
“Almost there,” I thought as the gondola came into view. I skied over a mogul and dropped down a foot or so. Nothing my brain deemed worthy of registering.
As my skis made contact with the crunchy, hardened lower-mountain snow, they sunk in.
They stopped moving, unlike the rest of my body which was suddenly flying face first toward the ground.
Picture Superman, but with his arms at his sides. First, everything went white as my face was consumed by snow.
As my body lost momentum, my feet (no thanks to my heavy ski boots) kept going, coming behind my back. This is called the ‘scorpion.’
My back bent in a way it never had before. A way it’s not supposed to. Like a child popping bubble wrap at Christmas, audible cracks shot up my entire spine.
The lower back, around belly button level, bent the furthest. A warm sensation shot out from the epicenter of the bend. It quickly melted away into line of numbness straight across my back.
“I’m paralyzed,” I thought, as I desperately gasped for air, my vision obscured by snow and small twigs that had gotten inside my goggles.
Too scared to move and unable to respond to my friends asking if I was okay, I tried to wiggle my big toe.
To my delight, it moved. I wasn’t paralyzed, at least not fully.
The Key to Recovery: Movement
I was evaluated and x-rayed: no breaks or fractures. But I was in chronic pain. I couldn’t move, sit, lay down or do anything without discomfort.
I soon started physiotherapy. They did some tests and determined I had some nerve damage, likely from crushing the spinal discs in my lower back.
The physiotherapist ran her fingers down both my thighs. My heart dropped a little. I couldn’t feel it as much on the right leg.
It would hopefully get better, she told me, if I was diligent with my physio. She gave me four exercises that day. Four more the next week. Soon I had over a dozen exercises I was supposed to be doing multiple times daily.
It was overwhelming, but I had never been so motivated in my life.
Still, I soon realized I’d never be able to do all of this before or after work. I had to start doing my physio at the office. And, honestly, I was more than happy to – anything to take the fire out of my back that would creep in after an hour of sitting.
So I brought a matt in and found a quiet spot in the corner of the meeting room. It’s empty much of the day, and when it’s not, I wait or take a short stroll instead.
Was it strange, at first, to step away from my desk to do squats and planks? Yes, it was very weird. I felt a little embarrassed, too.
But when the mobility of your body is at stake, you do what you need to do.
Making Movement Part of Your Day
A couple months went by and I asked my physiotherapist if my back would ever go back to normal. I had made some major progress, though ‘normal’ started to seem unrealistic. There were just some things I couldn’t do without pain.
She just told me to keep at it and I did. I also made it normal to exercise at work. It’s not weird anymore; it’s part of my day.
Luckily, working at EWI Works has made me very familiar with the levels of movement and activity we need throughout the day.
Taking breaks to move and change posture need to be part of your work routine. We even recently developed a free break reminder tool to make this easier.
Now, I take movement breaks throughout my day, usually at least once an hour. Often I’ll just go grab a glass of water, but at least twice a day I exercise for about ten minutes.
My back is better now and I’m healthier than I was when I started off. I actually can’t go through the day without exercising.
A sit-stand desk is good to have, like I do. But while I did start using it more, but I realized it’s not enough. You need to move.
It gets easier as you go along, too. I know my routine and I can do it quickly.
The Benefits of Movement
I’m happier, more comfortable, and more productive than I imagined I would be after a little exercise – the benefits are mental and physical.
It is worth it to get moving. Forget about it looking weird. Things only look strange the first couple times you see them.
It’s also not a waste of time. You will get more done, while freeing up time after work that you might’ve otherwise had to devote to fitness.
Someone recently told me, “as human beings we don’t recognize problems that exist under our noses unless there is tragedy.”
A sedentary lifestyle is a problem existing under many of our noses. Don’t wait for tragedy – injury, illness, pain – to do something about it. Get moving.