The other day I sat back in a cushioned reclining chair, envious, as I watched my 10 month-old daughter sitting on the floor with one foot up to her ear as if it were a telephone. I was reminded of a picture my mom loves to show of me at about four years-old biting my big toe. Today, that seems about as unattainable to me as flying.
When and how our bodies start stiffening up are complex questions. However, I think most people can agree that a sedentary lifestyle plays a significant role in the rapid decline of available motion that the body will allow. Generally speaking, the lifestyle here in our corner of the world (just like in many “developed” communities) involves, 1) low movement frequency and 2) infrequently (or not at all) taking all of our joints through their FULL range of motion.
When? We tend to think it happens gradually, starting when we get on the north end of our thirties and forties. Physiologically there is truth to that. That is the time our bodies begin to lose extensibility in the joints and soft tissue (muscle, fascia, etc.). But, I think one could argue it starts happening long before that.
Right now my daughter spends as much time as she can on her hands and knees crawling all over the floor. That’s what babies do. Toddlers play in the sand, grass, dirt, and anything else that is difficult to clean. When kids get to preschool and kindergarten they have circle time on the floor. Then, grade school – enter the desk (or the table and chair, but essentially the same thing). And, not to pretend to be in the mind of a first-grader (woah, that thought sounded both fun and terrifying at the same time), but I would guess that, for the most part, they love it. After all, that’s how the big kids or adults that they admire sit.
Now fast-forward to adulthood. Most of us spend the workday sitting, standing, or, if you’re lucky, a combination of the two. Then maybe sit in a car or stand crammed on BART like a sardine getting home. They probably sit at a table and eat dinner. Finally, we end up in the family room sitting, reclining, or lying down to read, watch TV, scan Facebook or Instagram, work on a ship in a bottle (hey I bet you’re still out there – and if you are, power to you!) or any other wind-down method of choice. That whole time most of the joints in the body, particularly the ones in the legs and spine, were never moved anywhere close to the end of their available motion.
Multiply that day by an undisclosed number of years and we start to understand the how. The reason this is so important is that maybe one day that person bends over pick up something and “ouch.” Maybe something in the knee or back tweaks because the hips don’t move quite as well. Or maybe he or she reaches from something in the cupboard and feels something in the neck or shoulder because the spine doesn’t move so well.
If you told me that you do Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or any other movement practice that takes your body through a variety of motions, I would say that’s great. But I also think it would be better if it were more often than an hour or two a couple of times a week. I think it would be better if it were more incorporated into our lifestyle.
At some point I should probably have a solution for all that depressing talk. My (let’s just go with) suggestion is to get back to your kid-roots. Play on the floor. By “play” I don’t mean you have to mess around with blocks or in dollhouses. I mean, you can if you want and you’d get no judgment from me, but what I meant was do any of those things you like to do in the evening time, but from the floor.
Here are just a few good things that happen to your body when you sit on the floor: 1) as mentioned above, you take many of your joints through a large percentage of their range of motion, 2) if you get down and up from the floor in a controlled fashion (i.e. consistent speed and not losing balance) you improve strength and muscle control, 3) you are forced to move more frequently and get to sit in a variety of different positions you are not typically in (one problem with chairs and couches is that they are so comfortable that you hardly ever feel you need to move – this gets back to the issue of low movement frequency).
If any of this sounds daunting or ridiculous A) I totally get it, and B) you can try modifying how you do it. For starters try sitting on the floor for short bouts of time – just like with any movement practice (i.e. exercise) you have to consider dosage. Support yourself with pillows, cushions, walls, etc. Sit on something lower than a couch or chair but higher than the floor (an ottoman for example). Or maybe, if you’re still not ready, simply stand up from whatever you are sitting on every 10-20 minutes and sit in a different seat or position.
If sitting on the floor is something you want to do but still doesn’t sound or feel right for you, you should probably talk to a physician and/or see a physical therapist (you knew that was coming at some point). Otherwise get down there and see what happens. Don’t expect it to be overnight, but maybe some day you’ll be able to make a pretend phone call from your foot! Doesn’t that sound great?!
We are here to help. If you feel you need professional help to improve your alignment, posture and help prevent further or future injury please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Written by Abel Romero, Physical Therapist.
Arranged and Edited by Zack Krumland, BSBA, PR & Marketing Coordinator
This article is intended as general health information and is not intended to provide individual specific medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or any other individual. Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting or changing a health, fitness, or nutrition program.