The human body loves movement, and having frequent movement snacks throughout your day is an effective way to stay alert, clear away brain fog and maintain mental focus.
Making movement a habit is key for your physical and mental wellbeing. The evidence for any specific frequency is not definitive, but what is certain is that the more you move, the better you feel. Just a two-minute movement snack is all it takes.
As a cognitive worker, you have to be deliberate and intentional about weaving movement snacks in your working day. You need to keep working at it until it becomes a habit, so you end up doing them without disrupting your cognitive flow.
To form a habit loop, you can establish cues, you can develop routines that work for you, and you can feel the boost it gives you immediately.
Example of a habit loop from the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhiggg
Rewards – Knowing about the benefits of movement gets you motivated but may not sustain you. So, it’s important to find the movement routines and healthy postures that make you feel good straight away and then build on these. Experiment with different movements to find the ones that you most enjoy and sensitise yourself to how good they make you feel. Movement snacks are intrinsically rewarding, and being aware of this will help you develop the instinctive urge to do them.
Routines – Read the section on movement snacks for a comprehensive set of movements that have been designed to be done at a workstation (seated and standing) and that help undo the damage done by many deskbound hours.
Cues – you can use any number of cues to help you get moving:
- Set timers on your computer, smartphone or clock to remind you to go for a short walk, have a movement snack or just change your posture.
- If you regularly sip water or tea or coffee, use a smaller cup so you have to refill more frequently and use these situations as refill breaks – a cue for a movement snack.
- If you have micro-rituals that you are aware of, attach some movement to them. For example, do some wrist rolls before pressing the send button on an e-mail, reward yourself with overhead reaches when you close a document you’ve just finished or give yourself a confidence boost by opening up your shoulders just before joining a remote meeting.
- If you are finding it difficult to get “in the zone” for a particular task, treat this as a cue to take a movement break. It will help clear your thoughts and allow you to start your activity with a fresh mind.
- Introduce movement snacks into your remote team meetings and turn them into a team activity. They are a great way to energise the group; they are fun and help with the team’s dynamics or social synchrony.
- Design your home office and your workstation to trigger opportunities for movement and changes in posture, such as switching between sitting and standing.
Our bodies are built for all-day movement. We are designed for upright walking while carrying stuff or reaching out for things all around us. You can recreate some of these by designing your workstation to be dynamic, so you naturally flow between several different positions while you work.
Aim for a mix of several different standing and sitting postures. This will also help you organise your time, separate out your activities and focus on tasks. For example, you might prefer standing when dealing with e-mails and short tasks, sitting upright when doing more focused work or relaxing on a sofa for more social conversations or creative thinking. Consider using a physical whiteboard or flipchart to jot down ideas and to-do lists, which encourage you to stand up and move around the room. Why not use an old-fashioned phone call to try out a “walk while you talk” one-to-one conversation?
If you have the space, you can improvise and set up a variety of different workstations to make this easier, and you don’t have to buy expensive equipment or extra furniture. If space is tight, then investing in an adjustable height standing desk may be right for you.
The most important thing is all-day movement. Regular workouts are great for building your strength or cardio fitness, but they are not a substitute for continuous low-level movement. Frequent short walks are fantastic, as are movement snacks that use your full range of motion. The snacks described here are designed to be done seamlessly at your desk and many of them while seated.
A movement snack is a short (two- to five-minute) sequence of movements that:
- nourishes the maximum number of joints
- activates tissue that becomes long and weak when hunched over a computer
- stretches tissue that becomes short and tight
Movement snacks improve cognitive function, so you feel awakened, engaged and energised. The associated joint movement and blood flow invigorate your nervous system, making for higher levels of productivity, creativity and engagement.
Regular and frequent movement snacks can reverse the ill effects of desk work, reduce injury susceptibility and enhance your mobility. Each snack is designed to target the most common ailments associated with excessive screen time.