Kick the sitting habit with exercises for body and soul
Above photo: Mary Lou Cerami paddleboarding
“Sitting is the new cigarette,” says Angie McDermott, certified athletic trainer and owner of Konscious Body in Kenilworth, relating a popular thought among health professionals. “I get what they mean.”
Most of us think of exercise as something we do at the gym, but taking care of our bodies goes beyond cardio machines. “If you spend one hour working out at the gym, you’ve only spent 4 percent of your day exercising,” says Katy Striebinger, certified Pilates and Gyrotonic instructor and owner of Chicago River North Pilates. “How much of an impact can that make on your well-being?”
Exercise for Body and Soul
Fitness experts agree that it is possible to enhance physical strength and flexibility plus well-being without entering the gym.
“Sneak in exercise,” suggests Mary Lou Cerami, certified paddleboard and yoga instructor.
Cerami doesn’t separate the nourishment of the body from that of the soul. “For those who work 9 to 5, it’s hard to have time to feed your soul. Even just walking down the street for 10 minutes while taking in the beauty of the architecture is good for you,” Cerami says.
“It’s important to connect to your soul and to do things that you’re not accustomed to doing,” she declares. “We think fun is for kids. We need it, too! We need to play. Playing can be taking a yoga class, paddleboarding, Rollerblading, hula-hooping or going to the dog park. Allow yourself to be free, without constraints.”
“Learn from the dogs,” says Cerami, who loves to spend time at the dog beach with her new puppy. “Dogs need to get their energy out. They greet one another, run in the sand and play. We can put down our phones, make eye contact, smile and project our energy outward, too.”
And, if you’re so moved, do what Cerami loves to do—skip!
Like Cerami, Suzi Marks loves to be outdoors, where she traverses uneven surfaces—rock, pea gravel, sand, blacktop. “Your joints and bones work differently on each surface,” says Marks, certified Anat Baniel Method practitioner, guild-certified Feldenkrais practitioner, certified Pilates and Gyrotonic instructor and owner of Mindful Movement in Highland Park.
So that your feet can feel every nuance of surfaces, take off your shoes, Striebinger advises. “Shoes detract from our foot’s ability to adjust to nuance,” she says. “If we walked on cobblestones or other uneven surfaces, our feet would be forced to make tiny adjustments, making them more supple and increasing our sense of balance.”
To increase the prowess of your feet, Striebinger offers the following tips:
• Walk barefoot as much as possible. For people with neuromas, plantar fasciitis and other foot issues, ease into your barefoot-walking practice.
• Create opportunities to walk on uneven surfaces. Buy a backsplash of river rock from a home supply or tile store. Stand barefoot on this cobblestone surface at your kitchen sink, bathroom sink or standing workstation as you wash dishes, wash your face or do your work.
• Stretch your toes. Interlace your fingers with your toes and move your foot and toes up and down and in circles.
• Take barefoot walking breaks during your day. Can’t go barefoot? At least take off your shoes.
The Power of Breath
If you walk outside, barefoot or otherwise, you can take advantage of more than just uneven surfaces. The outdoors supplies a cornucopia of sensations—colors, sounds, smells.
“When I’m outside, I’m more aware of my breath and the sensations of my environment,” Marks says. “As I listen to birds, notice the color of the sky or peer through branches to locate a sound, I notice my curiosity, joy and wonder. I notice that I’m feeling, and it wakes me up to more feeling, creativity and calm. And I notice my breathing.”
“The biggest gift you can give your body and mind is to focus on breathing,” agrees McDermott. “Breathing has direct control over our autonomic nervous system. This is the same system that controls immunity, heart rate, hormone regulation, metabolism, digestion and every function that happens without us consciously thinking about it. Breathing has the ability to positively influence every organ, system and cell in our body as well as to take us from fight-or-flight stress mode to rest-and-digest calm mode.”
McDermott suggests taking a few minutes to consciously breathe before rising in the morning and retiring at night as well as taking five deep breaths before each meal.
• Lie on your back. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
• Naturally inhale and exhale through your nose, and feel the gentle rise of your belly. Your chest remains still.
• Take four to 10 breaths.
“Exercise,” Marks says, “isn’t just about strengthening muscles, it is about adding to our dimensionality as a person.” Movement allows us “to be present and feel joy, freedom and the present moment.”
Originally published in the Fall 2016 print edition
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.