Making the right choice to start your Swivel! activities
Members of the Facebook group “Swivel! out of stress” will no doubt have noticed that the instructions for most of the Swivel! activities or exercises begin with, “Stand, sit, or lie down, if you wish” or just, “Stand or sit, whichever you wish”. Of course, “if you wish” indicates that you have a choice: will you sit or stand (or lie down)? Perhaps your decision is made along the lines, “I’m feeling lazy” so sitting or lying is the preferable option. Or you’ve been sitting for hours, so you need to stand up for a few minutes anyway.
Each starting position offers different benefits. All Swivel! activities give you the opportunity to reset and refocus yourself, and any Stretch or Move action will add the wide-ranging benefits of physical exercise. And yet there is a medical difference between standing, sitting, or lying down.
When you stand, your bones benefit from the strengthening forces of weight-bearing exercises. This is particularly important for keeping at bay osteoporosis and weakened bones, which are prone to fracturing. Age and nutrition are strong influencers on bone tissue but physical exercise, which improves muscle strength, also increases bone strength. While Swivel! is not a specific programme for potential sufferers of osteoporosis, nor osteopenia, “any type of activity that requires you to bear your own weight helps build bone”. So it is useful to understand that your starting position for an exercise may delay the natural loss of bone density.
There are two types of bone tissues in our bodies: compact and trabecular. These tissue types are usually both found in our bones but in different combinations. Compact bones are tubular and dense, and are prevalent in long bones, such as the arms and legs. Trabecular tissue is sponge-like and the less dense of the two tissue types. It is found predominantly in short, irregular-shaped bones such as spinal vertebrae. As to be expected, the thinner trabecular tissue begins to deteriorate before the compact type, which is a pertinent reminder to take care of our posture. For this, physical exercise is especially recommended. Thus, when we stand for Swivel!, we are adding to our ‘strengthening bank’ for our bones as well as our muscles.
When you sit, in obvious contrast to standing, you are literally taking the weight off your feet and are therefore emphasising torso and upper body muscles. Holding yourself upright on a chair while moving your arms or legs can require greater use of back and stomach muscles than we may be generally aware of. However, as there is less gravitational weight involved, many exercises when sitting down have a greater impact on muscle tone than bone-strengthening.
When you lie down, the physical effort usually diminishes to give you a greater sense of relaxation, and it will improve spatial awareness. Lying on a flat, well-supported surface allows all your bones and muscles to fall into place naturally through gravitation, if you are willing to release any tension in your body. Neurologically, attempting to do exercises lying down when you are used to doing the same actions standing up, will challenge habitual neural paths. The simple notions of up and down have altered and so shift the typical limits of spatial awareness. Whenever we surprise our brains with something unexpected, we activate neural pathways that were otherwise dormant. Of course we don’t have to be lying down to awaken our brains, but it is a mental bonus to know that even in a state of repose, we are achieving benefits for our mind and body.
Naturally too, your surroundings may influence your choice. Lying down in the office or during a meeting, however much you might wish to do so, may not be considered good practice by colleagues (not to mention bosses). Travelling on a bus, train, or tram – crowded or empty - may also restrict the range of activities. A waiting room or supermarket queue has other constraints. Yet none of these environments need stop you from having a Swivel! moment, if you wish. You just need to choose an activity that suits the surroundings. You may not be able to swing your arms like windmills everywhere but rolling your shoulders, wrists, ankles, and even your head a few times, for example.is possible to do in many environments, without being too noticeable or distracting. But standing in a moving bus or train has a marvellous bonus. Instead of wishing that you could sit down, enjoy the knowledge that whilst you are standing, your muscles are doing extra work to help you keep your balance. Bend your knees a little, and sway or rock gently, and you are adding to your bone-strengthening bank.
We always have choices, and more than we may think. Each choice will naturally have different benefits and advantages. Are we constrained by our environment, or can we do something for bone strength? Are we feeling like flopping onto the couch, or do we just need a stretch at our desk for a minute’s refreshment? Next time you start to Swivel!, which position will you choose?
Reference: Harvard Medical School: Exercises for bone strength, Special Report. Harvard Health Publishing, 2020