The dental profession, by its very nature is a semi-sedentary role. Both technicians and clinicians can spend large parts of their day either sitting or standing with minimal movement. This limited movement, while not a serious issue for our bodies to deal with on a short-term basis, most definitely can be a big issue if we don’t continually counter this potential long term, harmful effect on the body with regular movement including stretching and strength exercises. This can be greatly helped by creating the ‘habit’ of moving.
THE IMPACT OF LIMITED MOVEMENT
Through human invention and corporate success, we have now created a society where we no longer even need to move to get food. It can literally be delivered straight to our front door fully prepared, ready-to-eat hot take-away, or a weekly shop. The requirement to move, to live, has again been greatly reduced. For other animals living free on this planet, they have no such luxury, but they benefit from not getting those routinely achy muscles and limbs. They cannot afford to ‘stop moving’, it is literally life or death for them!
Consider the following: a high percentage of us end up spending 10, 15 or even 20% or more of our later years in a care facility or retirement home. Because a substantial number of us are no longer able to fully support ourselves in our daily routine, we require the assistance of another. Why is this? An animal living free in the wild has no such need. An owl will not spend its final years living in a care facility looked after by other owls. It will keep flying, hunting, sleeping until it can no longer continue.
Why do some people get to 65 and struggle to get up from the sofa, while others are still running marathons, weightlifting, or simply walking comfortably without issues, well into their 80s, 90s and beyond! It is because the latter group keep moving, every day! The small island of Okinawa in Japan1 has the world’s highest percentage of centenarians with many reaching 100 and older. Many live a traditional life. What is interesting is that few of the houses have what we in the west would call a traditional chair or sofa. When sitting, they are on the floor. This means they are getting down and up from a floor seating position an average of 25 to 30 times a day. Imagine the muscle strength needed to perform this so many times. Legs, arms, and core! How many retired people do you know that have this type of daily movement requirement?
Bruce Forsyth died at the age of 89 in 2017. Incredibly, he was still working on Strictly Come Dancing until 2015, age 87. In an interview I watched many years ago, when asked how he keeps so nimble and still able to dance at age 83, he replied by saying that when he was a lot younger, his dance teacher told him that every day before getting out of bed, he should begin to gently stretch his limbs, shoulders, rotate his ankles, wrists, etc. The reality is, in the morning we may be warm in our beds, but our muscles, comparatively speaking, are cold. Indeed, many people will put their back out within the first few moments of getting out of bed. I have now adopted this habit, and every morning without fail, before swinging out my legs and getting up from my bed, I will spend around a minute or two gently stretching. Will it help me, I do not know, but if it helps me to stay limber and mobile into old age, then great. It is now an ingrained habit that I do without any forethought.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MOVEMENT
When sitting at your workstation, because of the nature of your work, the blood flow around your body slows, oxygen and nutrition delivery slows. Do you often get up after a complex session, to find your legs, hips or lower back, metaphorically, moaning out at you? This is because your limbs, especially from the waist down, have kind of had a small sleep.
Anyone who has a dog or cat, will know that even after even a brief snooze, the first thing the animal will do after waking, is stretch. This is instinctual and feels good, without them having any comprehension and understanding of what it means for their body. By stretching they are increasing the blood flow back into those previously stationary limbs. They are increasing the oxygen, fresh blood and nutrition delivery. This in turn will continue to assist in new cell growth, cell repair and recovery and help their bodies to heal micro traumas that occur through their daily lives of running, jumping, playing and fetching.
This is no different to the repeated micro traumas that occur in your own muscles and tendons when you hold yourself in unnatural and prolonged angles looking down at your counter, or the tight pinch or grip in your hands because you have incredibly precise work to be done, or maybe you use awfully thin instruments that increase finger/thumb pressure, or have an ultra-flexed wrist because you’re working at a weird angle… because that’s just how you work.
When you feel pain, and especially if it keeps repeating, that is your body communicating with you, directly telling you ‘something is not right’. If you don’t listen to your body when it whispers, then don’t be surprised if eventually those whispers become screams and you need to look at pain relief, massage, chiropractic interventions and the like.
So, let’s make moving a habit. Every chance you get, however small or seemingly insignificant… move. Your body will thank you, and maybe you will be like the Okinawans, living to a great age, fully mobile and able to move freely.
‘You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.’ John C. Maxwell
TIPS TO MAKE MOVING A HABIT:
1. Stretch and move your limbs in the morning before leaving the bed
2. When standing, waiting, gently roll forward onto your toes and back onto your heels. This is great for flexing all the local muscles and tendons, and flushing the lymphatics
3. If given the choice between an escalator or travelator, or walking, always choose to walk and take the stairs
4. When staying in a hotel, leave the lift and take the stairs, even if only for one or two floors
5. When visiting a large superstore or retail park, choose to park well away from the main entrance. This has both the frequent benefit of not fighting and looking for spaces, but also allows a slightly longer walk to your destination
6. When using the car, if possible, park further away from your destination and make the choice to walk just a little bit further