Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less

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I’m consistently awed by the wisdom I have gained from my child. And this past week, I can add more of that to the list, where his instincts were on target to solve one of my problems, while my preconceived ideas fell short.

From the moment Brett pulled himself up for the first time at the age of one, he was on the move. He has many amazing qualities, but his inability to sit still?  That is not one of them.

Or so I thought.

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just like Brett on his ball…1-2-3, 4-2,3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0

We were first alerted to his fidgety tendencies in Pre-k. He was constantly swaying into people’s space. Not quite able to keep in that single file line. And always a bit out of step in the circle. He reminded me a bit of Tacky the Penguin, have you ever read that book? Unlike all his penguin friends, Tacky marched to his own drum.

Brett is in third grade now, and has definitely improved. My theory is he spends all the energy he can muster during the school day trying to do the right thing, but once home, he is all over the place.

At mealtime, it’s always a challenge.

We have an open living room, dining room setup. And so when it’s time for us to sit down to eat, he’ll show up for a bite, then he’s gone the next, launching himself off the couch or scooting across the room. A few years ago I bought him a product called a disc-o-sit (nicknamed the wiggle cushion) hoping this might keep him in his chair so he could at least move and sit at the same time, and it did help for a few years until it was replaced by something even more fabulous in his eyes.

When Brett was about 6, My brother Greg visited. At the time, he recommended I learn to use an exercise ball. Inspired, I went out and purchased my own big red stability ball. But once Greg left, I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it seemed too big for me.  It promptly went downstairs out of sight, out of mind.

A few months later, I purchased a new exercise program and received a blue stability ball as a bonus.

Oh great I thought, just what we need, two stability balls taking up space downstairs!

The blue one was smaller than the red one, and Brett took one look, one jump on this thing, and the two were inseparable. Until that is, a week later he happened to bounce on the ball while holding a bamboo skewer, pointed down. In a matter of seconds, the blue ball was no more…

Brett was horrified; he ran downstairs, found the underutilized big red ball, that was actually a little smaller now, deflated from inactivity. And this has been his savior ever since, and a permanent fixture in our living room. He rolls the red ball to the table, next to his chair, while eating. He bounces or lays on it, or sways back and forth. He’ll stretch forward or hang backward. He bounces while watching movies, just hanging out talking and while listening at family read time before he goes to bed.

When friends and family come to visit, they think this is odd.

a little balancing practice...

a little balancing practice…

Why is he not able to sit in his chair?

At meals, kids should sit. When you are reading together, kids should sit and listen.

When watching a movie, shouldn’t he be sitting on a couch?

Why do you let him do this?

You must be pushover parents…

Brett and his intense need to move around and fidget are on my mind this week, as I try to solve a similar problem of my own.

Newly-inspired by the goals I set a few weeks ago, I’m finding in reality, a few of my goals cancel each other out. Here’s the dilemma: I just don’t know how to live an active lifestyle if I’m on my rear-end writing. Or learning to paint. Or learning a new language.

When I sit for long periods of time, I think about Brett and his need to move.  This must be how he feels every day: restless, uncomfortable, trapped. I feel if I sit for as long as I need to write something, or research, or study, I’ll grow roots! My legs and rear-end begin to numb. I can feel my thighs expand, soften, as I sink further and further into that chair…

Thinking it through this week, I realize there are two separate issues to address:

1) I need to maximize time spent off the chair, ensuring I’m getting the extra movement I need to balance out those big blocks of inactivity.

2) And I need to see if there are workstation options that may help me not feel so awful when I do sit down for long periods of time.

I started my search for answers, realizing immediately there’s no shortage of media coverage on the topic of sitting. I learned through many sources that sitting too much makes you die sooner, and that it is also considered by some as “the new smoking.

Then I saw an article in the Daily Beast that actually got me thinking about combating issue #1. The article recommends people incorporate a variety of squats at random times throughout the day. For example, instead of sitting around on the couch watching commercials during a TV show, get up and squat. Or take a 10 minute break at work, to get in a few more. And perhaps while waiting for a train, you might try a few more. In no time, taking advantage of these breaks can add up to a substantial amount of activity.

There is one part of the article I don’t agree with, and that is the assumption these movements can replace formal exercise: for me, that wouldn’t work. But the wheels started spinning, and I began to experiment. Not just with squats, but with lunges, and stretches and balance moves…

Here were a few places I started to add activity:

  • Lunge or Squat while folding laundry
  • Plie squat and hold while blow drying my hair
  • Random kicks while standing around thinking. That one worked well except for the time when I clipped my dog in the jaw –oops! Note to self for next time? Watch for family members before trying…
  • One legged balance poses and wall squats.
  • Squat while emptying the dishwasher.
  • Squats in the kitchen while waiting for my pan to heat up.
  • And of course, lots of static and ballistic stretches while standing.

Awesome, this will work! Now onto issue #2, assessing my workstation…

As I researched different chair and desk options, I came across the term Active Sitting.

According to Wikipedia:

Active sitting occurs when seating allows or encourages the seated occupant to move. Also referred to as dynamic sitting, the concept is that flexibility and movement while sitting can be beneficial to the human body and make some seated tasks easier to perform.

I found a variety of chairs designed for active sitters, how does one even choose? But then I came across this article in the New York Times , and had to laugh that the possible answer could be staring me right in the face.

I looked up from the computer, scanned the room until I located it off in the corner. The big red ball.

I walked over, rolled it back to my computer and was about to take a seat to test it out by my computer.

Brett caught me in the act.

Are you going to sit on my ball?

Embarrassed, I said no. Pushed the ball back over to him, and took my regular seat in the dining room chair.

I thought about the old wiggle-cushion. And the red ball. And how we used to try so hard to make Brett sit in his chair until finally giving in because we just didn’t want to fight it anymore. How is it that my kid knew he need to move, or fidget, to restore his active/sitting balance throughout the day, and was drawn to Active Sitting all along.  He found his answer instinctively, where we adults have to research at length to find the answer from supposed experts.

Adults have been making fidgety, active kids feel bad for not being able to conform to the right way, the expected way of sitting properly, when repeated evidence shows the right,  proper and expected  way, over time, is really very wrong.

Get a load of this quote I found about fidgeters, also from Wikipedia:

Fidgeting is considered a nervous habit, though it does have some underlying benefits. People who fidget regularly tend to weigh less than people who do not fidget because they burn more calories than those who remain still. It has been reported that fidgeting burns around an extra 350 calories a day.

I don’t know anyone who would mind burning 350 additional calories just by some extra movement, do you?

Perhaps it’ll look funny for all of us to be moving, lunging, squatting, standing, kicking, fidgeting, and balancing all around the house, but I think it’s a good plan to set in motion, starting now.

My son has proved to me yet again, his instincts are spot-on.

And we will once again become a household with two big stability balls floating around the living room.

Only this time we’ll know what to do with them!

How do you combat inactivity throughout the day? Are you a fidgeter? Or too sedentary? What types of lessons have you learned from your children?

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and please share this post. Once you are done with that, get up, stretch, and 10 Squats please!