Nano Workouts – Conference Call Push-ups

Following on from the thought that sitting is killing us I’ve been thinking about the different ways that I can counteract my personal inactivity.

While doing some research (sitting down) I came across a site called Nano Workout which produces regular pictures of exercise ideas for the office or home.

Today’s idea is Conference Call Push-ups:

I can’t see myself doing this in the office, at home maybe, but not in the office. The culture is such that this would be regarded as a totally mad thing to do, but perhaps that will change. Once upon a time it was regarded as acceptable to smoke in the office, now it’s illegal. I regularly walk around while on a conference call, so perhaps push-ups aren’t too mad an idea.

Sorting out sitting – before it kills me

There have been a number of articles in recent days about the dangers of sitting for long periods of the day, dangers that are serious and include a higher risk of death.

Global RainbowI, like many workers, spend much of my time sitting. If I’m working at home – I’m sitting at a desk. If I’m in the office – I’m sitting at a desk. If I’m in a meeting – I’m sitting at a table. Sitting, sitting, sitting. I’ve written before about my experiences with tension headaches which are primarily caused by issues of posture – posture while sitting. While these headaches are mostly under control, I’ve not yet managed to change my lifestyle sufficiently for me to remove all medicinal support, so sitting is still a problem.

Tom Ferris has a great post summarising the emerging evidence that inactivity, and sitting specifically, is a problem, but also what one organisation did to combat the problem.

Recent research suggests that those who sit from 9-5 (more than 6 hours daily) and exercise regularly are more likely to have heart disease than those who sit less than 3 hours per day and don’t “exercise” at all.

It’s a great shopping list of ideas including:

  • Standing desks
  • Exercise balls
  • Balance cushions
  • Monitors stands
  • Ergonomic keyboard
  • Ergonomic mice
  • Hand grippers
  • Wobble boards
  • Pedometers
  • Shoe options
  • Conference room and meeting configurations
  • Office layout
  • Food and snacks

The important point for me is that good office configurations have a direct payback in terms of productivity. We’ve known this for a long time, and yet many organisations continue to build facilities that have barely changed since the advent of the Personal Computer.

A small number of offices across the country have slowly begun to endorse the idea of exercising during work (e.g. walking on a treadmill while doing your job at Mutual of Omaha). Besides the obvious fitness benefits, exercise also increases productivity (according to research done by the Vermont Board of Education — PDF download).

Most surprising of all, remaking the workplace into a healthy, exercise-supportive environment has a cost benefit. Many of the design changes we have implemented cost little or nothing.

But it’s not just about gadgets, it’s also about culture. There are limits to what I can personally influence, especially in the office, but even then I don’t do what I know is good for me. It’s a change I am having to learn to make though. Which reminds me, I haven’t done my stretches yet today and perhaps it’s time to order an exercise ball.

Tension Headaches – Getting There

I think I now understand – and understanding is a significant step forward in my journey with tension headaches.

When I started this journey I thought I was getting migraines, only to discover that what I was experiencing was not a migraine but the result of the muscles around my head going into spasm and forming a vice around my cranium.

As seems to be the case with modern medicine, the answer that I was given was medication – muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory.

While this medication put my headaches under control they didn’t feel like a permanent solution. Anti-infammatory drugs aren’t ones you really want to plan on taking for the rest of your life. So another visit to the doctor told me that my problem was exacerbated by my poor posture and the effect that this was having on my shoulder and neck muscles.

As a veteran keyboard user I knew the problems that sitting at a desk caused, but I’d taken more than 20 years getting to this position and getting out of it wasn’t going to happen just because a GP has given me a lecture. I knew that I needed some help in retraining my body, but the GP didn’t think that physiotherapy was the answer, but didn’t have a better answer either.

So, against the GPs advice, I decided to pay for some physiotherapy and see how we got on.

After a few weeks of physiotherapy I now understand what it is that causes my headaches (and neck and should pain) and how to avoid it. I don’t think I knew what a good posture felt like before starting out on the physiotherapy and while I don’t always manage to maintain it, I now know when I’m mistreating my back, shoulder and neck. I also know what exercises improve my posture and strengthen the muscles that I am under utilising-  and relax the ones that I am over utilising.

Some of the exercises are quite comical and I do feel a bit ridiculous when laid on the floor with my face in the carpet and my arms hanging off the ground to the side (strengthening my middle back muscles). Some of the neck stretching exercises look more gruesome than they feel.

The aim has been to retrain my body to do the right thing and I feel like I’m getting there now. I no longer take the anti-inflammatory medication on a daily basis and feel better for it.

It was a 20 year journey getting into the problem and I don’t expect the journey out to take a few days so I need to keep working at it.

Tension Headaches: Under Control but Not Moving On

Continuing my series following my journey with tension headaches, today I made another visit to the doctors.

Lake District SnowAs a short aside, there are a number of GP’ at the practice we use, and the booking system makes it difficult to choose who you are going to visit. So I’ve now explained my situation, and had some of the same conversation with four different doctors. It’s nice to see that for the most part they have been consistent, but a bit frustrating to have the same conversation.

The reason for today’s conversation was that I’ve again reached the end of a course of anti-inflammatory medication and wanted to talk about the next steps rather than just getting some more of the same.

Under the current medication of anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants my headaches have been largely under control which has been good. Neither of these medications are meant for the long haul.

Tension headaches are all about muscle tension in the head and neck and I’m constantly aware of a tight neck and shoulders. I’d wondered about some physiotherapy, but that doesn’t appear to be the recommended option. It seems, that in order to make progress, I need to get serious about working on my posture, exercises, position, everything.

After more than 25 years of keyboard use something tells me that it’s not going to be an easy road,

Having had my posture instructions and trying to be a good back citizen all day at work I got home to find that we had a problem with out central heating. I then proceeded to spend two hours on the phone listening to hold music – in possibly the worst posture for the head and neck possible.

Personal change can be an easy thing, but often it’s difficult – hopefully this isn’t going to be too tiresome.

I’m also supposed to be reducing my stress levels, but I have no idea where I’m going to start on that one.

Tension Headaches: A Bit Further Down the Road

Holidays are normally a time when I’m normally guaranteed to be free of headaches and after nearly two weeks away from work I thought that this years summer break would be the same. That is until I decided to go swimming in the sea at Banburgh on the Thursday afternoon after a beautiful day on Lindisfarne.

LindisfarneNo sooner had I entered the water than a pain shot up my neck, exploding at the base of my scull and spreading across the entirety of the back of my head. I knew things were not going to be pleasant because I was on holiday and I hadn’t brought any pain killers with me on the day out, there were some back at the holiday cottage but that was 20 minutes drive away.

I can normally recognise the symptoms that are likely to result in a really bad headache so take anti-inflammatory mediation nice and early and avoid a real headache developing.

It’s hard to describe what happens when I don’t take timely medication. The nearest to a good description is to say that my body goes into shock – I sweat, my heart races, I can’t sit still, sometimes I’m sick, the strangest symptom is that I get a streaming nose and the pain just builds and builds. At these times I would quite happily chop my head off and give it to someone else to look after.

While what happened on holiday was unusual, what followed was even more so. Two nights later the same thing happened all over again, and then again another couple of nights after that. On both of these occasions even the normal dosage of medication didn’t make any difference. On one night I spent 4 hours pacing the floor until eventually I managed to get myself into a fitful sleep and some level of relief.

After the third occasion the pain never really stopped – it was just numbed by the medication.

A few weeks prior to the holidays I had finished a dose of a nightly muscle relaxant (as described in my last post). These had helped but, I’d also experienced some of the side effects of this particular treatment, the main one being an increase in weight that I’m still struggling to shift. So I hadn’t been back to the doctor’s to see about the next steps – I was busy and figured that I’d be fine on holiday. The next step could wait for my return.

Having not been fine on holiday I went back to the doctors and started on a new course of a different muscle relaxant. These hadn’t had chance to build up their effect prior to the third episode, so I went back to the doctor’s again, this time for a strong anti-inflammatory too.

Just to be doubly sure as to the reason for the headaches I’ve also been for an x-ray on my neck.

So where does all that leave me. I’m currently taking anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant treatments which are both combining to make things a lot better. The results from the x-ray will be through in a few days. Once the x-ray results are in I’ll be back at the doctor’s to talk about the next steps. I’ve also been trying to look after my shoulders and back doing the frequent stretches and exercise.

These headaches have been the worst that I think I have ever experienced, and certainly the most frequent. I don’t think I’ve ever had to take time off work because of these headaches, but I did this time. If I’m honest – I was scared. I’m not scared now, but I am determined to find a more sustainable answer.

Since I posted last time I’ve been amazed by the number of people who have told me about similar symptoms and experiences. Hopefully sharing a bit more will help a few more too.

Tension Headaches: My Journey So Far

A few years ago I went away for the weekend. This wasn’t one of those weekends when you sit around all of the time, it was one where you get the delights of cooking for a load of people so that they can have a good time.

Jimmy and Granddad try to push a mouse aroundOn the Friday evening I started to feel a bit of a headache coming on, this wasn’t an unusual thing, what was unusual was that it didn’t go away. I took a few paracetamol as pain killers, but the pain carried on. It carried on all of the way through Saturday, but I wasn’t going to stop, I had things to do, meals to cook, menus to organise – and more painkillers.

I was reasonably late to bed Saturday night and then up early on Sunday to get breakfast ready. At this point I would have been quite happy with anyone who had offered to remove my head and replace it with something that actually fitted.

By Sunday mid-morning on Sunday I was worse than ever. My head felt like someone had put a vice on it and was squeezing it tighter and tighter. My eyes became blurry, and my nose started to run. Just before lunch I wave of nausea turned into vomiting. I took some more pain killers and took to my bed leaving everything in something of a muddle.

A few hours later and after chaos had ensued in the kitchen I awoke with a felling I can only describe as being punch drunk.

Being a rational and intelligent human being I went to see the doctor – except I didn’t. I figured that this was a one off, it was probably a virus or something. This wasn’t a fear-of-doctors thing, I just didn’t want to make a fuss.

A while later it happened again and this time I decided upon some self diagnosis. This must be a migraine I thought, so went to the chemist and bought some painkillers suitable for migraines. Migraines, after all, can’t be cured, so I just need to make sure I know where I can get some medication.

That’s it sort I thought, but if anything, the number of occurrences just increased. The medication would take away the symptoms, but I was never comfortable with the amount of times I would have to resort to them. I’d even get a bit neurotic about having something with me.

Eventually I did the rational thing – I went to see the doctor. Over two years later after the first big episode.

Dale Head ViewsAs with much self diagnosis I was wrong; these weren’t migraines at all. The characteristic of a migraine are very different to the symptoms I was experiencing. My problem, it turns out, were tension headaches, or tension-type headaches.

So what causes tension-type headaches – well it’s muscle tension tightening around the head. This tightening is precipitated by a number of things, all of which are part of my day-to-day existence: stress, poor posture, late nights, early mornings, lack of exercise, irregular eating.

The vice feeling I had been experiencing was exactly what was happening – the muscles in my head where emanating from my neck were putting head into a vice-like grip.

My problems, being muscular, meant that although the medication had been masking the symptoms, I was taking the wrong stuff and also there were things that could be done to prevent them from occurring. I needed to take medication that would alleviate this tension in the muscles not just reduce the pain.

It’s been a couple of months since I first went to see the doctor and since then I’ve been taking a muscle relaxant before going to bed. This has, in general, significantly improved the volume of severe headaches that I’ve been experiencing. I still get them occasionally and still have a bit of a way to go before I think I’m really there. This medication isn’t meant to be a long term answer and I need to do something about the precipitating factors too.

So why am I telling you this? Well, recently I’ve been in conversation with a number of people who are suffering similar things to me. I’m not trying to diagnose their situation because I’m not qualified, but I did want to share my experience.