Those who know me know I had a pretty serious back injury late last year. Those who don’t….well, now you do! It wasn’t insignificant and required a full six month rehabilitation program. I couldn’t lift anything (including my daughter or even my handbag) and was restricted to walking only. Some people may view this inactivity as bliss, but for someone who places a lot of emphasis on the importance of movement, this was going to be a big mental challenge for me. Not only am I an amateur athlete in my spare time, but I still had a business to run and a family to look after.
I won’t lie, it was mentally challenging and took some time working through what it meant and the opportunities the situation presented. And there were many, but that’s a story for another time. I couldn’t have gotten through it without a great team of specialists supporting and guiding me. One of my specialists was Daniel Camilleri, Founder of APEX Health Movement. We worked closely together throughout the program, monitoring, assessing, testing and retesting to get me back to my normal self. During this time, I thought a lot about how the situation had affected me not only physically but mentally also. I saw that my lack of movement was affecting both the quality and level of work I was producing – while I had more time to get things done (I didn’t have to make time for the gym anymore!), I had to really focus on what, when and how I was doing things to ensure I stayed as productive as I was normally. Without my normal physical movement, my brain wasn’t functioning like it normally did.
This got me looking more closely at how our physical health impacts our brain function and mental capacity. We know a lot about this from a neuroscience perspective, and seeing as I had a specialist on hand, I sat down with Daniel and asked him for his input.
Kate: How does our movement affect our general mindset and performance?
Daniel: It’s no secret physical activity has many health benefits, but it is only in more recent times scientists are making links with brain function; in particular with improved cognitive thinking and memory. Add improved sleep and lower anxiety levels to the equation and you can begin to appreciate how important regular quality movement can improve our lives.
Kate: For those of us that aren’t athletes, and are not inclined to be, why should we care if we’re moving correctly?
Daniel: We all move. Whether with intention in sport and training, or climbing stairs, moving household items or picking up our children. Being mindful of our movement and working on improving our weaknesses will benefit us in both preventing injury and improving mental cognition.
Kate: What are the most common lifestyle challenges you come across with patients?
Daniel: The most difficult lifestyle challenges we face is a lack of movement and an increase in the time we’re required to sit. This unfortunately occurs in our early days of school and continues throughout our lives into the workforce. Add our leisure time of sitting watching TV or other screen-based activities and you can see how significant the battle we face to combat this is.
To simply say “sit less” would be a cop out. It’s an inevitable part of our life and, in my opinion, stressing over how much we are required to sit would be unhealthy. Instead, I advise my patients to move as much as they can. A stand-up desk is not the solution if we then stand in the same spot for 8 hours a day. Change it up as often as is possible for you. Sit at your desk, kneel, stand or if these aren’t possible try and go for a short walk around the office as often as possible. Break these sedentary requirements up as much as possible.
We then move into exercise or training, and this is the biggest area we can improve in, in my opinion. We are incredible machines and our body has developed ways to make our daily jobs as efficient as possible (yes, this includes sitting at our desk). Without paying proper attention to the habits we’ve developed throughout our sedentary lives, we take these into our training lives, and this is where the issue lies. For instance, if we go from sitting and then try to press overhead in training without paying attention to what this requires, our risk of shoulder and neck injury increases.
If the stimulus isn’t significant enough, our bodies can take on the extra stress and cope. As soon as the stimulus becomes too large, however, the system can’t cope and we’re then in injury territory. For this reason, I prescribe movement goals and corrective strategies to my patients. After individually assessing and identifying areas they need to work on, they then have the knowledge and tools to make sure they move with quality. After all, who has time to be injured these days?!
Kate: Often we see clients only have a limited amount of time in their day to focus on themselves, what can they do in 5-10 mins that will benefit their movement, and ultimately, their overall performance?
Daniel: Most definitely. Firstly, if possible throughout the day, change positions frequently. Doing so will keep our bodies moving on a smaller scale and minimise the effects of our bodies becoming used to a single position. On top of this I always have my patients go back to breathing. With our fast-paced world, stress levels increase and the way we breathe is the first aspect of our bodies that will change in response to this. If you have a moment, lie face down with your forehead on your hands. Spend the next few minutes taking slow deep breaths in and out. As you breathe in, feel your stomach pressing into the floor and your hips starting to rise because of this.
Whilst this isn’t a “sexy” exercise like we see all over Instagram, doing this will have you stand up more relaxed in the shoulder and neck and having a clearer mind. All my patients begin this exact drill somewhere along their rehab path, as all quality movement is created around a functioning core and good breathing mechanics.
Daniel Camilleri has a Bachelor of Human Movement (UTS), Graduate Diploma in Chiropractic Science (MQU) and a Masters of Chiropractic (MQU), and is the founding partner with his wife Louisa of APEX Health Movement. Through a range of services built on years of experience in chiropractic, exercise physiology, human movement and sports science, APEX is founded on a real point of difference; not just to facilitate good health, but to promote enjoyment of it.