UGH, WE'RE ALL slugs when it comes to moving our bodies. "But, I exercise!" you scream in righteous indignation. I hear ya, sister. Me, too. And yet... I'm a human sloth, just like you—chained to my office chair, my couch, my bed, for nearly 158 of the 168 hours in a week. Those bursts of exercise are a mere blip on the radar of my sedentary life. I've been working on it though, thanks to Washington State biomechanist Katy Bowman. Her books, podcast, and jam-crammed website have made me realize that all my sundry body woes are a result of lack of movement. Yours too, most likely.
My husband says I've drunk Bowman's Kool-Aid. It's true, I have, and it's tasty—but not easy to swallow. Everyone I've talked to about her idea of "nutritious movement" has been hesitant, at best, to embrace the changes she recommends for a higher-functioning body. You don't have to go buck-wild over her philosophy to feel better, but if you do, it can dismantle many aspects of your life, in many ways that are socially frowned upon. Your chair. Your pillow. Your car. Sometimes your dignity. Here, I'll let Bowman herself lay out the framework:
"Lying on the couch feels good; I get it. But that doesn't change the fact that your body can't function well if lying on the couch is your most-practiced state. The paradox is, all that comfort leads to the discomfort most of us will spend a lot of our life seeking treatment for," Bowman writes via email. This life of comfort is a topic she also discusses in her 2014 book Move Your DNA.
"Perhaps the only way out of our poor physical state, created by our culture of convenience, is a return to the behaviors of our ancestors," she writes in her dense, fascinating book about how humans have adapted to modern life. That adaptation commonly takes the form of shitty backs, hunched shoulders, crunchy knees, the list goes on.
"I propose that movement, like food, is not optional," Bowman continues in Move Your DNA, "that you have been receiving signals of movement hunger in response to a movement diet that is very low in terms of quantity and poor in terms of quality—meaning you aren't getting the full spectrum of movement nutrition necessary for human function. Chances are, you are either lacking movement nutrition entirely, or you are eating mounds of movement Snickers without ever reaching for a movement kale salad."
Does that mean working out is the movement equivalent of a candy bar, I ask her. "I wouldn't say exercise is Snickers, it's more that exercise is like taking minerals or vitamins. The type of exercise you do being relatable to taking one or two supplements. One or two vitamins can make you better, but do not compare to eating food... what [your body] does require is lots of different types of motion throughout a day/life. This would be similar to eating a well-balanced diet."
So your favorite gym routine or CrossFit session is a Flintstones vitamin in the grand scheme. When Bowman says "movement kale salad," she's talking about moving ALL DAY LONG, like ye old Neanderthals. This is generally the hard-to-swallow part. Living Clan of the Cave Bear-style the rest of your days probably doesn't sound like a palatable solution to your tweaky ankles. But it's actually much easier than you'd think.
Bowman says that even slight changes to our Modern Millie lifestyle will go a long way toward getting more movement and alleviating aches and pains. First things first: Change out your shoes. Look for wide minimal shoes with absolutely no heels, and secure, flexible all-around fit (that means no flip-flops). This will do more good for your posture, back, and overworked calves than you could possibly imagine.
Bowman says the next steps are: "Walk more. Then, reduce your chair-sitting time (via standing desk/floor sitting)." Move more. In biomechanist parlance, "movement" is not just limited to exercise-like activities; it's a laundry list of ways in which your body does its thing. Squatting, carrying, burping, hanging, eating, skipping, cutting vegetables, fidgeting, prancing(!), getting goosebumps, and sexing—all movement, all things you should be doing more of. Pretty much anything that doesn't involve sitting or standing around for long periods of time.
Even really busy ladies who spend hours on the computer every day can find time to move. "Well, I've written three books last year on the computer and interact daily on social media. I've also walked an average of five miles a day and spend four to six hours a day moving outside. The key is stacking your life (accomplishing multiple tasks at once), reframing your ideas of movement (to be more than fitness-type exercise), and realizing that when we say or think 'convenience' we usually mean 'reduces movement' and not 'saves time.'"
Bowman has thousands of tips. You can go down the rabbit hole into her paleo-like approach or skim the surface for helpful odds and ends. Either way, the scope of her work is vast and rooted in mechanical solutions. Simply put, go take a walk, or just sit on the floor more often. You might look undignified at the office, but your body doesn't give a rip about dignity.
For more information, check out biomechanist Katy Bowman's book Move Your DNA, podcast Katy Says, and website nutritiousmovement.com.
More Fitness Issue Articles:
The World of Alterna-Fitness!
Air Guitar: The Dumbest Workout You Should Be Doing
A Food Critic's Quest for Fitness Glory
Sweat, Rewind, Repeat
Tips for Winter Hiking In and Around Portland
Exercise Is Not Going to Fix Your Body
Kegels: Maybe Only Do 'Em if You Want! (Or Never!)
How to Run a Marathon Without Becoming a Fitness Bro
The Purrrfection of Cat Yoga