By Dr. Mercola
“Exercise less, move more” and “nutritional movement” — these are innovative concepts that have been popularized by Katy Bowman, author of “Move Your DNA : Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement,” whom I first learned about from readers commenting on my articles.
Katy is a biomechanist by training, but refers to herself as a movement ecologist. Biomechanism is a rather specialized academic path where you study physiology and anatomy through a filter of geometry and physics.
"It's kind of understanding how physiology and physical forces work together," she explains.
“Most people are probably familiar with biomechanics in sports performance. A lot of people use biomechanics experts to help modify their golf swing ...
A lot of people will take a class or two in biomechanics as they make their way through different healthcare modalities. But that was my entire focus. My undergrad and graduate school was just studying biomechanics."
Exercise Less, Move More
Katy is an important influencer when it comes to promoting the transition from traditional regimented exercise to a more “global movement” view, where the focus is on staying active throughout the day.
She believes exercise, in the way we normally engage in it, has particular value if you're training for something athletic. The problem is that most people fail to consider that their workouts are bookended by hours upon hours of sedentary behavior.
“[It’s] less about moving more, and more about moving more of you. Those are two different ideas. We need to move more. When you go to a store, don’t park so close. Little things like that ...
I recommend you pick one place that you could walk to feasibly but don't. For me, it was the post office and my sister's house. Both of those places were an easy walk. You're talking less than eight or nine minutes away.
But I found myself driving there just because I was in the habit to. So I just created these ‘I will never drive there’ type rules ...
[Another] thing I did that was really revolutionary for me was swapping a book I'd normally read for an audio book and walking while I listen to it. That was a transformative habit change."
How to Move More of You
According to Katy, repetitive positioning is a related problem, such as sitting down in the same way all the time. By seating yourself in a variety of different ways, you can avoid some of the problems associated with sitting.
For example, scooch forward in your seat to avoid using the back of your chair, or sit on the floor instead of your couch. Sitting on the floor engages different core muscles than slouching on your couch.
“You don’t always have to be still in the same way. If you choose a different way to be still — that is, speaking geometrically, or speaking about cellular movements, which is the type of movement I’m talking about — sitting differently is in fact moving more.”
Then there's the idea of "moving more of you." Katy recommends switching to minimal footwear for the fact that it allows you to move more body parts when you do move. When walking barefoot or with minimally restrictive footwear, you engage different muscle groups than when you walk in shoes.
Personally, the only time I sit is when I'm driving somewhere. Other than that, I mostly stand throughout the day, even when working, as I have a standup desk. I also walk barefoot for about one to two hours a day on the beach.
Katy takes it a step further, and has transitioned from a standing desk to a "dynamic workstation area" that includes a low squatting or kneeling desk, and a variety of devices on the floor that allow her to do different micro and corrective exercises while working, such as calf stretches and foot mobility exercises.
"I can shift my weight from leg to leg. I can work the front of my thigh, the back of my thigh. I try to be still as little as possible. I try to stay dynamic, even when I'm stationary and being productive," she says.
Nutritional movement is another idea that demands explanation. As noted by Katy, your body adapts to what it does most frequently, not what it does with the best of intentions.
If you're like most people, your body has adapted to certain movements and certain still postures through sheer repetition. Even if you've been exercising regularly, your body may still have developed certain weak spots.
Katy recommends performing some basic assessments to determine which parts of your body are not moving properly, and then take corrective action, either through corrective exercises, or better yet, changing how you move and position yourself through your day to day life.
"Say you want to know if that walk you do every morning is being propelled by your gluteus maximus or your hamstrings as opposed to being propelled by your hip flexors or the quadriceps.
One muscle group is on the back of the body, one muscle group is on the front of the body. The net result of how you walk is going to kind of create the shape of your body in the end.
You would lie down on the floor and you would lift one leg up behind you. You would see, does my leg go behind me, or do my leg and my pelvis go as one? Because I sat in a chair for 30 years prior, and my thigh bone and my pelvis kind of clump together as a unit.
I recommend that people do different corrective exercises to break up any connections, overly connections, between body parts that were the results of a high repetitious input to stillness.
You can't just jump into the movement that you want to be doing. You want to make sure that all of your body is coming along.
Because when you have parts of you that are healthy mobile next to parts of you that aren't as mobile, the interface between those two areas, that's where injury tends to arise structurally. That's called a stress riser.
When you have lots of movements sitting right up to an area that doesn't move at all, those tissues are going to pull on each other unnaturally. It's better if all the parts have a certain amount of suppleness and ability to participate."
Another component of nutritional movement is the distribution of movement throughout the day. There is a difference between taking one 5-mile walk and five 1-mile walks. The general rule is that movement should be frequent and spread out. You basically want to avoid long periods of sedentary behavior, so five 1-mile walks spread out through the day will provide greater health benefits than one 5-mile walk, even though it's the same exact distance.
The Nutritional Movement Lifestyle
Practicing what she preaches, Katy is by far more extreme than most. Many of the strategies Katy uses in her own life are likely to be considered unreasonable for many, and I do not necessarily advocate following completely in her footsteps. However, this is the lifestyle she's chosen for herself and her family, and she just might inspire you to make some beneficial changes in your own life, even if you're not willing to go quite as far.
Katy’s commitment to nutritional movement is evidenced by her unique living arrangements. Despite having two young children, she has virtually no furniture in her house. No beds (they all sleep on thin cushions and without pillows). No tables. No chairs and no couches. Basically the only furniture she has is found in her office, but even there the closest thing to a chair you’ll find is a wood log to crouch on.
The whole family is involved, and she admits she and her family are modeling a very particular lifestyle. Her children are also enrolled in nature school, so there’s no indoor classroom, no desk, and no chairs there either. Living in a rural area close to nature, she also grows a lot of her own food.
“I really don’t recommend anything that I wouldn’t do myself, she says. “I was so impressed by the information I gathered that I just created a test case of one family. I have two small children: a 3- and a 4-year-old. One of the biggest hindrances to a lifestyle that requires more nutritious input — whether it’s food, the environment, or mechanical nutrients like movement — seems to be time. Everyone says, ‘I don’t have time.’ ...
When I was a full-time working parent of two small children, I didn’t have time to do things like corrective exercises. I didn’t have time to take exercise classes that I had done before to help me mobilize particular areas. But then one day, I noticed that 30 minutes of the time I spent in a class to mobilize my hips is essentially sitting on the floor. I can do that. I just have to choose not to sit on my couch. [So] I started sitting on the floor ...
I just started recognizing that half of what I did for exercise, whether it was going to walk, jog, take a yoga class, or whatever it was to mobilize or strengthen could be found in just living my life. I didn’t have a stroller for my kids. I carry them. I was lamenting that I couldn’t get to any sort of training class to train my upper body, and then I realized carrying my children is probably the most functional upper body task that I can do ...
In the same way, I don’t stock my freezer with ice cream just in case there’s a time that I want to eat it, I don’t stock my home with furniture to make not moving easier on me ... It’s a cultural phenomenon, the fact that we’ve all stocked our homes with a lot of furniture to make being sedentary so simple. I thought, ‘I’m a pretty logical academic-minded person. I’ll just remove the problem.’ The problem was the couch. Now it’s not an option. It’s been great ever since.”
Shedding the 'Casts' That Limit Your Range of Motion
The idea of sleeping on a thin pad without a pillow might strike most people as unimaginable. But Katy has a good reason for it. Headaches and neck and shoulder stiffness were issues she dealt with for years.
Once she recognized that doing exercises for 30 minutes a day couldn’t counteract the other 23.5 hours of habitual posturing that led to pain, she decided to ditch her pillow. That way she would be stretching her neck all night long. That’s also why she stopped sitting down during work.
“The more I understood about cytoskeleton deformation and movement as something that, even when you are sleeping, you are moving in a particular way, I realized the way I was moving, on my cellular level because of the pillow or because of the mattress, I was again making being still easy on my body,” she says.
Katy refers to items such as pillows as "casts," because they limit the range of motion of your body. Now, were you to get rid of your pillow tonight, you'd probably wake up with a sore neck and shoulders tomorrow. The reason for this is because your body has adapted to the lift of the pillow, and the range of motion in your neck has been diminished. So, should you decide to try some of these ideas, transition slowly.
"I don't recommend going from a comfortable mattress and a pillow that you've used for decades to sleeping with nothing. It took me 18 months to transition away from a pillow by slowly using something smaller and smaller. Even an inch can be quite a bit," she says.
“The outcome is I am so much suppler through my neck and my shoulders. I can sleep anywhere ... I got my body to the point where sleeping is a biological event that can occur anywhere, pain-free, for me.”
Other things you can do to break up the habitual position in which your body rests is to sleep on the other side of the bed, or rotate through a couple of different pillows. If you have a guest bed, try sleeping in that sometimes. By switching it up, you help mobilize different tissues, which will help break up areas that have become stiff or lacking in mobility through habitual posturing during sleep.
Choosing Mobility Over Convenience
Getting more movement is definitely easier during waking hours. When I walk from one room to another, for example, I'll do a few walking lunges. It takes zero extra time to do that. When you walk through a door, put your arms up to touch the door jamb and pause for a second. This is a motion most people don't get nearly enough of. I also do overhead squats while watching videos.
I picked up an inexpensive 6-foot-long PVC pipe for this purpose, but you could just as easily use a broom stick. In your kitchen, you can also choose items that require more physical involvement.
“When I think back to my grandmother, I remember her making meringues, whipping an egg with a fork. Her arm strength to be able to make a meringue with a fork — I can’t even imagine doing that now,” Katy says. “I was at a garage sale and I bought an old-fashioned egg beater, just something to put movement back into life.
Instead of buying a bag of walnuts, I bought them unshelled and then made a fun activity for our family: 'Everyone's going to crack these walnuts with these rocks.' Now here's movement, here's outside time, and here's a task or education about where our food comes from to see it closer in its raw form. Those types of things I think are what save me."
Other ideas include conducting walking meetings, or walking while talking on the phone. Buying a windscreen for your microphone is a great investment so you can walk outside while on a conference call. It makes all the difference in the world. I can go out in 20 mile per hour winds and people still think I'm in my office.
Aside from her book, “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement,” Katy has a podcast that’s both informative and entertaining. She also has a blog. You can find all of these resources on her website, NutritiousMovement.com. Her online shop also offers a number of DVDs and products, such as the half dome foam roller she uses in her dynamic workstation setup.
If nothing else, I really encourage you to listen to her podcasts. Start from the beginning, because it’s really great material. With regard to the commonly asked question of whether we really need to exercise, or if simply moving more is “enough,” she says:
“I think the end goal for exercise versus movement is different. I think in our minds we’ve made them the same, which is ‘health.’ Either I pursue health through exercise or I pursue health through movement ... Without realizing it, you’re really asking the question, ‘Can I pursue health through 90 minutes or can I pursue health through five hours?’ You’re comparing two different things. I don’t think you can compare them very easily.
How I try to sum up the philosophy of it is: Do you pursue health? ... There’s a continuum. There’s a continuum of healthy eating. It starts with a single multivitamin ... going all the way to where you’re fully invested, growing your own food, selecting soils and supplements for your plants based on everything you’ve read and the decisions you’ve chosen.
How do you compare those two? They’re really just based on time that you’re willing to give and the output that you hope to receive ... When you’re assessing something, you have to assess it against a common goal: which will make you feel better? The same thing goes for movement ...
It’s much better to pursue health through exercise than to pursue health through no exercise. What’s the difference if you would pursue health through exercise, which is really short mechanical inputs, versus this particular distribution where you’re moving so you don’t need to (I call it) atone? It’s almost atoning. The mindset really is atoning for sedentary behavior through intense bouts of exercise.
You’re attempting to try to balance sedentary behavior with an increase in magnitude of movement, whether it’s joint movements, degrees of range of motion, intensity, or whatever. You’re trying to heighten it, instead of pursuing it through constant low.
I’m not quite sure if I can even compare the two. I can say that I no longer exercise. I exercise very rarely. I’m a former athlete. I love the exercise high ... But I have found a way to get those same inputs without segmenting it out of my regular life.”