Everyone has heard that we all need exercise to prevent serious illnesses like heart disease and stroke. But even with the best of intentions it’s not easy to carve out the time for it. What if there was a different approach to staying healthy and strong than striving (and often failing) to get those recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times per week?
Movement ecologist and biomechanist Katy Bowman makes the bold statement that we need to “exercise less and move more.”
In her book, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement, Bowman writes about how much modern life has changed the context of human movement: “Before we lived in the age of convenience, movement of the human body was necessary for sustaining life (…) you and I dwell in a time when that movement has been almost entirely outsourced.”
She believes that by restoring non-exercise movement “nutrients” to our daily movement “diet,” we can begin to supplement the sedentary nature of our lives.
To understand Bowman’s approach, start with your daily routines. Do you sit in a chair, use a computer, wear shoes or drink coffee or tea? If you answered “Yes!” to any of these activities, you can easily add more nutritious movement to your life by making a few changes.
Here are 4 natural movements to incorporate at home so you can begin enjoying the many benefits of moving more every day.
Kick your shoes off. Yes, right now! It’s OK to keep socks on, as long as you can spread your toes inside them. Each of your fabulous feet has 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments and more than 100,00 nerve endings! If these biomechanical marvels are stuffed into tight shoes all day long, all these tissues suffer from lack of natural movement.
Lift and lower your toes. Now spread them apart. If you feel stiffness or pain, it’s time to gently encourage your feet to move more. If your toes don’t move (yet), keep asking, inviting and encouraging them to do so. You can even reach down and move them with your fingers so they get the idea that you want them to move this way.
Just a few minutes of wiggling those piggies every day will result in increased blood flow and warmth, decreased swelling and better movement of each joint. Letting your feet do their natural thing is also a good move for beginning to strengthen weak arches and decreasing the pain of bunions! Your feet are the foundation for whole body health.
Back Away from the Screen
We all get plenty of screen time. You may find yourself mindlessly scrolling or typing for hours, despite knowing that you could take a break or put the phone down. And that’s a real pain in the neck.
Because it’s normal to lean toward whatever we are looking at.
Unfortunately, the hours you spend wearing your head out in front of your shoulders wreaks havoc with your spine and contributes to that bent-forward posture known as “dowager’s hump.”
Here’s a quick move to correct that tendency. Slide your chin straight back toward your throat and at the same time, lengthen and lift through the back of your neck. This “Head Ramp” can relieve the tension of “tech neck” as it retrains those overly tight muscles in your neck and shoulders to return to their natural length.
However, you’ll need to begin noticing when you are leaning into your screen. Not just once a day or once an hour, but over and over again until the weight of your head leaning forward is no longer pulling your spine out of alignment. Click the link to learn how and try the Head Ramp right now!
It’s fine to plunk down in your recliner or sofa when you need to rest. When you’re ready to explore moving more while sitting, start with a dining room chair. Or any sturdy chair with a firm seat. Sit upright and scoot to the edge of the seat with both feet flat on the floor directly below your knees.
Press your heels lightly into the floor and lift and lower your toes while sitting upright. Feel your core muscles activate naturally as you move to keep your torso upright. Add a Head Ramp to this active sitting to see how it’s all connected from your soles to the top of your head. When you need a stretch break, reach your arms up and gently bend from side to side.
Sitting more than a few hours at a time is hard on your body. Digestion, breathing and circulation depend on small movements all day long. If you spend more than ⅓ of your day sitting, try this experiment. Practice sitting actively in all the chairs around your house and notice which ones support more nutritious movement and which prevent it. You might end up re-arranging the furniture!
Katy Bowman and her young family live a mostly furniture-free lifestyle. There are very few chairs in her house. She advocates floor sitting for everyone, with precautions. Unless you are used to sitting on the floor, I recommend that you begin strengthening the muscles that you need to get you up and down from there.
That’s where a Restorative Exercise program can help. For now, it may be enough to realize how much time you spend stuck in a chair-shaped body. You could do something different, starting right now. Try changing the way you’re sitting before you read on.
Reach Up (And Down)
My 84-year-old client Barbara enjoys a small glass of red wine just about every day. She laughingly claims, “I deserve it!” Barbara stores her wine glasses on the second shelf in the kitchen. When she’s ready to relax with a glass, she has to reach up for it.
At least once a day, she’s reaching overhead, not for exercise, but for something she enjoys. That simple habit creates incentive for her to lift her arms overhead. It brings movement into her shoulders, focuses her eyes above the horizon line and makes her smile.
Win, win, win.
And she’s more apt to incorporate this movement at other times of the day because it’s become easy and enjoyable. Not a wine drinker? Store your coffee beans or tea bags on a high (or low) shelf rather than in a convenient place within easy reach. By the time you are enjoying that first steaming cup in the morning, you’ll have already stretched up or squatted down a few times.