This blog post was written by Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC.
Some people say movement is medicine, but for Katy Bowman, M.S., biomechanist and founder of a movement education company called Nutritious Movement, movement is more than medicine. She says it shouldn’t be something we do when there’s a problem that needs fixing; rather, movement is fundamental to health, just like nutrition. Just as we need a wide variety of colorful foods to meet all our nutrient needs, Bowman explains our goal should be a broad movement diet that supplies many different movement “nutrients.” Neglecting this goal can lead to compromised knees or backs, frequent headaches, osteoporosis, pelvic floor problems, and even digestive issues.3
Rock climbing and hiking are movement. Sitting on the floor at a low table for meals is movement. Gardening is movement. Cleaning out your closet or the garage is movement. So are more structured exercises like lifting weights or swimming. Today, when we talk about “movement,” most people think about “exercise.” But the notions of “fitness training” or “exercise” are relatively recent phenomena. Throughout human history, until the last few generations, people moved all day long just to accomplish their daily tasks. Sure, the idea of training for a sport has been around for a long time, but our ancestors didn’t need to go to the gym to stay in shape. The way they lived their lives – from building their homes and barns, obtaining and preparing food, cleaning, raising animals, and growing a garden, to movement as entertainment and transportation – kept them strong and fit. We’ve lost that lifestyle. Now we’re all about sedentary convenience.
In our current society, even people who exercise regularly, say an hour four days a week, are generally sedentary the rest of the time. So, in fact, these “active” folks aren’t much more active than their completely sedentary counterparts. Four hours out of 168 hours in a week is not a lot. Furthermore, like eating the same foods day after day, the movements performed in a structured workout are usually the same types executed repeatedly, e.g., walking, jogging, lifting weights, cycling, or swimming. In a fitness program, we’re getting a fair amount of some movement nutrients but completely missing out on a lot more. With Bowman’s Nutritious Movement, the goal is to continually vary your types of movement, and do more of it, to meet your body’s movement nutrient needs.
“Movement” is different from “exercise”
Within the paradigm of Nutritious Movement, “movement” is the broader umbrella concept that includes “exercise.” All exercise is movement, but all movement is not exercise. Bowman defines exercise as “purposeful bouts of physical activity that we undertake specifically for improving our well-being.”1 There are clinical parameters that we use to define what exercise is, and they usually include mode, or the type of exercise (like lifting weights, cycling, or swimming), as well as the duration (length of time or distance) you plan to exercise. Typically, we also predetermine the intensity level, or how hard, we plan to exercise in addition to what aspect of fitness we will target, like cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, or flexibility. Another characteristic of “exercise” is the notion that, while you’re doing it, you step away from accomplishing other things to focus on completing the exercise activity.
Bowman defines “movement,” on the other hand, as “anytime your body changes position.”1 Historically, human lives have been movement rich. Compare past generations to our lives now and our children’s lives, and you find a consistent reduction in the amount of movement as well as the types of movement we currently perform daily. Taking the nutrition analogy a bit further, since we no longer naturally procure enough movement nutrients in our daily lives, we’ve decided to “supplement” our movement with exercise. The problem, however, is that most people don’t exercise. And as we’ve already seen, even those who do exercise are still falling far short of the quantity and variety of movement needed to keep all our body parts healthy and strong. Take cycling, for example. If someone rides a bike for an hour four times a week, their legs and cardiovascular system are getting a workout, but their upper bodies and core aren’t getting the attention they need. What happens to body parts that aren’t moved to remain pliable and strong? A powerful example that illustrates the answer is looking at an atrophied arm or leg that's been in a cast.
Even people who meet their exercise goals don’t necessarily satisfy their body’s biological need for movement. So, signs of movement deficiency still occur in this population, such as musculoskeletal issues or metabolic disease.1 In fact, people who do repetitive forms of exercise can experience injuries because body parts that are moved and strengthened are often in close proximity to other areas that aren’t, so imbalances may occur, setting the stage for damage.
How does Nutritious Movement benefit health?
From a nutrition perspective, it’s possible to get enough calories, and even enough of each macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), but still be micronutrient-deficient (in certain vitamins and minerals). Likewise, it’s possible to exercise for enough minutes to meet health guidelines and still be movement nutrient deficient.
Think, for example, about the number of joints in your body and the muscles and connective tissues that move those joints – even down to your hands, feet, ankles, fingers, and toes, Bowman suggests. All those joints must move regularly to maintain their ability to move at all. Consider the flexibility required to put on or take off a shirt over your head, the strength, balance, and flexibility necessary to get down on the floor and back up, or the fine motor skills required to button a coat or tie your shoes. Movements like these are the ones you’ll need all your life. A structured exercise program likely won’t benefit all these movements, but Nutritious Movement can.1
In other words, you want to ensure your “movement diet” is distributed throughout your whole body. Just like foods that supply a wide variety of nutrients are considered more nutritious, the same can be said for movements.4 So not only do you need to move your entire body from point A to point B several times a day, but you also need to move all your individual parts because whatever you don’t move will eventually lose the ability to do so. And did you know that movement signals your body where to send nutrition?5 Consequently, if you aren't moving body parts for a long time, not only will they suffer from a lack of movement nutrients but also from a lack of food nutrients.
Thanks to nanotechnology, we know that for your whole body to move from point A to point B, all your individual parts must work together to make that happen, all the way down to the cellular level.4 In other words, healthy movement quality begins with cellular health. Holistic health advocates know that optimally performing cells require an environment fueled by a wide variety of high-quality nutrition. Yet, we may not always reflect on the importance of a broad range of movement nutrients. Furthermore, we need to avoid focusing on just the quantity of movement nutrients while neglecting the variety of movement nutrients our bodies need.
Prior to some ground-breaking research performed in the 1960s and 1970s by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., genetic determinism was the prevailing belief regarding how our genetic DNA is expressed. Genetic determinism is a belief that genes are self-actualizing, or able to turn themselves on and off. However, Lipton found that the best way to change the shape of a cell – even in isolated conditions in a petri dish – is to change the culture medium in which the cell is growing. Changing the environment in which the cell grows is much more effective than using some direct intervention on the cell itself. Lipton’s research helped form the basis for the scientific field of epigenetics, which is the study of how the environment influences genetic expression. Based on this influence, healthy genes can be expressed and unhealthy ones can be suppressed depending on environmental factors. As it turns out, the environment exerts an immensely powerful effect on gene expression, much more so than the genes themselves.6 So here’s the point: If we want to influence the shape of our cells and thus the health of our bodies, then we need to change how we move.
How to get more nutritious movement
Getting enough nutritious movement into our daily lives requires more than just an hour a few days a week of “leisure-time” activity, especially since most people aren’t even accomplishing that right now. Toward that end, Bowman developed a helpful acronym to prompt more movement in all aspects of life: the SLOTH movement model. Here’s more about SLOTH in Bowman’s words: “Your day can be broken into five categories. Sleep time, which is S. Leisure time, which is L. O stands for occupation or work, or whatever you spend your time doing that fits the occupation category. Transportation is T, and that's moving yourself from point A to point B. And finally, H represents home. These five categories, or domains, are the ones in which we spend all of our time.”2
Despite the massive amount of money and effort spent on identifying the broad health benefits of exercise, most people still don’t do it. Why not? People state many different reasons for not exercising, but one of the biggest obstacles is time. Along with moving less in our daily lives, our culture is becoming much busier, and exercise, since it’s generally relegated to the leisure domain outside of our daily life requirements, is easy to omit when time is limited. Thus, Nutritious Movement aims to get more activity into the other life domains, so you don’t have to find as much leisure time to exercise.2
Bowman has found that a great way to move more in your day is to “stack” movement activities with other items on your to-do list. For example, propose walking meetings with colleagues, get your friend time in by gardening together, or take an exercise class together. Or instead of visiting with your friend at a coffee shop, try meeting at the coffee shop, getting your drinks to go, and then taking a walk. Keeping the SLOTH domains in mind, below is a list of other ways to incorporate more movement into different aspects of your life.
1. Go outside. Think about the difference between walking on a treadmill versus walking outside. You can choose a hill program on a treadmill to mimic going on a hike, which will recruit a wider variety of muscles and joints than walking on a level surface. But even a treadmill hill program will not yield variable surfaces like dirt, rocks, or logs that require you to step over them.
2. Change positions every chance you get. For example, if you sit at a desk all day at work, whenever possible, choose an activity completely different from the position you’ve been in all day, e.g., swimming, tennis, or weightlifting. Any action is better than none, but opt for something different rather than more sitting activities like cycling.
3. Look for ways to move at work. For example, take the stairs, go for a walk at lunch, stretch while sitting, stand at meetings, arrange a walking meeting, get a ball chair and use fidgeting to your advantage, or volunteer to carry boxes.
4. Move while preparing meals. Movements such as stretching, squats, and countertop pushups can easily be done right there in your kitchen!
5. Stretch while reading emails.
6. Park away from stores and walk.
7. Carry groceries out to your car instead of pushing them in a cart.
8. Play with your kids or grandkids at a park.
9. Walk your dog.
10. Run errands on foot or by bicycle.
11. Set up areas at home that help you to move more, e.g., get some floor cushions and sit on the floor, purchase lower sitting furniture, including your bed (Bowman and her family sleep on bedrolls on the floor!).
12. Stretch or do some floor exercises while watching TV.
13. Do active home chores, e.g., do a deep clean and declutter or tackle a DIY home improvement project.
14. “Stack” family time with movement by walking together for an evening stroll.
15. Host active parties (e.g., hiking, swimming, miniature golf), including birthday parties.
16. Brainstorm with family and friends about creative ways to move more and make it fun!
1. Bowman, K. (2022). Ep. 137: An Introduction to Movement Beyond Exercise, Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/episode/1qgk2FmO6vmrSiICp3IemT.
2. Bowman, K. (2022). How Movement Fits Into Intentional Aging: Podcast Episode #132, Retrieved from https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/ep132/.
3. Bowman, K. (2018). About the bestselling book Move Your DNA, Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVRg193Wa-M.
4. Bowman, K. (2017). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. Propriometrics Press: Washington State, United States.
5. Gerasimo, P. (2022). A Living Experiment Special Episode: Nutritious Movement with Katy Bowman, Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhoKErCW3Fw.
6. Lipton, B. (2015). How Is My Research Linked to Epigenetics?, Retrieved from https://www.brucelipton.com/how-my-research-linked-epigenetics/.
1. NutritiousMovement.com. Includes a virtual movement studio, blogs, podcasts, a retail store, an event calendar, and more.
2. Bowman, K. (2017). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. Propriometrics Press: Washington State, United States.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC, has traveled a long and winding professional road that includes working as a teenage fine artist, later a personal trainer and wellness coach, a college professor and administrator in exercise science and education, a freelance natural health and fitness writer for national magazines, a property manager and interior designer for vacation and executive rental properties and most recently returning to the natural health arena while attending Trinity School of Natural Health to become a Certified Holistic Fitness Specialist, a Certified Master Herbalist, and a Certified Biblical Coach.