Are you missing important movement vitamins?

I recently read–and loved the crap out of–a book called Movement Matters by biomechanist Katy Bowman. When you’re done with this post, I highly recommend:

  1. Checking out her books.
  2. Checking out her blog and her podcast. (Bonus: Listening to the podcast while you move.)
  3. Checking out her videos. I bought Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis and it’s fab-u-lous.

But first, let’s talk about movement vitamins, a phrase I picked up from Bowman. Most of us are familiar with the idea of eating a variety of foods as a way to increase our chances of getting the diversity of macronutrients and the vitamins and minerals we need. If you only eat bananas, your body would be very sad. And by “sad” I mean “totally deficient in a whole bunch of super important nutrients that support life.”

In the same way, it’s possible to have a movement diet that is higher or lower on the diversity scale. Many of us think about movement mainly in the context of exercise (and possibly in the context of feeling bad that we’re not getting enough). So, as long as we’re hitting the gym a few times a week for an hour, or whatever our personal goal is, we can check movement off our list.

Bowman brings up two ideas that turn this thinking on its head. One, if you look at how much “couch potatoes” move versus how much regular exercisers move as a percentage of total time in a week, the numbers aren’t that different. Even if you’re working out an hour every single day, that’s still only 4% of your week spent moving.

And two, when we do work out we often stick to the same things. For me, that’s usually yoga and hiking. For you it might be biking. Or swimming. Or treadmilling. The point is, when we engage in pretty predictable movements, we’re moving pretty predictable parts of our body in pretty predictable ways, and this can lead to areas of our body that are rarely, if ever, moved.

Movement is a requirement for health, even down to the cellular level, so if, for example, you wear shoes that allow for very little foot movement, you now have areas of your foot–specific joints, for example, of which your foot has many–that pretty much never move. Same is true even if you’re walking around barefoot but you’re always walking on, say, asphalt or flat trails.

The point is, just like we can’t survive on a diet of bananas, our bodies need a diversity of movement, and all of the parts of our body, not just the predictable chunks, like our abs or our biceps, need a wide range of movement.

Now, when I learned this my first reaction was, well, hellwhat’s the point of exercising then? After my temper tantrum had run its course, though, I realized that there are many reasons to continue exercising (it feels great, I can do it with people I love and build community while I move, etc), and just as importantly, getting more movement vitamins doesn’t mean not exercising. It simply means looking at my entire day as an opportunity to move, not just the hour I spend in yoga class.

For example, I can squat while I read a blog post instead of sitting at my desk, I can do a silly walk around my apartment while I brush my teeth, I can climb a tree while I’m out hiking, I can hang from the monkey bars at the park–in short, I can consciously inject a variety of movements into my daily routine, in the same way that I consciously choose to eat more foods besides bananas.

I want to leave you with two takeaways:

    1. A blog post from Bowman, “13 Ways to Make Your Walk More Nutritious” that will help you up your movement diversity in simple ways.
    2. A super short (less than two minutes) video from Tom Myers, one of my bodywork idols, about the importance of varied movement: