When humans lived in the wild, they had no choice but to make healthy decisions. There was no lifestyle but the Survival lifestyle. Humans had to move a lot in a variety of ways every day just to keep themselves sheltered and fed. This necessary movement kept them well trained in the strength, endurance, and mobility they needed to stay healthy. Today, we live in a paradox: our shelters are bigger and fancier, our food comes from
further away, and yet we use less physical effort than ever to obtain these provisions. Doing such things as carrying water, food, and building materials, digging and squatting to gather, walking for miles a day to search for food and materials are no longer required activities for many of us. However, we ALL still live inside bodies that are designed for a life of abundant, daily movement.
If we want to maintain the systems that we rely on, such as our connective fascia, our nutrient-transporting cardiovascular system, and our communicative nervous system, we need to move them. Today, this means we must SEEK OUT movement opportunities, often aside from the time we already spend doing necessary tasks like work, school, cooking, and maintaining our homes. This is just fine, if you are a very motivated person who happens to have plenty of time on your hands. However, many of us don’t have the luxury of time to spend on exercise. Additionally, finding the motivation to voluntarily move more than needed can be difficult.
I believe we can turn things around so that our lifestyle once again nourishes our bodies and minds the same way it would if we still lived in the wild. However, to do this while living in a modern world, we must acknowledge our primal instincts to save energy. We must do what we can to make it easier to make the choice to move more, since it is now a choice and often not necessary. We need to find ways to make it feel more important, purposeful, or enjoyable to move.
Like food groups, essential movements can be grouped into categories, such as Walking, Carrying, Balancing, Squatting/ Resting, Hanging/ Climbing, Throwing/Catching. Some movement categories, like walking and squatting, should make up a larger proportion of our movement diet, while others, like hanging, can make up a smaller amount of our overall movement. When we identify a particular food, or a type of food, that we want to consume more frequently, we need to find ways to incorporate it into our current diet. For example, if I want to eat more spinach, the first thing to do is make it available for me to consume—I’ve got to get it into my refrigerator. Then I need to know how to use that spinach—I need some good recipes to ensure that I actually consume it. Maybe I’m already awesome at just stuffing it plain into my mouth, or maybe I need a delicious frittata to ensure that I will eat it. In the same way, in order to actually move more, you need to have opportunities for movement available to you and you need to know how to make the movement delectable enough for YOU to actually do it.
Below are some examples that I’ve learned from others or discovered in my own endeavors. You can use these as a starting point to get ideas about what makes sense for you and your own life.
I wanted to spend less time sitting in traditional chairs and instead sit or squat on the floor. To make it easier to choose these resting movements, I removed my traditional chairs from my primary living spaces. I made inviting, open spaces in my house where floor sitting is accessible and attractive. I acquired various cushions to make it easier to sit on the floor, and I also started using lower tables that allow floor sitting during mealtimes and computer work.
I wanted to walk more often and further. It is great to take walks simply for enjoyment, but it can feel more necessary—and therefore happen more often—if one walks to get somewhere. It’s hard to compete with the car, but we can sometimes find ways to replace driving time with walking time. For example, I often park a quarter mile away from my child’s preschool. Walking several miles to get to preschool would take too long, but in this way, I can ensure we walk at least a little way. This idea can be used for any destination. The main trick is to establish a routine of parking slightly farther away. Before long, it can feel like the normal thing to do.
In many cultures around the world, one sees people squatting all the time. However, in Western societies, the squat can often be lost altogether once one is an adult. Restoring one’s ability to squat down to the floor may take time and specific guidance. Whatever squatting variations you are working on, having any necessary bolsters or low tables will help encourage you return to this endeavor frequently throughout the day. Some tasks that regularly involve squatting in my life are changing babies’ diapers and helping my toddlers get dressed, folding laundry, some food prep, gardening, and home improvement tasks.
Hanging, climbing, and reaching are movements that help maintain stability and strength in shoulder, hands, ribs, and more. If I had a lot more motivation, I would go outside and climb a tree, or go to a park and hang on the monkey bars there. Much of the time, however, the cold, wet weather deters me. To address this, I first started by having a simple doorway pull-up bar, conveniently out of the rain and in a doorway I already go through all the time. Since then, I’ve expanded on my hanging options quite a bit, and have mounted hanging rings in my living room and monkey bars in my hallway. I’m no gymnast, but it’s pretty easy to hang around for a few minutes every day, and those minutes add up over time. Another strategy to ensure you spend a few moments every day reaching your arms overhead is to put frequently used items up on a high shelf. That way, every time you reach for your favorite mug--or in our house, the chocolates (!)--you’re moving your body parts that much more.
Imagine what kinds of terrain your feet would experience over the course of a day if you lived in the wild. Our feet are designed to walk over a variety of surfaces—the lumps and bumps of the world molding, squishing, and massaging the many joints and connective tissues within them. Most of us now spend quite a bit of time standing on smooth, even surfaces that lack the texture our feet need to be well nourished. In addition to spending time walking in nature, I like to supplement my feet with some uneven surfaces. Balls, rocks, cobblestone mats, pieces of driftwood, dog toys—there are many options. Good places for some extra texture can be in the kitchen, at a standing desk, or at a bathroom sink.
One of the most simple and important ways to encourage more movement is to have the space to do it. In typical American homes, we fill open spaces with furniture. A lot of it doesn’t even have a purpose other than to make the space look “complete,” such as end tables, decorative lamps, bureaus, and extra chairs. A lot of people already started looking at their living spaces differently during the Pandemic as home also became the office, the school, and the gym. Do you have to make the conscious effort to move things out of the way before you can roll out your yoga mat and do a few stretches? If you wanted to get on the floor and play with your grandson, do you have to first guide him to the living room rug as the only spot where he won’t bump into furniture during a little rough and tumble fun? How easy and accessible is it for you and those who visit you to move (crouch, crawl, stretch, play, dance…) within your home? I’m not saying we all need to get bigger houses. Rather, we need to examine the way we construct and design our habitats. We should all seek to shape our living spaces according to how we want the time we spend in them to shape us. You can find many examples of what other people have done in their homes, with varying resources and budgets, by searching the internet with key terms such as “dynamic living space” and “furniture free.”