Let’s discuss 10 ways you can incorporate more natural movement into your already full life and why you would want to.
We’ll dig into the “why” first.
Exercise Has Replaced Movement
We live in an exercise culture. Gym memberships, personal treadmills, protein shakes. We get up, put in our 30 minute cardio workout, spin class, or lifting session, and then go about the rest of our day.
The problem is, the rest of our day typically involves very little movement.
Contrast this with most of human history. Exercise did’t really exist. Movement was just a part of life—or a way of life—and what people had to do to survive.
Realizing this made us pause.
We were well steeped in the exercise mindset focused on getting our daily exercise in. But we started asking, “How can we incorporate more natural movement throughout our day?”
That’s when our world and health shifted and we saw tremendous benefits!
Our Movement Story
I’ve always had a conventional approach to exercise. Growing up, it was modeled that exercising for a certain amount of time each week was what you did. We had a Stairmaster and a stationary bike in our “exercise room”. My dad would use these to exercise several times a week and when I was in high school, I began to follow suit.
My mindset around why you should exercise was primarily based on physical appearance. To be thinner, for the number on the scale to be less. And I equated all of these physical markers with health.
Fast forward to our mid 20’s, after getting married Jim and I experienced significant health challenges and were on our own healing journey. This is when we changed the way we ate from eating primarily processed foods to eating real, whole foods. As I was digging deeper into this more holistic and natural lifestyle, I came across the work of biomechanist and movement guru, Katy Bowman.
Similar to the choice we have to eat junk food versus real food, her message is that, when it comes to exercise and movement, we have a choice in how we move throughout our days and whether those movement choices will nourish our body or not.
It clicked. We were putting so much emphasis on the food that was going into our body, but not paying a lot of attention to how we were moving our body.
We Changed How We Measure Health
Something that Katy Bowman said that has always stuck with me was along the lines of, “A beach ready body has nothing to do with how you look in a bathing suit. But instead, is your body ready to swim out to rescue someone who was in trouble out in the water? That’s a beach ready body.”
In other words, health is less a metric of physical appearance and more a metric of a) what your body is capable of, and b) how it feels doing so.
This mindset shift has changed how we approach movement in our life.
Now, at 36 years old, I regularly find myself thinking about the things that I want to be able to do when I’m 86 years old. Things like getting down and putting on my shoes or playing with grandkids on the floor. But, if I don’t regularly work those parts of my body now and continue to do so for the next 50 years, I will lose my ability.
The age-old saying is true when it comes to movement, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
What is Natural Movement?
Natural movement is just as it sounds: moving in a way that people would have always moved in their natural environments throughout history.
When you think back to the ways that our hunter gatherer ancestors would have lived, the amount and ways that they moved would look radically different than our movement habits today.
A normal day might include things like: walking a significant distance to find food, carrying the food back, preparing food, hauling water, children or other goods. All while squatting or sitting on the floor to process or cook the food that they found. Even sleeping would involve movement. Instead of sleeping on a plush bed with a fluffy pillow, our ancestors slept pillow-less on the ground resulting in regular adjustments all night long.
Natural movement can include movements such as walking, running, climbing, hanging, carrying, squatting, swimming, dancing, throwing, catching, crawling, and jumping, amongst many others.
10 WAYS TO MOVE MORE NATURALLY
Before we start this list, let’s quickly tackle the question of, “Is exercise bad?”
Short answer—NO! We are in no way saying exercising is bad or that you shouldn’t exercise if you genuinely enjoy it.
But many of us are hardwired to believe that exercise is something you do for a set amount of time each day. Our challenge to you is to instead think, “How can I move in a variety of ways all the time?”
Having this new perspective has really changed our life and health! Here are 10 ideas that we regularly practice to get more natural movement in our everyday!
This is where our journey of natural movement began. I found the work of Katy Bowman at Nutritious Movement right after having our first daughter. One of the first things I heard her talk about in her podcast was the benefits of carrying babies in arms. This benefits both you, the carrier, and baby.
First, you are constantly needing to adjust baby, change positions, and work a variety of different muscles. And for baby, instead of being in a position where their body is supported completely, they are free to move when held and will more quickly begin building strength.
I ditched the stroller and even the baby carrier on our daily morning walks and instead would carry her in my arms. It became my favorite part of the day. Not only was it a great workout for both of us but also a really sweet time to bond.
Carrying a baby might not be practical in your life but there are lots of ways to implement more natural movement from carrying in your everyday life. An easy example is to carry your groceries instead of using a cart. Or, walk to the store and carry your groceries home.
Another great way to stack carrying weight with your everyday walking is to ruck. Rucking has become popularized in recent years and is a term that comes out of the military. The idea is that you carry a weighted rucksack or backpack while you are walking.
Rucking has become a new favorite of mine. I try to walk for 30-45 minutes each day wearing a weighted backpack. While there are nifty rucksacks with varying weights you can purchase, as a homesteader on a budget I’ve resorted to carrying around 4-5 jars of tomato sauce in a backpack.
2. Sit on the floor
An easy way to add more natural movement into your life is to 1) remove furniture that inhibits movement, or 2) create routines and spaces that better allow for natural movement.
While comfy couches and lazy boy chairs have become the norm, they do exactly that—create a “lazy boy”.
We have really taken this one to heart. I couldn’t quite convince Jim to eliminate having a couch entirely. But our family rarely uses it. When we are reading books, or learning together as part of our home education, or just hanging out in the living room, we almost always are sitting on the floor.
If you aren’t thrilled with the idea of sitting on the floor but like the idea of incorporating the action and movement involved in getting up and down, add pillows or cushions on your floor to make it more inviting and cozier. For Christmas last year, our kids got a Nugget Couch and it’s been a great investment for our whole family to encourage a variety of movement and floor sitting.
3. Do it by hand
Our world is full of neat gadgets to make our lives easier. Think mixers, grinders, blenders, processors, and choppers. And while we do have (and love!) some of these things, when at all possible, our preference is to do it manually.
Instead of purchasing already ground flour, we hand mill it ourselves. Not only is this better from a nutritional perspective, it’s a great work out as well.
We almost always mix, knead, and chop by hand. And we have been resurrecting the mortar and pestle whenever possible.
Not only have these small switches incorporated more natural movement into our lives, they’ve also caused us to slow down and genuinely appreciate quality food and ingredients significantly more.
Tending a garden has so many wide-ranging benefits. As far as incorporating more natural movement, a garden requires the full gamete. From bending down to plant seeds or seedlings in the spring, to the acrobatics of weeding and mulching, and then the up and down of harvesting and putting your garden to rest. All of those activities require moving your body in ways that it is likely not used to moving regularly in the course of a normal day.
Furthermore, there has been research proving that simply surrounding yourself by plants is surprisingly beneficial for your health. And of course, there’s the added benefit of giving you nutritious and delicious food to eat.
5. Consider getting a dog (or some farm animals)
For us, a big benefit to homesteading is how our animals force us to get outside and move everyday.
Multiple times a day we need to check on chickens, get feed and waterers filled, collect eggs.
Our cows require daily milking (hello squatting) and hand strength, moving fence, and regular filling of water troughs.
And probably the most accessible of all, dogs! Dogs are perfect companions for encouraging movement. Yes, there are the once or twice daily walks that are so good for you and them. And, have you ever played a long game of fetch with a tennis ball outside? I promise, the next day you will feel it in those muscles that you haven’t worked in a while.
And like many of the other suggestions here, extra movement isn’t the only health benefits of pets. There is a lot of research about the wide ranging health benefits that pets and especially dogs offer (they aren’t called man’s best friend for nothing!).
6. Active hobbies
As a culture, most of our entertainment is sedentary. Think going to a restaurant, bar, or movie. But what if instead, when we were looking for something to do on our own, or with friends, we chose to do something more active?
For our family, some of our favorite hobbies including playing instruments, going for family walks or hikes, bike rides, paddle boarding and swimming in the summer and sledding in the winter.
Next time you are looking for something fun to fill a free afternoon or get together with friends, maybe a walk in the woods, game of kickball, or the increasingly popular pickle ball would be great options to incorporate more natural movement and make memories!
7. Resist your phone and move instead!
The allure of the phone is hard to resist. We see it everywhere. Walking down the street, waiting in the checkout line, sitting in the waiting room. Whenever we have a spare moment, our knee jerk reaction is to grab our phone to distract ourselves.
Something we have been working on is to retrain those habits or pathways in our brain. Instead of automatically reaching for our phone, how could we incorporate some simple movement?
Work on balance by practicing standing on one foot as we wait in line. Looking for the farthest object we can see when waiting for a train (because yes, even distance looking is moving parts in our eyes that don’t regularly get worked in our indoor, screen-based lives).
These simple movements are a great way to kill time. And if you are discreet, no one will even know you are doing it!
8. Take the stairs!
We’ve all seen this image out there on the internet. The gym is on the second floor and the escalator going up is packed while the stairs right next to it are completely empty. I hope you see the irony in this. But it’s representative of the cultural norm! We compartmentalize our 30-minute workout and become blind to other opportunities for movement throughout our day.
Many iterations of ways to incorporate natural movement likely already exist in your day; you just need to look for them. Park at the farthest spot in the parking lot and walk. Ride your bike to wherever you need to go. Or, say no to the golf cart and walk instead. Bonus, you get to carry your clubs! Win, win.
9. Play like a kid!
When it comes to natural movement, children trump all.
That’s just what they do. Run, skip, jump, roll, cartwheel, squat, tumble. And all just for fun! Have you ever seen a young child squatting down watching a caterpillar inching its way across the ground. They do it effortlessly.
In a lot of ways, we have squashed this natural and beneficial urge in children through screens and forcing them into a desk for several hours a day. And by the teenage years these movements that were so easy a few years ago are suddenly much more difficult.
But, let’s bring it back!
This summer, I spent a lot of time at the pool with our kids. As I looked around, I saw a bunch of adults on the edges of the pool. Sitting on the side, watching from a distance. In the past, this would have been my inclination as well. But, not this year.
I made the choice to play. I did handstands and somersaults in the water. Went down water slides. And taught my kids the strokes I swam with in swim team some 30 years ago. And it was SO FUN! I felt like a kid and I enjoyed every minute of it and you can bet I moved my body in ways that I never would have if I was sitting on the side!
Be goofy, watch a butterfly, hop like a frog, take a ride on a scooter, or pull out those roller blades. Yes, you will likely feel awkward (dare I say childish!) at first. But, I promise, however you choose to engage in that childlike play, it will be well worth your while!
10. Go outside in all weather (hot and cold)
Temperature controlled environments have only existed in our modern times. Previously, there always would have been seasons where we would have had no choice but to exist in warm and cold weather, even uncomfortably so.
We miss out on a lot of opportunities for movement because of our constantly temperature-controlled environments. Sure, add layers if you are cold. But, even choosing to be a bit cold for some amount of time can be highly beneficial to the body, increasing metabolism through brown fat and cause us to move in new ways.
Similarly, we’ll happily choose to sit in a sauna, which is highly health promoting in itself, but when it comes to going for a walk in the heat, forget about it.
Of course, you want to make sure you are being safe. But instead of always choosing to move in temperature-controlled environments, there are a lot of benefits to moving throughout a variety of seasons and temperatures.
Resources to Encourage More Movement
I’ve mentioned her throughout this post, but when it comes to information on better ways to move more, Katy Bowman is a wealth of knowledge. Her website, podcast, books, and social media are filled with ideas and information that are both helpful and inspiring regardless of where you are at in your health journey.
Recently, I read “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. This page turning book is a mixture of his personal story and a vast amount of research and contributions from experts. It will definitely encourage you to get up and move more!
Easter makes a compelling argument that we’ve allowed so many comforts to creep into our life that it is actually robbing us of sources of health and happiness. From cell phones, to premade food, to a lack of natural movement, the slow creep over time of having so much of our life outsourced for us has actually not just made us weaker but also less satisfied and happy in life.
“Modern humans may have an unmet need to do what’s truly difficult for us. New research shows that depression, anxiety, and feeling like you don’t belong can be linked to being untested.” Micheal Easter – The Comfort Crisis
A third and final source that has compelled the way that we now view movement in our lives is the research done on the “Blue Zones”. Blue zones are the term coined for areas around the world where people live the longest and happiest lives. National Geographic Explorer, Dan Buettner, has studied these areas extensively and there are several books about his research.
In the area of the movement, there are common threads among the members of these groups.
- People didn’t “exercise” but moved regularly all day long in a wide spectrum of ways
- Most people in these areas kept large gardens, even at the ends of their life
- Many sat on the ground regularly and were daily getting up and down
- Even older members of society were expected to contribute in meaningful ways, i.e., tending gardens, kneading bread by hand, caring for children.
A main takeaway from these people was that they were not doing anything to intentionally pursue health or fitness but instead their whole lifestyle led to a life of health, happiness, and longevity based on the choices that they made.
Our Experience with Natural Movement
Practically, what has been the result in our lives of incorporating natural movement?
While we weren’t struggling with anything major prior to shifting our focus to incorporating natural movement throughout our day, there have been some interesting observations we’ve made.
Several years ago, Jim added daily stretching to his morning routine and doing so coincided with eliminating back pain that he used to experience on a regular basis. For me, the thing that stands out is how my body has felt through four pregnancies. I’ve had very easy pregnancy and deliveries. Not experiencing any of the pain that I hear women talk about while being pregnant in their back, hips, or pelvis. I attribute that in large part to regularly moving in a variety of ways, especially squatting, sitting on the floor, and lots of carrying.
What about you? What are your favorite ways to move naturally throughout your day and environment? We would love to hear in the comments below!
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