By now you’ve probably heard the saying “sitting is the new smoking.” The message that our sedentary lifestyles are causing all sorts of health issues is out there loud and clear. But have you also heard the message that exercise isn’t necessarily the answer?
Think about a typical day in your life and the life of your family. How often are you moving? Do you and your kids sit to eat breakfast, sit in the car on the way to school, sit at a desk all day, sit to watch television? The simple truth is that many of us, including our kids, spend significant portions of our day on our backsides.
Katy Bowman is a biomechanist by training and founder of the “whole body movement program,” Nutritious Movement. Her message is that movement should be a part of our everyday lives – all day, every day – rather than just a thing we do in between all of the sitting.
Nutritious movement, she says, is a human need just like a healthy diet. A repetitive exercise regime only moves your body in one specific way for one specific period of time, Bowman explains, but integrating movement throughout the day is a lifestyle change that moves your body in all sorts of ways, helping you to be more balanced.
As an added bonus, nutritious movement can make you a happier person because movement is no longer something you have to check off your to-do list. “I’m not stressed about NOT exercising, feeling like I’ve failed to meet the needs of my body,” Bowman says of her own transition to this lifestyle.
Bowman is also raising her kids in a movement-based lifestyle. They have monkey bars in their house and do not have chairs or couches; instead, they eat and hang out in all different positions on the floor. They walk everywhere they can, including frequent trips to the playground, and they hike barefoot through national parks. Bowman says her kids realize that their family is a little different from others, but they see difference as a normal part of life and don’t resist the lifestyle.
I became interested in Bowman’s work after giving birth to my second child and ended up diving into everything I could get my hands on. I’m a convert to Bowman’s philosophy and I’m already starting to feel better.
I move more during my day at work by alternating between sitting, standing, and reading on the floor. I’m also trying to make movement, especially in nature, more frequent in my family’s life. I’ve begun to prioritize our long walk to the bus stop each morning, getting myself outside to play soccer, and spending time on the swing set (I’m working up to my own monkey bar repertoire).
I was thrilled to talk with Bowman about what it means for her whole family to live this way and what the rest of us might learn from her. Lucky for us, Bowman believes it’s never too late to start introducing kids, or adults, to a movement-based lifestyle.
What strategies would you recommend to get kids excited about, or at least not protesting, more movement in their lives?
I think the key is to not make a big deal out of it. The whole “guess what everyone, we’re going to embark on our movement-based lifestyle” probably sounds like “you’re going to have to start doing things you don’t want to do.” Instead, just start taking walks and say “good bye everyone, I’m going to spend some time out in nature alone” and just watch them line up to come with.
Set up games and puzzles on the floor and watch them join you, which is different then saying “Let’s get on the floor and play this game because it’s healthier for us.” Most kids don’t enjoy kale and walking because it hasn’t comprised the bulk of their experience, and we’re all comfortable with our habits. Sneaking it in helps, and modeling is really the best way for kids to become familiar with the idea. Ask your littles where they want to walk and let them lead, rather than saying “we need to get our walk in to stay healthy.”
Are your kids involved in organized sports? Do you approach sports decisions any differently because of your own research and lifestyle?
My kids are little—three and just five. Organized sports are a fairly new thing. But there is more and more evidence pointing to early specialization (that is, having kids play the same sport for many years, as opposed to them playing lots of different movement games and sports before finding what they’re good at as older teenagers) can lead to injuries that can effect them as adults.
I think of sports in the same way I think of dessert—a great way to supplement a well-balanced whole-food diet. My kids climb trees, walk long distances, and hike a lot through nature. We walk to the store and jump off high things, and sprint, and wrestle, and swing through monkey bars—barefoot the bulk of the time. I’m all for sports, I just don’t see sports as fully meeting their movement nutrition guidelines.
I’ve read that you chose a Forest School for your kids. What recommendations do you have for families who don’t have this type of option for school?
Before you assume you don’t have an outdoor program near you, check. This can include a Facebook post that says “Family interested in enrolling their kids in a nature school, afterschool, or weekend program. Is anyone else similarly interested, or willing to take some steps with us to start one.” Once a week I post something about a new school popping up and there’s always a comment or two like “That’s right near me! I didn’t know there was anything.”
If there’s no official program, start an after school or weekend meet-up in nature. Here’s my biggest “get your kid moving” tip: Kids want to move with other kids. Going for a walk “because it’s healthy” is an adult construct developed out of an almost sedentary experience. They can’t relate. What they can relate to is other kids moving through nature, because it’s fun. Humans are pack animals. Get kids a little older and more skilled than yours and it’s like some natural instinct to keep up kicks in and away they go, COMPLAINT FREE (which means your outdoor time becomes a break from The Constant Whining – or, is that just my kids?).
Do you have any recommendations for parents who want to bring these ideas to their kids’ schools?
Suggest ways to add movement to your child’s teacher or the school’s PTA. This can be a bit tricky, but the research on sitting and learning and health are in your favor. I haven’t seen any research pointing to sitting as the best option for kids and education, it’s just how schooling has been done (for research to the contrary, check out this article on the benefits of standing).
Instead of only suggesting, offer to be of service in terms of funding, looking for grants, or volunteering your time in the class to help support this endeavor. I’ve inspired at least a few class rooms to go furniture free (check out this example of a chair free classroom ), and volunteering to shop thrift stores to stock classrooms with tables and cushions of various heights has been helpful, as is volunteering to chaperone class walks and weekly hikes.
For more ideas on how to incorporate Nutritious Movement into your life, and the lives of your kids, I highly encourage you to check out Katy’s Facebook page. I guarantee you will be inspired and occasionally laugh. When you’re ready to dive a bit deeper, you might start with her book Move your DNA which provides all of the basic science behind the concept.
PS – If you’ve been sitting the whole time you read this article, get up and take a movement break; your body will thank you!