Biomechanist Katy Bowman, a leader in the Movement movement, has written a new book to teach us the critical role of movement to the human body (it's basically a nutrient!). And more importantly, how we can get our kids moving again.
Biomechanist and bestselling author Katy Bowman has written another book called Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More and this time it is all about getting kids and their families moving more, together, outside.
Katy has been on the Get-Fit Guy podcast before talking about how walking is the superfood of movement and also giving us advice about how to choose a coach. I also quote her on a regular basis, pretty much whenever I sound the alarm on how human movement is currently at an all-time low. In her new book, she highlights how our children are currently facing both a movement and nature deficiency. They are both spending more time indoors and moving less than any other generation throughout human history.
As we and our kids turn more frequently to the modern comforts and conveniences of tech-based solutions, many tasks that once required head-to-toe use of our muscles and bones can be done with a poke and a swipe. Without even really noticing it, we have gotten rid of the movement-rich environment our physical, mental, and environmental health depend on. But we have not gotten rid of our biology’s need for it.
The good news is, as Katy will highlight for us in moment, while the problem seems impossible, the solution is actually quite simple – and fun!
For those of you who are not familiar with Katy, she is an internationally recognized biomechanist, author, and science communicator with both the skill and passion for reintroducing movement into people’s everyday lives. Katy has also earned an international reputation for educating the general population on alignment and load-science, and as a result has helped thousands to reduce pain, increase bone density, and improve metabolic health. What I most enjoy about Katy and her life’s work is her radical, counter-culture health directives – that happen to be based on hard science.
Below is a transcript of the Q&A I had with Katy. I encourage you to listen to the audio version of this exchange but if you really prefer to read, here you go!
Movement is Counter-Culture
I started by asking Katy why she calls movement “counter-culture” especially as it relates to a child’s life?
Something is counter-culture when it’s a practice not done by most people. Movement is counter-culture then because the bulk of us are sedentary. Even if most got regular exercise, which most don’t, the culture would still be sedentary in the sense that our society is largely mechanized. We use machines to do the movements for most of what we need: transportation, food, entertainment, etc.
Humans used to get all the things we needed by moving, and now we don’t. This is one of the reasons children are moving less and less. As we keep building environments for humans where there is no movement required, then there is nothing left to move us or our kids.
Most adults grew up in a time that was more dynamic than this time, but children born into this time will set this low amount of movement as their baseline, and their children will be born into a culture with less movement still.
This leaves us with this conundrum: Society doesn’t require that we move, but our bodies do. Society is concerned with how little today’s kids move, while simultaneously reducing their movement. In this way, we are all working against ourselves each day.
In your new book Grow Wild (which is available now), you wrote "The single thing kids practice the most at school isn’t reading or math. It’s sitting in a chair.” Aside from making kids, like I was, doze off at their desks constantly, what are the consequences of this?
Training our Kids to be Good at Sitting
In short, humans become really good at sitting at a young age and are now in the habit of sitting in a certain way for just about everything. The consequences are the same thing that make sitting so easy on us. First off, our anatomy becomes better suited for sitting than other things – that’s why, when we start to move more or exercise regularly, it’s so hard. It’s not just starting a psychological habit, we have to readapt our anatomy to moving.
We say “You should add some weight-bearing exercise to build bone” but we don’t say it the other way around – that "not moving" creates a loss – of muscle mass, capillaries and other blood vessels ready to move when we choose to, of bone density—because why would bones that don’t have to carry the load of the body much, waste time maintaining all those minerals?
The fact of the matter is, childhood is training for how robust our adult bodies will be. This upcoming group of children will be the most sedentary we’ve ever seen. There are consequences we might not have even imagined.
Just to be a little bit of a devil’s advocate here, schools still have Gym class or Physical Education classes. Isn’t having a dedicated movement class like PE enough?
PE is definitely a good start (there are many schools that don’t offer any physical education) just like a bout of exercise is a good start, but kid bodies are sculpting their tissues into how they’ll be as adults. Kids need a lot of movement for all the healths – not just physical health. The human body is quite complex and movement is, too.
There are benefits to organized movement and also unstructured movement or play. There are movements kids’ bones need, and movements their knees and hips need. Movement their eyeballs need and lungs need, and shoulders need. If you were to try to get all the dietary nutrients you needed in a small, single meal you couldn’t do it – there’s just too many nutrients.
In this same way, kids’ movement diets need to be much bigger than they are now and include a lot of different movement foods, consumed throughout the day.
That makes total sense. I don’t encourage my adult listeners to do a killer workout in the morning and then sit still for the next 23 hours, kids also need more than one specific dose of movement.
Seeing Movement as Nutritious
In the past, I have referenced your analogy of how movement we do can be viewed in a similar way to the food we eat (did I mention that Katy’s website and business is called Nutritious Movement?) So, why do you feel it is so valuable for society to start seeing movement as nutrition?
We’re more informed about dietary nutrition than we are movement. So I’m capitalizing on this framework to make understanding “how movement works” easier, but also, what happens in the body’s cells when you move them is a similar process to what happens in the cells when you eat certain foods. You put in a chemical compound – a vitamin – and it changes the biochemistry of certain cells in your body. Similarly, each movement bends and squishes your cells which then turn that cellular movement into biochemistry.
We accept that sunlight makes a particular biochemisty in the body and until we recognize that movement does too, it will be harder to prioritize it at a cultural level.
Movement can feel frivolous to many because the consequences from not-moving occur too far down the line to tie them together. Whereas if I don’t eat, my stomach will grumble as a signal, thus I can learn how to feed myself. We have no framework for signs of “movement hunger” – we just call these signs something else that divorces them from our body’s need to move.
That makes so much sense. It's only now, in my late forties, that I am identifying those stiff joints and aches in my legs as being a cry for more movement. Hopefully it's not too late for me.
Quick & Dirty Tips to Get Your Kids Moving
I never like a podcast guest to leave without giving the listeners some immediately useful tips. With that in mind, what are three ways parents and alloparents can start modelling and participating in a more movement-rich lifestyle, right now?
- That place you normally drive to? Take it on foot or via rolling.
- Your next celebration: Do it outside and create a movement-rich theme. Frankly, even eating your dinner outside, in the backyard or at a local park is a simple way to get up out of the chairs, off the devices and add a dose of movement and nature to your next meal.
- Notice your tendencies to ask kids to “just stop moving.” Kids come as bouncy things for a reason. That bounce is in their best interest – it’s us, accommodated to sitting, that want them to match up to our stillness for our ease.
I love it. Those are some simple tips that I hope my listeners will take to heart.
Katy’s book, Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More is available now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook for which I am sure all you podcast lovers out there will enjoy. And – spoiler alert! – you may hear my voice pop up occasionally in the audiobook as well, so maybe that is another reason to check it out! But it is a gorgeous book, full of great info and photos. I encourage all you parents and alloparents out there to check it out!