I was sitting cross legged on the hardwood floors of my friend’s house, immersed in a board game that took three hours of our day and a hundred percent of my concentration, when one of us took the gold and the end of the game dawned on us, as well as a realization that our bellies have been grumbling for half an hour. As I pushed myself up, I felt that achey feeling in my hip joints, as my knees struggled with the unbending. My twenty-eight year old comrades were also having difficulty lifting limbs without cracking joints. It took a few seconds before the pain started to go away, as blood started to flow again. I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt this, but I feel this all the time. Even sitting in bed for an hour writing a blog post can trigger this spasm as I force my body into a new configuration.
A few months later, I read about how people in Japanese culture hardly have trouble at all with their hips and knees. I thought to myself, how could it be that an entire group of people in a particular culture could escape the achey pains that I attributed to age? As I looked more into the topic, I realized that these joints see a lot of movement in their lifestyle, since most meals are eaten on the floor with low tables, and beds are made of futons lying on the ground. Even Japanese worship comes in the form of kneeling and meditating on mats, rather than sitting or standing. Which got me to thinking, how does our sedentary lives affect our physical bodies? And down the rabbit hole I flew, constantly evaluating how non-movement in our everyday is slowly deteriorating our bodies over time.
Many of our physical ailments in later life are masked by medical terms. We give them a name, such as high blood pressure, and arthritis, and diabetes, and high cholesterol. Some say it is for lack of exercise, but I would like to dismantle that theory and say that it is caused by one thing: our lack of movement due to our sedentary lifestyles. We are humans, and our bodies need movement. It blows my mind that the common prescription by medical professionals is exercise. Exercise in the form of gyms and sports, an hour or two of our days before or after work, dedicated to, essentially, movement. But what’s the point of it all if it is negated by sitting (or standing) at a desk for 8 hours a day? We return back to being still, weighing down our joints, starving blood of flow anyway.
When you think about it, what a strange “need” exercise is. Growing up, my idea of exercise was composed of physical education classes (ugh!), gyms, yoga studies, tracks and machines; things that just don’t grow on trees. For this thing that we physically need, does it not seem strange that it doesn’t occur in nature? We know that the nutrients we need in food grows from a tree in the ground and is present in other living organisms which makes a lot of sense. The fact that the Earth contains what we need makes sense to me. But the fact that this exercise that I needed required factories and metal bars and air conditioning and music seemed a little bizarre. But that’s just it.
I don’t think our answer lies in exercise. I think it lies in movement. It also lies in the way we move. If we move in very stressful ways, trying to make gainz as some would call it, our bodies will be taxed. But constant gentle movement throughout the day can do us better. Why is it that we need to go to the gym? It’s so we can offset the rest of our lazy days. Think about how we moved as a species in earlier times. We moved to harvest our food, to collect water from a stream, to carry our babies. Now we have groceries, water filters, and strollers to do our work. It seems to me as if a life of convenience is the reason why we live sedentary lives.
Think of the implications of this one item: a chair. We choose to sit in chairs, rather than the floor. We go to the gym for an hour at a time to do squats. If we just get rid of the chairs in our home and workplaces, we would make this same squatting motion a hundred times throughout the day. Katy Bowman, a biomechanist who has been studying movement for twenty years recognizes the implications of this one piece of furniture. After the realization that movement is what keeps us healthy (not exercise), she has chosen to embrace couch-less living, futon sleeping, on-the-floor dining and barefoot walking. She has two young children, which some may argue calls for chairs, but they have no chairs at their home. She has chosen to implement these intentional addition of inconveniences for the improvement of their health. Creating a home that requires one to move is a way in which we can turn away conveniences and choose a healthier lifestyle for ourselves.
“If aliens came down and looked… it would be clear that we prioritize sedentarism, culturally… that that’s of value, so that we can maximize our time gathering income through the least amount of effort as possible. That’s actually our culture in a nutshell….As the culture, whether they are aware of it or not, buys into the idea that less movement is better, (aka: more convenience is better, because those statements are inter-changable), it becomes more and more challenging in our habitat to find movement because the technology is there before we can even request it”
She has even gone so far as define these everyday movement as nutritional. We all know that we need food, and we know that not all food is equal. There are more nutritional foods that our bodies need to be healthy. Likewise with movement. We all know we need some form of movement, but it has been sold as simply exercise. But our bodies need more than exercise. Movement needs to come in different ways, with certain frequencies, engaging multiple body parts. The fact is that movement should be elements of all parts of our day.
What happens, though, when we tell a group of people that they need to move more? An avalanche of excuses start to collect. Most frequently, the excuse that we do not have time in our day, which is far from the truth. We need to prioritize body movement more than work and money. What is the point of being rich and successful when your body ails you? I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want to be forty and creak like the floorboards of my grandma’s home. What we are talking about is not something unattainable or difficult to do. Take a few minutes each hour to do hand stretches. Make chairs taller so that your feet can’t reach the ground, and you can kick, kick, kick. Put phones far away from your reach, so that you physically have to get up and get it. Take an interest in fixing things at home for yourself, instead of hiring a handyman. Eat with your hands once in a while. Walk barefoot on the lawn. Bike to work, if you can. Take a walk on your lunch break as you eat a sandwich, instead of sitting in a break room watching TV. Take the stairs to the sixth floor of your office instead of an awkward elevator ride. Park your car as far as you can from the entrance of your workplace. Carry your babies on your back when you are traveling or running errands. Add inconvenience back into your lives, for health’s sake.