How to Move Better and Relieve Pain
Recently while researching negative heel shoes, I came across the website of Katy Bowman. Our modern society is plagued with “diseases of affluence,” like heart disease and diabetes. Katy believes some of these maladies are rooted in our excessive sitting and improper movement patterns. In response, she has dedicated her life to educating people on what she calls the “User’s Manual” to the human body.
Katy holds a Masters Degree in biomechanics, but what makes her perspective unique is she first studied mathematics and physics before finding her passion in biomechanics. This mixed background allows Katy to come at human movement with the eye of an engineer, but a solid understanding of human biology.
When asked why there is such a prevalence of bad mechanics in our daily movement, Katy had this to say:
As a culture, we have lost all natural movement from our life. The way we are raised as infants, our use of footwear, the lack of squatting to use the bathroom, driving, copious amounts of sitting, and high levels of stress have great impact on the function of musculoskeletal tissue.
What Katy teaches, based on her study of micro-biomechanics, is that our lack of movement directly harms our circulation. When our muscles contract, they draw blood into them, flushing out waste, and keeping our system flowing. When we sit for long periods and do not use our muscles, circulation decreases, waste collects and causes swelling, and the rate of cell regeneration decreases. Subsequently, ailments such as osteoarthritis, low bone density, degenerated spines and tension in the neck, jaw, and eyes develop.
To compound the problem, just because you are moving, does not mean you are moving properly. You may be causing the very same ailments through bad mechanics. Said Katy:
Doing exercise, with its high loads and repetitions on a skeleton that isn’t in the correct position is the main reason why people who do exercise have all the same ailments as people who sit around all day long. Exercisers may look better, but they’re taking the same amount of pharmaceuticals, having joint surgery and replacements, and dying from heart disease at the same rates.
So what do you do if you are facing ailments whether you move or not? According to Katy, you learn to move properly and then do it frequently. She is attacking the problem on multiple levels through her two websites, www.restorativeexercise.com and www.alignedandwell.com. Said Katy:
I like to say changing your posture into alignment is simple, but not easy. It’s not “hard” to fix your alignment, but it can be challenging to change so many things about the way you move and stand about. Your posture is like the accent you speak with. It’s pretty hard to not go into your default way of speaking as soon as you stop thinking about it. And alignment – the way your body should be oriented in space for mechanical optimization – is pretty far from our culturally common postures.
You have over 600 muscles and each needs to be at a particular length to keep the joints at the optimal mobility and the planes of the body oriented to gravity in a particular way. There’s a lot of physics to learn. I can teach someone a pretty good guide to a lifetime of better longevity and cellular performance in about seven months. I don’t think that’s a very long time to learn about anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, but everyone values their health differently.
There is no one specific fitness regimen Katy recommends, but she did have something to say about an essential and often overlooked movement. “I do recommend that everyone, even if you are running 50 miles a week, still take a walk a few miles a day,” said Katy. “There are biological things happening during natural walking that no other exercise provides.”
Katy’s Top Three Tips on Moving Better:
- Ditch the positive heeled shoes. If you can, ditch the shoes all together and opt for some “natural footwear” like Vibrams or the new company Sockwa. And I’m not just talking to the ladies. A lot of fitness shoes have 2-2.5” heels on the back, which create changes in the ankles, knees, and hips that research shows increase the risk for knee osteoarthritis.
- You know those body parts you love to work? You can probably reduce time spent working on those to one third. Make a list of your under-developed parts. Is it your legs? Your butt? Can you do a pull up? Once you have a list of long-forgotten muscles (or even areas that are stubborn to change) you need to stretch them everyday, and then follow up with some sort of natural movement that hits them. My favorite under-used muscle group is the intercostals - the muscles in between the ribs. Once these get buff you can really breathe!
- Create a standing workstation. Research shows, if you sit for a living, even exercising every day won’t undo the cardiovascular damage sitting creates. If you can reduce your sitting time by 10% every week, you will not only mitigate some of the damage, you’ll also be using more muscle during the day, keeping your bones loaded (let’s hear it for weight-bearing!), and be lengthening those stubborn hamstrings!