You are How You Move
The Lovely Stars was a holistic lifestyle blog created by Samantha Roberts, operating from 2014 to 2016. Writing on a wide range of alternative health topics, The Lovely Stars encouraged readers to live naturally, authentically, and creatively.
Originally published June 10, 2015
Like the title of this post says, you are how you move.
In other words, your movement patterns and habits throughout your life are what has literally shaped your body. Your bones, muscles, skin, connective tissues, and even your cells are shaped and influenced by the loads they have experienced throughout your lifetime. As such, your movement, as well as your environment, has formed you at the deepest levels. As Katy Bowman said, “You are writing your biography in your bones right now.“
Mechanotransduction, Movement, and Genetic Expression
It has been believed, at least since the time of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), that mechanical factors strongly influence biological form and function. Indeed, the general concept that mechanics influence biology was articulated clearly over a year ago by J. Wolff (1835-1902), who suggested that the trabecular architecture of bone is dictated primarily by directions of maximum tension that arise in response to external loading. Nevertheless, it has been much more recent that we have learned that mechanics influences biology down to the level of altered gene expression which in many cases appears to contribute to a mechanical homeostasis at multiple length and time scales.
Mechanotransduction is the mechanism responsible for many of the physiological processes in the body. These processes occur as a result of the cells sensing their mechanical environment, collecting data, and responding to our environments. Katy Bowman, MS says:
These mechanical signals are being created 100 percent of the time by the way we move and how we are positioned when not moving. Movement (not only exercise, but every gesture big or small made by the human body) loads the body’s tissues, and the body’s cells. Every cell, much like the human body itself, contains a rigid network called a cytoskeleton, similar in function to our bones. Most recent findings in cellular biomechanics show that the deformation of the cell itself, and the load placed on the cytoskeleton, affect each cell’s behavior, including how the cell regenerates.
Loads, Frequency, and Adaptation
Your cells are constantly processing mechanical signals, as you are never not experiencing loads.
A load is any physical force upon a biological being. For example, consider wind to be a force. The effect of that force (wind) upon a tree would be considered a load. In other words, the load is how the tree experiences the wind.
However, it is important to distinguish that a load is not simply weight or mass. For example, you may weigh a fixed amount. However, the load your body experiences will vary depending on how that weight is oriented. If you were to stand on one leg, or invert into a handstand, the load profile would be radically different. Therefore, the mechanical signal experienced by your cells would be varied and more nutritious (more on “nutritious movement” in another post soon to come).
The loads you experience most frequently are what your body will adapt to. If you are sitting in a fixed position for most of your commute to work, the eight hours you spend at your desk each day, and then again at home on the couch – guess what? Your body will adapt to that load profile. You will become an expert at sitting. You will actually become so good at sitting that holding any other position for a prolonged period of time will actually hurt.
You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” popularized by Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. However, that phrase is deceptively misleading. The answer is not to just swap sitting for some other position, such as standing. The problem is not the position – it is the frequency of the position and the lack of movement overall.
Regular exercise isn’t the answer, either. One hour of exercise per day does not “cancel out” the other 23 hours of stillness. Instead, we must be moving dynamically and changing position frequently throughout the day.
What You Can Do Right Away
Here are 5 quick and easy changes you can make right away to alter the loads experienced by your body and introduce variety into your movement. These changes require minimal time and effort, and do not cost a thing.
- Go on a walk. If possible, try to walk across surfaces with varying textures and grades. Even if you are in a city or don’t have trails available to you right now, get creative. Walk on the patch of grass beside the sidewalk, or even walk with one foot on the curb to alter your body’s geometry.
- Change your sitting habits. As mentioned above, sitting isn’t the problem – instead, staying in a single position for a prolonged period of time is. So, change your sitting position. Sit on the floor, instead of your couch or chair. Squat. Sit on a ball or a stool.
- If you are standing, don’t just stand there. Again, the problem isn’t positional – it is frequency. If you are standing, stand dynamically. Consider the shape and joint configuration of your body, and actively work to change it. Crouch, put your arms over your head, twist, stand on one leg. You get the idea.
- Critically think about the different casts and orthotics you use in everyday life, such as bucket seats, pillows, and heeled shoes, that impact your ability to move naturally and experience varying loads. Even if you don’t get rid of these body shaping influences right away, you can at least commit to using them less frequently.
- Stretch and mobilize. Yes, I did just mention above that exercise is not the whole answer. However, regular stretching and mobilization is still beneficial. In addition to being a facet of natural movement, it also helps us become more aware and connected with our bodies, and work through sticky spots resulting from years of positional maladaptations.