An Interview With Katy Bowman

At Hu, "Move" is one of our core philosophies and how we "Get Back To Human." That is part of the reason we are so excited to have you at our restaurant! On our website we say "Move your body. Move often. Maximize natural, functional movements." But in reviewing your site, we realized we hadn't much considered the idea of "nutritional" movement. How would you differentiate "functional" and "nutritional" movement? 

I mean Nutritious Movement quite literally. Just as chemical compounds we ingest affect our cellular behavior, the movements we do and don’t do are converted into chemical activity via a process called mechanotransduction, meaning the process by which movement affects us is similar to the way we’re affected by eating. We don’t have a robust enough understanding of the right dosages of movement (which micro and macronutrients there even are as far as movement goes), and which ailments of the “diseases of affluence,” which I think are more accurately called “diseases of behavior,” can be linked back to specific movements, or the lack thereof.

It’s going to take researchers a long time to figure out a list of  specific, recommended daily movements in the same way we have a list of vitamins and minerals; nutritional science is much older and still hasn’t determined exactly what humans need to eat to stay healthy. In the mean time, Nutritious Movement presents ways to get more of us moving more of the time, in ways that are similar to the way humans have always moved (the idea being there’s a match between historical behaviour and biological needs). Humans don’t all move exactly the same, but there are general categories you’d see repeated daily, such as walking, squatting, and running, and small movements, like the deformation of your feet over natural terrain, or the grasping, pulling, and banging motions of digging tubers and processing food. Each of these motions bends and squishes our cells in unique ways, that stimulate our cells in a specific way.


Here's the annoying magazine question, but we have to ask -- given the majority of our customers and followers are likely active office dwellers and fall into the "active sedentary" category, do you have any easy tips or tricks to help us feel as though we are getting more "nutrition" into our daily consumption of movement?

Absolutely. I wrote a whole book about moving in an office environment, called Don’t Just Sit There. There’s a big standing desk trend right now, which is great, but I would say the issue is not just sitting, but rather as you say, sedentariness, or stillness. Standing still is a bit different from sitting still, but only in geometry. So my suggestion is to set up a dynamic workspace. This means having somewhere you can stand, for sure, but also somewhere you can sit or kneel on the floor, as well as a chair in which you can sit more actively (as in, upright, rather than outsourcing holding up your torso to the back rest). You can even install a hanging bar in your doorway, if you’re lucky enough to have an office with a door.

Outside work, consider walking to any activities you have—you can walk to the store and carry your groceries home and get more outside time in your community, rather than driving for that errand and then onto the gym, where you’d be inside. At home, you can also try avoiding your furniture—instead of watching TV from the couch, sit on the floor in as many different positions as you can. Mix up your kitchen so you have to reach up high or squat low for the items you use the most. Instead of meeting friends for coffee, meet them for a walk or a hike (you can still bring the coffee).


Now that we realize we’ve been doing it all wrong for so many years (!!!), we’d love to hear a bit more about QUALITY vs. QUANTITY of exercise ​- should we continue to try and clock in specific hours of gym time a week -or- do you recommend shorter, more varied movements to optimize this time?

I think it’s been proven over the last couple of decades that exercise culture—that is, setting your movement time up as something that doesn’t serve any purpose other than the physiological benefits—is not sustainable. People know they “should exercise,” but they don’t, because it’s an unnatural construct and hard to prioritize. When I say unnatural, I mean that movement was not divorced from other purposes when we were living in nature. Movement was something we did to get food, not to punish ourselves for having eaten, or to achieve a certain level of strength. So that’s the first part of my answer.

The second is that the idea of setting gym time up as “quality” exercise and other movements as “quantity” reduces the incredible benefits of all-day movement. For example, does walking to the grocery store, carrying everything you buy in your arms (maybe even without bags), and walking home with it sound easy? It isn’t. That’s high-quality, varied movement that also serves a purpose outside of the physiological benefits. I’d argue that incorporating more spontaneous movement throughout the day is in fact much higher quality than doing the repetitive motions you do in a gym (yes, even if you’re cross-training). So you don’t have to choose between quality and quantity.

To be clear, I say all this as someone who loves a good exercise class. I just think that once we start thinking of our gym time as bonus nutrition (aka dessert) we can see the potential for movement nutrition throughout the other 23 hours of the day.  


Along the topic of variety- What is the proper balance between the amount of macro + micro movements we make? And do you have any advice on how to ensure we’re hitting that allotment? I am sure a lot of people mix strength training with cardio, or cardio and yoga, but should we really be mixing more types of activities? If I had to draw a pie chart of activity, what is a good mix for the average person to be striving for? Or, put another way, how many pie pieces should I have? 

The most accurate answer is, this is not understood yet—we’ve only just begun investigating movement. That all being said, if we look at movement in the same way many look at food, and take our  “proper balance” cues from nature, movement varies not only hour by hour, but also week by week, month by month, and year by year, and depends on things like temperature, life stage, and which food is abundant when.

We’ve long been cross-training—either by switching up our daily workout, or by making sure our workout is a mash-up of the corrective, functional, mobility-enhancing, strength-developing, and cardio-enhancing type. But we’re still mostly trying to figure out how to best utilize that single daily session of movement.

Again, I come back to a solution that falls outside of the fitness paradigm—the very unsexy fitting more movement into your daily life.

Transitioning to a movement-rich life is the only sustainable way to achieve the variety we need for optimal function. Said another way, there are hundreds of pie pieces, if not thousands. So, if you’re an athlete, consider coming home from training taking your rest time on the floor vs. on the couch, where you’ve outsourced your body’s work to your furniture. Constantly shift your sitting position so you’re  combining mobility with rest time. If you run, consider how you’re doing it. What’s your form like, or your footwear, or the terrain you’re selecting. Each of these categories dictates which parts of you move and which don’t. When you’re not running, what footwear do you choose and how does that impact which parts of you move the rest of the day? If there’s a major movement food group you’re not able to achieve—if floor sitting is too uncomfortable, if you can’t achieve a comfortable squat, if you’re not able to hang and swing from your hands, if walking long distances is beyond you—start transitioning so you acquire more of these skills.

When you’re done exercising, what does your movement look like? Do you grind your own coffee, or outsource to a machine? Are your veggies pre-chopped or do you work your hands and arms in this fashion? Elevator or stairs? Laundromat or hang your laundry out to dry? Tools of convenience aren’t saving us time as much as they are preventing us from moving. Movements we still need and thus struggle to try to recreate at the gym (and it’s impossible to fit hours and hours of movement into one workout, because physics).

There’s an abundance of movement available to us at no extra cost (and often for less than convenience costs), all the time. The bonus—or, depending on how you look at it, the most important piece—is that reclaiming our personal outsourced movement is typically more environment-friendly and burdens other people working in terrible conditions less. Your movement can be executed for more than personal physiological benefits; it can be to accomplish  a task in your life. And your movement can impact more than your own life; it can be for your community and the world.

I’m not sure if there’s a pie chart that can explain that, but if there is, I bet it would be one heck of a delicious pie.


To learn more about Katy and her philosophy, visit her website here.