Why Moving Might Be Better Than Exercise

Most of us tend to think that the healthiest people amongst us are those who dutifully go to the gym six days a week, work up a sweat on the bike or the treadmill, lift weights to preserve bone mass, stretch out in a yoga class, and then go home after the hour is up. While the gym-goers are probably healthier than the majority of the U.S. population, even they aren’t ideal. Why not?

Turns out, the majority of us spend most of our day sitting. From driving to work, to sitting at work, to driving home, and to sitting on the couch as we watch television, our daily activities often involve a lot of sitting. Several studies have compared sitting to smoking cigarettes, which is extreme, but the general idea is correct: the more sitting you do, the stronger the association with cardiovascular disease mortality, as this study shows. Add in the fact that most social situations involve sitting (from coffee dates to dinners to movies and concerts), and we’re now spending almost all of our waking hours with our glutes glued to a chair.

To fix all this sitting, some might suggest taking up more extreme fitness regimens, but Katy Bowman, biomechanist and self-proclaimed full-time mover, thinks differently. “In order to improve our health we must recognize the limitations of the exercise model,” she writes in her book Move Your DNABowman makes the point that rather than try to outwork our sitting, we should shift how we think about exercise. What if instead of going to the gym and walking on a treadmill we walked to the grocery store? What if we prepared our own meals, or even condiments, from scratch—scrubbing our potatoes, slicing our vegetables, sautéing our meat—instead of ordering take out and going through the drive-thru? What if we stood up as we worked, or squatted throughout the day?

While Katy lives what most of us might consider an “extreme” life (after all, she has sawed off the legs of her kitchen table so that she must eat sitting down on the floor, in addition to having installed an entire jungle gym in the backyard), incorporating more daily movement into one’s life doesn’t have to be a huge shift. There are numerous ways to move that don’t involve spending an hour on the treadmill.

How to Move More 

  • Ditch your shoes at home and start walking around barefoot. If it’s warm out, try going for a barefoot walk; feel the muscles in your feet walk and think about what it means to connect to the ground. Need to walk in public? Try wearing more minimalistic shoes.
  • Work a desk job? Create your own stand-up desk. You don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to make your own. Find an empty shoebox or two and stack them.
  • For my birthday one year, my husband bought me a squatty potty. I don’t suggest this as a gift, but it does make a practical (and healthy) addition to any bathroom.
  • Eager to watch the latest episode of your favorite Netflix show? Your life doesn’t have to be black and white. Grab a foam roller, tennis ball, or yoga mat and roll out as you watch. A flexible, strong body is a healthy body.
  • Live in a second-floor apartment? Take the stairs. This works even better while staying at a resort or hotel on vacation.
  • Start gardening. Create your own vegetable garden and learn how to weed, prune, prepare your soil, and harvest the fruits of your labor.
  • Walk your dog more often.
  • Is your destination within a mile? Walk. Do you have the time to spare? Walk.
  • Got a meeting scheduled? Suggest going for a walk as you talk.
  • Ditch the shopping cart, grab your reusable bags, and gain strength in the grocery store by carrying your own groceries from the checkout to your car—that you’ve parked at the far end of the parking lot.

Incorporating more movement into your life doesn't take a lot of effort; in fact, it takes a lot less time than going to the gym every day. However, the challenge comes in the form of remaining open, creative, and conscious of the ways in which our bodies become static, and eventually sedentary. Think twice next time you sit—do you have to? Or can you stand, walk, roll, or squat instead?