It never fails. Every time I interact with Katy Bowman and her work there is always a moment where my jaw hits the floor. This interview is no exception (it happens around minute 31...)! I think Katy Bowman is one of the single most important voices not just on alignment and on movement, but on being human. Which naturally meant I had to interview her for FFF! Katy Bowman is a biomechanist who is the founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute, the author of Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief and Alignment Matters and an avid, and hilarious, blogger at www.katysays.com. In this interview we cover so many poorly understood yet crucial issues relate to the health of our species. Prepare to be gobsmacked. You can view it in its entirety below or scroll down to skim via the transcript.
1:28 I bring up Katy’s quote “We don’t have an inactivity problem, we have a geometry problem” and ask her to expound...
1:50 [Katy from here forward unless specified] It’s not that it’s not an inactivity problem. We are absolutely suffering from that. We have 3 groups- exercisers, professional laborers, and then you have a sedentary population. The interesting thing about all of those populations is that they are all getting different amounts and kinds of movements, but they all have the same problems. We are sold that if we exercise we will be outside certain health issues.
3:49 When you look at it from a geometrical perspective- just because someone is moving doesn't mean all of them is moving. Someone can be exercising, but not moving that much. When we quantify movement on a more thorough scale than just “is your movement on or off?” and look at it on a more cellular level, we see we are suffering from a geometrical problem. Because when we look at those 3 groups, the difference between their geometry is very little.
5:05 You can be moving a lot but in such a small or narrow range of motion at the joint axes that movement is not doing what it is supposed to be doing for you- which is delivering nutrients ,moving waste products out, etc... But more on a cellular level it is the mechanical stimulation that gives the cell context on how to rearrange its DNA within the nucleus that creates the body that we have.
5:32 So even if the frequency of the movements is there- someone who moves 75 minutes a day without fail, or moving all day long- if you're in that small range of movement your body adapts to that shape. You basically become that position or small range of motion. And that’s what all the Fascia Freedom Fighters are really talking about- we’re all trying to help mobilize areas and everyone has a different piece of that puzzle.
7:03 [me] People think they can repent their [workday] sins of sitting all day by going to the gym. Can you talk a little bit more about how you mean this with people who exercise? Because I think there’s a disrupt with people who exercise- they think if they are exercising that they are in the clear.
7:26 [Katy] What was so important about that sitting research was that the risk held true whether you were an exerciser or not. Meaning you can’t undo sitting all day by doing something else more vigorously for an hour. You get quarters in your cellular bucket for frequency, but not for intensity. Adaptation simply means that you have altered your structure, not necessarily made it "better".
8:30 If you have your knee in one position for 10 hours, that's a lot of “quarters” for that joint to become morphed. Adaptation does not mean improvement. Adaptation means you have altered your structure to make what you do easier on you.
9:20 If you sit 10 hours a day, or 15 hours a day, which most people do- even your super duper exercisers. The frequency of movement is very small. You’re not undoing what you think you’re doing. It’s like the mentality of, “if I smoke, I’ll just run. Because smoking is bad for my lungs, but running is good for my lungs.” But the opposite of smoking is not running, it’s not smoking.
10:35 We’re confusing what we call things with what the actual thing is. But it’s not really how it works, when you apply math to biology.
10:59 [Me- I admire the monkey bars in Katy’s living room, and mention the fact that there is very little furniture. She lives in a mostly furniture free home. I also ask about what it means to raise children in a mostly furniture free home vs. molding their butts to chairs.]
11:39 [Katy] This next population coming up, the generation underneath our generation, is in worse health. It is in decline. But yet no one wants to address the huge elephant in the room which is that we are training our children to be still. Because we don’t delineate the difference between exercise and movement. We have decided that if we exercise for that one hour a day then that is enough.
12:35 And then we just decide that there are all these diseases are genetic. We don’t look at the fact that we're being sedentary. Even more than being sedentary- our periods of being sedentary in the exact same geometrical configuration to the point that you have now created thickening in your arteries at the bends of your joints, and they don’t go away when you stand up. We’ve lost our mobility in our muscles and joints, but it trickles down to mobility on a cellular level. It’s the turbulent flow that wounds the arteries. When you have supple walls, it’s a lot easier for the arteries to change their diameter which can mitigate or reduce the effect of those surges in heart rate. That’s the natural mechanism we have for our heart to be moving at different rates. But we have these hardenings in our arteries, and then we take this body with this problem out to exercise and we increase surges, but there’s nothing we can do about the suppleness.
14:34. Going back to with kids- we are so culturally trained. [In our culture we wonder] "Don't we need a playpen and a stroller and a crib, etc.?" These things are the beginnings of making a child still. We’ve ingrained immobility into our culture so much that our culture kind of depends on it.
15:30 That all being said, I live in this culture too. I like to present the whole thing because we are moving away from talking about the actual problem because we don't see it as something that can change. So we keep talking about childhood obesity and juvenile osteoporosis and the fact that kids are already having back and knee pain and wearing orthotics and we kind of act like, “What’s happening?” Because we're not talking about the fact that this is our choice. But I’m a parent and a realist. I don’t like to tell people what to do, I like to tell people the truth and let them decide what to do for themselves because this [gesturing to the monkey bars behind her] is not for everyone. But it’s the mind part- every single minute of every single day your thoughts are shaped by the culture you are in.
17:11 [me] For those who are dealing with the issue of kids sitting all day long at school, what are your thoughts on options there. [Katy] I would like to see more parents getting involved in changing that. It’s about breaking down inactivity via geometry. It’s not about “we get recess!” and I totally get that it does not work in a classroom with the number of students that teachers have without butts in chairs. So as a parent I would say to offer an environment the rest of the time that is conducive to movement.
18:38 The reason I don't have much furniture or make my home more comfortable is because we will use it. It’s the same reason I don’t keep junk food on hand or ice cream in the freezer. it’s inconvenient for the people coming over at first. When iIm at my mom’s house I’m on her couch the whole time! So I just don’t have it, it’s not an option. And it took a lot of years. We slowly transitioned. If parents could see movement in the same context that they see food. They get more nutritious food vs. less nutritious food.
20:53 It’s such a long period of time [sitting in the classroom] so you can offer non sitting time, but also more movement time. And specifically more natural movement time. Parents have their kids in all these movement classes like tumbling, etc., and those are good and necessary, but what kids are not doing anymore is walking. And that is a huge critical piece of development in every type of tissue.
22:13 I used to go to the park early in the morning and I would see this mom every morning at like 6:15 in the morning and she had her 5 or 6 year old and they were walking and running and playing and moving. I asked her about it and she said she did it for him before he goes to school because without it he couldn’t concentrate and couldn't’ sit still. Imagine taking a wild animal and getting it to sit still. There are some kids who have a harder time sitting still and they get labeled problematic- but if they’ve been sitting for 8 hours every proprioceptive and neurological impulse is shouting at them “MOVE!”. Sorry your biology works perfectly! So just doing that [movement time] is so helpful. And it’s more time out of your schedule, but you need that movement too.
23:57 Also we don’t have a TV. Screen time is a new risk factor for bone density as adults. Screen time as kids. Your bone density is less optimal as an adult even if they exercise. We are so missing that quantity and frequency of loads that is needed to build bones.
25:06 [me] You presented at the Ancestral Health Symposium and I know you presented on something related to children and parenting. [Katy] My talk was called Paleo Parenting [her talk is not up yet on the site, but the abstracts for all 2013 talks are here]. It was not a parenting how-to. I don’t like to give how-to advice. For AHS I gave a presentation on a process that we are not familiar with called mechanotransduction. When we look at disease we are looking at what are the chemical precursors within a cellular environment that lead to a certain biological outcome- i.e. the shape of a body or a disease the body would experience. There is the gene, but there is a whole set of equipment that every cell has. The mechanical under-workings of that cell. There is actual movement within the cell. We think of movement as something happening with these levers, but our cells are sensing loads and location and constantly collecting data about how to respond to that situation. You can look at femurs of people who have done different things in their lives and it’s a different mass and shape- bone robusticity. We all have bones that are not shaped just by our genes,but also by the loads you experience. A load is about frequency, duration, magnitude, all of those things affect what you get.
28:59 So at AHS I talked specifically about breastfeeding. Movement creates forces. This is another reason I like to separate movement and exercise. We don’t think of an infant breastfeeding as getting exercise. We can see a decrease in the shape of the formation of the palette. The teeth don’t fit and are coming out of a bone that should have been shaped by 4 or 5 years of breast feeding. And not just breast feeding, but the frequency of breastfeeding.
30:00 The cool thing about mechanosensors is that they need to be refreshed. It’s like a sponge, if I smoosh it that’s one load, but then it sits there and gets stale. The repetitious load and unload is what refreshes the cell. So frequency is a huge variable.
31:11 In the AHS talk I talked about breastfeeding, also babywearing vs. baby holding vs. strollering. What are the differences mechanically between the 3.
31:31 And as modern humans we talk about why is a baby crying with “it’s tired, it’s hungry, it has a dirty diaper, etc” Modern hunter gatherer populations see a baby as under-moved. That’s the first thing they go to. They need to move for circulation, to keep mobile. They have a whole routine of movement that they put their newborns through and it’s done by the grandmothers and passed down that way. And it can be kind of scary! But it just shows the wide difference in human beliefs about what movement is.
33:45 I ended AHS with - I would like people to recognize that a lack of movement is part of what child is giving off at all times. I am under-moved and my crying is my way of telling you that my body is missing something crucial. And it’s not exercise. It’s movement. Natural human movement that is at a frequency that optimizes the development that is in progress.