How do we change such widespread sedentary behavior? For Katy, it started with changing her own level of activity. In this episode, Katy tells her story—from sixth grade all the way to age 46—explaining how she overcame a strong disliking of “have to exercise" to become the avid “want to move" person that she is today.
(time codes are approximate)
00:03:00 - Changing a Sedentary Culture – (Jump to section)
00:6:20 - Cultures and Subcultures - (Jump to section)
00:9:50 - It's Not About Running - (Jump to section)
00:11:40 - Walking and BPM – (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman - biomechanist, author, and former bookworm. All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get movin'.
Hey, friends. So, I have spent over 20 years studying movement but about 10 years in I realized that to truly understand movement I needed to understand sedentarism, which is the flip side of the movement coin. Sort of. I’m just gonna add here that I actually think that we are moving all of the time. Or to clarify, that we are loading our cells all of the time. Even when we are in a fixed position, so let's say in a chair, or say in bed at night. These are situations we could arguably call “stillness". But, our cells are being moved in a way that only being in our favorite chair or lying in our bed can move us. That's essentially the gist of Move Your DNA. It's to talk about how movement is not necessarily a whole person phenomenon, it's also the experience of your cells. So we are all moving all of the time.
But let’s agree to move on and say that while we are being loaded all of the time, many of our loads are static. And we call the state of being loaded in one position for a long period of time being sedentary.
So are you still with me? And at this point are you glad the podcast comes with a rewind button? Go ahead and hit that if you need to and I'll meet you right back here.
So as I was saying, I started doing a lot more digging into the phenomenon of sedentarism to round out my education in movement because I just couldn’t understand how creatures that require so much movement - that have always moved out of necessity - could suddenly start moving so little. I mean, how is this possible? And as it turns out sedentarism is an aspect of our culture - maybe even the defining characteristic - even if this defining characteristic turns out to be an unintended consequence of other ways we identify our culture: like being“well developed” or “technologically progressive,” etc.
Now I'm gonna say that at this point in my life, I'm 46 years old, I’m more active than I’ve ever been. But how did I get here? Well, I wrote an essay about it last year, and my editor really wanted me to record an audio version of it. So I decided to share the essay with you today in the hopes you would find it illuminating and hopefully a catalyst for you, listener, to consider your long-standing relationship with movement.
When I was twelve years old I would have told you that running the mile at school was the WORST thing ever. And I hated it. But I didn’t only hate running while running; I began dreading running even when I wasn’t doing it. So at my middle school, we did timed runs every Friday. The first Friday it was one lap; and then the next Friday, two laps; the next, three; and on the last Friday it would be four laps for our timed mile-long run. It would take me fourteen to fifteen minutes. It hurt me to run. I wanted to barf. I hated being so slow. And I hated having to struggle in front of my peers.
When I was in eighth grade, there were two seventh-graders who were gifted runners. They could run a mile in seven minutes. I mean, what was this wizardry? Once, one of them, Nicole (who I just googled and she grew up to be a teacher and track-and-field coach, of course), she ran with me and talked to me as I ran this one time. This was my first inkling of “when I’m not thinking about how much I hate running, it’s easier.” And I remember that, to my amazement, with her support, I ran a ten-minute mile. I mean, what was this wizardry?
While I was a competitive swimmer in high school, I continued to hate (and imagine this is text this is bolded right now) hate the timed runs throughout school. But when I was about twenty years old, at university as a math student, I joined a gym. And at the end of the gym-equipment orientation, the gym dude showed me how to use a treadmill. So, I did have a Walkman with me (true story) so I put on some music and I started to run. By choice ... and I remember thinking, “I can stop whenever I want, so it’s no big deal" ... I ran a nine-minute mile that day. And it totally blew my mind. I could go faster and longer when I chose to run myself. At that point, my categorizing mind had to move running out of the “I hate this” category. (And since then - this is just a side note - I have realized that I dislike “have to” and now have to make sure I’m not conflating the task with the mandate here.) Once I was able to recategorize running in my mind, I started moving it in my body. For those of you who followed my journey to becoming a biomechanist, it was at this point that I ended up transferring to the Kinesiology department (and it was for a few reasons, but the idea that I could learn all about the physiology of running WHILE running was totally compelling to me) and by the end of that year, I ran my first 6 minute and 47-second mile. Over the next ten years, I ran (and won) 5Ks and 10Ks, half marathons and triathlons. And then fifteen years from there, I went on to seek more all-day movement, and lots of hiking, short and long-distance walking, and a constant pursuit of keeping generally mobile and strong.
As I explain further in Grow Wild, culture is an individual’s set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors, as well as those shared by a group of people, communicated from one generation to the next. We are each within an overarching culture, but we are also within smaller subcultures. We may have a family-of-origin culture, a community or location culture, a religious-community culture, an education culture. And we all have a personal culture. These cultures are distinct from but also relate to each other.
Now, right now, “sedentary culture” is part of the broader, overarching culture. But subcultures - including our individual culture - can also be sedentary. These sedentary subcultures end up reinforcing the overarching culture. So what can we do? I’m obviously interested in working on sedentarism at the broadest cultural level, but I recognize that the most immediate benefits can be found by changing our personal culture. So, I’ve made working on sedentarism at this level part of my work as well.
Surely I’d be moving more if society was set up to encourage or even require us to move more. But I’m happy with my progress to date. My greatest work has been changing my personal culture, which then has grown into a dynamic family culture. My kids do not have the same sedentary formative years as I did. And here’s one example: Last year our family decided to sign up to run a 10K. We thought the kids would have fun running the first couple of miles and then enjoy walking the rest, but we ended up running the entire thing. And it turns out my ten-year-old, who hasn’t enjoyed running in the past, realized that the format of competition and group excitement changed his perception of how hard it would be. And he averaged an eleven-minute-per-mile pace for all 6.2 miles of the 10K. The eight-year-old averaged a fourteen-minute mile for the entire race. (And P.S. None of us regularly practice running. But our approach to moving throughout each day seems to have provided us with enough fitness to be able to run when the time came.)
So, my point isn’t running times, or it's not even the running itself. Everyone will have to think about examples of their own personal movement hurdles. I’m wanting to highlight the power of a change in our perception, and how personal changes can affect more than just ourselves. I now belong to a dynamic family. I worked to grow a dynamic family culture, even though I didn’t start there.
I recently had a chance to get back to my middle school with my kids and I found the same track still there. And guess what I did? That's right. I ran a mile.
So, I wanted to share that essay with you all because I do think the fact that so most of us are active by nature, and sedentary by culture needs to be highlighted more often. And I also wanted to share that we can change, and this is a pun that totally fits: we can become more active one step at a time.
As here's just another side note: this isn't about running. Running doesn’t have to be the way to get more active, but walking more can be a good program if you’re able. And here are some fun facts about walking - specifically walking rate - and improving your physical fitness levels:
The walking pace recommended for improving physical fitness levels is 100 steps per minute. But, rates like this are tricky because a fitness-making pace actually depends on your current fitness level.
If you're just getting started (so if you're going from the couch to a 5K as one of you on social media so cleverly put it), YOUR fitness-making pace might be slower. Or, if you’re already used to walking at 100 steps per minute, you might need to be walking faster.
And also, all walking is beneficial no matter the pace. Steps walked at a rate less than 100 steps per minute are also valuable. Your parts are moving, right? RIGHT. This isn’t to discourage you from working on a faster walk. I want you to work on that! But to add nuance to our collective understanding of how movement works. It's not all about improving your fitness. There's many other benefits that can be found from slower walking. And these are not eliminated by the fact that going fast has its own unique benefits.
And here's another tidbit for the last tidbit. If you can't walk faster and you're already comfortable walking 100 steps per minute, (this is what I do) choose uphill or stair-ed routes, or carry a load to challenge your fitness level while traveling at the same pace. You don't always have to go faster. You have to select a more challenging terrain or load your body and then that will move the needle on your physical fitness benefits.
This is another super helpful tidbit but it also has turned into some family fun. So measuring your steps-per-minute (I'm gonna say it) it's pretty freaking boring. So another way to challenge your pacing is to use a song's beats-per-minute (bpm) as your stepping-rate guide. So Beyonce’s "Crazy in Love" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" - those are 100 bpm songs. You can try some 120 bpm songs for comparison. So that's like: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston, or "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, or "Don’t Stop Believin'" by Journey. So you can check your pace by humming a few bars to see how your steps measure out. or even more fun, Spotify has playlists that organize songs by bpm. So you can put them on on a speaker, take out your family and let them practice all the different walking rates and it's a lesson that you can embody, It's like a physical practice and you never forget like "Oh! Am I walking fast or slow?" You'll just remember.
Music just seems to be a natural way for us to tie moving our body with. Like the phenomenon of music and movement really do go well together. You can tune in and you can tune your counting out. Get it?
All right, so that’s all folks. Unless that’s been trademarked. In which case I'm just gonna go with buh-bye.
Hi! My name is Helen from Orange County, California. This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast of a movement. Hopefully, you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan MacCormack. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen.
Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com.