Move Your DNA, Katy Bowman

Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman

Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman

Move your DNA is about how changes to our environment have affected our ability to move well. Throughout the book's ten chapters, Katy bounces between the bigger picture and the finer details of biological health, and it becomes apparent that the two are unavoidably and intricately connected. Katy opens her book with the stark contrast of the ‘Floppy Fin Syndrome’ and, although extreme, it highlights the reality that our bodies are a product of our environment.

Katie has a wonderfully vibrant way of writing, etched in examples and analogies to get our head around concepts natural movement. She uses the example of mammals in captivity as a metaphor for our own state of environment. A perfect example of this is orcas in aquaria.

In the nineties movie Free Willy, the eponymous ‘Willy’ was captured as a calf and put into a US aquarium. In his previous, wild environment, he swam vast distances each day; swimming left, right, in shallow waters and to the ocean’s depths. He withstood varying pressures and loads on his body, which in turn helped form his structure.

Willy’s fin is made of collagen. The pressures and forces of his environment resulted in the fin’s upright position. However, once moved to a giant swimming pool his collagenous fin has far less pressure exerted on it from the water. This prevents his fin from receiving the external stimulus to stay upright. He experiences the ‘Floppy Fin Syndrome.’ His wild, natural environment has been replaced with a sanitised pool. This is only an example of the physical effect of his altered environment. There are other factors to consider; food, social stimulus, immunity, mental health. ‘Diseases of captivity’ are by-products of an ever more controlled environment, and these diseases aren’t just affecting captive animals - they are affecting us too.

Our perception of normal (from a human movement perspective) has been modified through our daily intake of face-value comforts that have lead to suboptimal conditions - just like Willie’s tank. Once we understand this concept, everything falls into place. If you live in the 21st century and you have a house with a roof, temperature control, wear footwear, drive a car and have a job that doesn't involve (lots of) walking, digging, foraging, climbing and varied movement, chances are your body isn’t moving optimally.

Katy gives great suggestions as to how we can improve our daily habits, without reverting to living in a cave and ridding ourselves entirely of modern advances. Although the book’s structure is a little poorly organised, there are exercises and movements that are easy to fit into even the busiest of schedules. Most importantly, it provides an insightful approach to how we are affecting our bodies’ health and what we can do to inspire personal change.

Here are some tips that I found really helpful:

Movement Nutrients. When we think of food and what constitutes a healthy diet, we tend to strive for a wide variety of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants). We know a varied diet will bring about a healthy balance for the body. The same goes for movement. When we vary our movement, including the shapes we make, the body parts we use, and the intensity we undergo, we develop healthy and adaptive forces that benefit the body.

Even if you have a particular sport you love, make sure you are bringing other movements and movement intensities into your life. Walking, squatting, hanging, jumping, balancing and crawling are some great examples. Not just the movement itself, but the environment you move in can also vary, adding more ‘movement nutrients’ to other parts of the body not often thought about, such as the skin. So instead of just hanging off a pull-up bar, hang off a pole, a tree, something thick, something thin…the options are endless!

Kyphosis is our floppy fin. Most of us don’t use our arms and upper body in in the same way as our pre-industrial ancestors. Over millenia, our upper bodies have evolved to be good at digging, climbing, foraging, hunting, grinding, pounding and lifting. The majority of the time nowadays we only reach in front of us; we mostly use our arms to write, type, steer and text and not much else. Because of these unvaried movement patterns it has ‘pulled us forward’, creating our ‘slouched’ positions and bent spines. Katy advises not to just ‘stand up straight and pull your shoulders back’- this can often (in the long run) make things worse. Instead, keep your ribs down. When standing up ‘straight’ or reaching up overhead, avoid the shearing forces that flaring your ribs can have on your spine. It will also allow the muscles in the lower back to relax. Allow the shoulder blades to spread wide. Avoid pinching them together and instead encourage them so sit flush on the back.

Clothes can be movement casts. We all know that a tight pair of jeans can restrict us sitting, or squatting. But restrictive clothing can have a far greater impact than just on obvious movement patterns. For example, wearing restrictive underwear (male and female) can start to manipulate the loads that the suspensory ligaments (these are the ligaments that support testicles and breasts) are used to bearing. Katy suggests that, if the cells of the ligaments are not nourished through movement or workload, their health declines and they can become ‘sick.’ She even suggests there may be a link between the increasing rates of testicular and breast cancer and wearing restrictive underwear.

This book is fantastic for anyone who wants to understand the body and how it is affected by the way we live. Health and fitness media tend to do an excellent job of looking at the minute details of wellness, but often fail to recognise that everything is indeed connected. It is very easy to read, and the breakdown of biomechanics for the non-health professional is brilliant. It opens your eyes to the effect of forces on our body, how they change our shape and our movement and, ultimately, what we can do about it.