On “Movement Matters” – A Review

There’s a scene in the most recent season of Narcos where DEA Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook) is upset that his wife left him to the “safer” streets of Miami while he continued to hunt Pablo Escobar in Colombia. While drunk in the bathroom of an airport, he sees 2 American businessmen doing lines of cocaine, to which he becomes enraged and beats the shit out of them, screaming “SIX PEOPLE DIED FOR THAT HIT!”

This is what I think Katy Bowman would like to do for our sedentary culture, except screaming “SIX PEOPLE DIED SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO OPEN YOUR CAR DOORS MANUALLY!”

The Premise

Bowman’s main thesis of the book is that our sedentary culture, our ability to outsource labor nearly ad infinitum, results not only in a decrease in our health, but the decrease in the health of every living thing on this planet, never mind the planet itself. Instead of appealing to emotion, she attempts to do this with insights into biomechanics as it pertains not just to humans but also to other living things, and also to how we’ve treated the planet in the name of convenience and how that changes the far-reaching ecology of our planet. So when she says something to the effect of “When you move your bicep, you move the world,” she means it and shows you the connections.

The Expectation

I’ve been excited for the book, not just because I enjoy how Bowman is at first a teacher and wants to help you excel and reclaim your health, but also because I enjoy having unknown or unseen things revealed. Our world is AMAZING, but sometimes that amazement comes at a cost beyond the value of the magic. My favorite dog-eared ecology text “Human Frontiers” uses strong data to paint the picture of the damage that our species has inflicted on the planet. Bowman takes the same tact from a biomechanical perspective, using metaphor and movement examples to a paint a similar picture. Each portion of the book is chunked into thematically similar essays (Science Moves, Nature Moves, Food Moves, Just Move) that attempt to hold your hand through these concepts.

In the podcasts leading up to the release, I got the feeling that this should be a guilt-wracked book. There was much discussion of “heavy” material, so I was ready to feel awful about myself (which I’m OK with as long as it’s not just masochism). I also expected that Bowman had become some sort of Over 9000 version of Gaia from Captain Planet. To my surprise, I felt neither terrible nor like Bowman had achieved said status, and she says as much in her text. This is important: part of the reason you never meet your heroes is because they don’t actually exist. I’ve met most of the luminaries in the “Paleo” community and they’re just flawed fleshy humans who might have some small part of our world figured out slightly more than you or I. That’s why I wrote the following tweet after I finished:

Perhaps because of my previous experience with ecological reading, the material wasn’t heavy to me. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable or that I don’t have ways I can improve. I do and I am.

The Relationship

A number of times throughout the book, I found myself reflecting how similar the ultimate actionable message is to what the message of the Blue Zones books are: make your life less convenient by taking back work someone else has been tasked with taking on, engage your community, include your family, and build something bigger than yourself because you’re already a part of something bigger than yourself. While Bowman introduced new angles to these ideas, they aren’t magic or novel. They’re simple, but they’re not easy. Of course, if you hadn’t considered her points before, they might be enough to nudge you into action. I hope so.

Since they’re essays, you can revisit them in small chunks over time. I suggest you read it from beginning to end first before skipping around.

I enjoyed it and look forward to revisiting them over time and moving (huck yuck) myself more and more away from the small components of the sedentary culture of which I was born.

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