Natural Movement really is as simple as it sounds; it’s a form of exercise that could, theoretically, be performed outside in the natural world. The proposed exercise regimes need no equipment, and are designed to mirror the (hypothesised) movements of our ancestors. Put simply – if a caveman could have done it, it’s natural movement. Evolution is a slow process, and hundreds of thousands of years haven’t prepared our bodies for something invented only two hundred ago. Our body is, however, perfectly adapted for exercises such as running, climbing and fighting. This is the core idea at the heart of the cult movement taking place right now, with it being argued that this is what we are designed for, and how we should be exercising today.

In fact, long-distance running was so important to our propensity as early humans to hunt and eat, that our bodies are better adapted to it than most other animals; this can be seen in our shock-absorbing skeletons, our large leg-to-mass ratio, our ability to thermo-regulate (e.g. sweating) and our large adrenal gland, which produces hormones that keep us going over long distances. But what advantages does a natural movement exercise such as running carry over other forms of exercise, such as cycling or swimming?

Let’s start with bone mineral density (BMD) – one of the most important characteristics of our skeletal-muscular system, and a key determinate of how strong or fast we are, is the density of our bones. Weak bones are more prone to being broken, or worn down by movement and the stress of everyday life, in a condition known as osteoporosis; it is the most common cause of fractures in elderly populations. Leading a sedentary or obese lifestyle is a major reason for the loss of bone mineral density; conversely, the best method by which to increase one’s BMD, is impact exercise. Running fits the bill, because the repeated dynamic connection of your feet to the floor over an extended period of time serves to increase BMD (particularly in the legs and lower spine). Activities such as cycling and swimming, however, don’t quite make the cut – a multitude of studies link long-term cyclists to low BMD, and even more linking swimmers to low BMD (note – even though you don’t need equipment to do it, swimming is not a natural movement for humans, as it is out of our normal environment). If you compete in one of these other sports, then you’d need to supplement your exercise regime with running or resistance training in order to maintain your BMD.

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“one thing is for sure –

natural movement offers a multitude of benefits”

 

[spacer height=”20px”] Moving on to circulation, it seems obvious that running, climbing and crawling are going to have some distinct advantages over cycling and weightlifting. This is because all of your muscles (from your toes through to your fingers) are being worked at least somewhat, compared to the restricted movements of other exercises. And it’s true – studies have confirmed this fact. During one study in which the subjects passively cycled a bike at 50 rpm, the increase in cardiac output was shown to be statistically insignificant, and only slightly significant in the increase of circulation of the lower limbs. It must be noted, however, that it’s not just the circulation of the blood that has an impact on our lives, but also the circulation of our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a series of vessels running throughout our body, through which our immune cells travel to their various locations when called upon to fight infection. The main role of the lymph vessels is to transport immune cells – therfore, these vessels for the framework of the immune system. However, these vessels are not driven by the circulation of the rest of the body, but rather by muscular pumps; that is, it’s the force of the muscles that drives the advance of immune cells, and nothing drives your immune system quite like natural movement. Running alone is enough to increase the number of infection fighting T-Cells around the body, and whole body exercises such as climbing and free-flowing gymnastics are even better. These movements actually increase your body’s ability to fight disease, which is simply amazing.

Besides physical, there are other advantages to these exercises – a major plus is the fact that natural movements are mostly performed outside. Being surrounded by fresh air and sunlight does wonders for your mind, with increased levels of light helping to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and thereby help to improve mental health. Indeed, natural movement exercise programs outside are being used in an attempt to alleviate PTSD in war veterans. Some bio-mechanists even argue that working out in nature with bare feet helps to activate genes that get us in touch with our primal selves,  increasing strength and flexibility. The jury is still out on that last point, but one thing is for sure – natural movement offers a multitude of different benefits. As it becomes more popular, and as more people get involved in the communities that are emerging online and in local gyms, more research will be done on the subject. For the time being, I’m a huge advocate for the cause, and will always encourage people to get outside and get stuck in.


Image: Flickr, JustTooLazy

Having just completed a degree in BSc Medical Science, Michael is now studying Graduate-Entry Medicine at the University of Southampton. He has a keen interest in increasing scientific accessibility, and is particularly passionate about dispelling medical myths.

6 replies on “Natural Movement – Fitness Fad or Revelation?

  1. You ended with: “…and will always encourage people to get outside and get stuck in.” I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. Is this something that needs to be edited?

    As for natural movement, you make it seem like it’s all about running, even though you do briefly mention climbing and fighting. There are a lot of other activities that involve natural movement and your article would have been better had you at least mentioned more possibilities, and even better yet had you said a little something about them.

    I’ve never been much of a runner, and I don’t do any regular types of “exercise,” in the typical sense of that word, to keep in shape. But I definitely do practical natural movement that seems to serve me well. For many years, I did construction work, primarily carpentry, which provided lots of opportunities for natural movement exercise while working. In addition, I walk a lot – not to walk just for exercise, but to get from one place to another, including up and down stairs, even when there are other options. I walk behind my lawnmower, all around my large, irregular and uneven yard – while my overweight and out of shape neighbor rides his lawnmower around his tiny, flat yard. In the winter, I shovel snow with a shovel or a snow scoop – while my neighbor uses his snowblower and plow. I cut (chainsaw), load, haul, unload, pile, split (hydraulic splitter), carry and again pile firewood, then carry it inside and pile it yet again before burning it in my furnace – while my neighbor pays for his fuel oil to be delivered. I climb my ladder to prune my trees, then haul away the branches. I also dig in my garden, rake it, plant and weed it, then harvest the veggies. I paddle my canoe and peddle my bicycle.

    I realize that not everyone can do all of these things, but it’s the way I keep in shape and accomplish practical tasks at the same time, all quite naturally. And while I’m doing these things, I’m not plugged in to music or watching videos, I’m listening to the sounds around me, which include lots of birds and other critters. I’m also working in a meditative manner and with rhythmic movements that are as smooth and flowing as I can manage, depending upon whatever I’m doing at the moment. I also pay attention to my breath and my heartbeat, because they, too, are important aspects of my rhythms of life. And that’s all there really is, being in the moment and in the flow. This, for me, is natural movement exercise, as well as practical life skill. And it has been serving me well for nearly 70 years.

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