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Vital Movement

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When it comes to improving your health, one of the most common pieces of advice is “sit less, move more.” A simple goal, but one that can sometimes be challenging to put into practice.

To help people make the shift toward greater movement, Kelly Starrett and Juliet Starrett, both former professional whitewater paddlers, have identified key movements and behaviors that have the biggest impact.

In their book, Built to Move: The 10 Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully (Alfred A. Knopf, 2023), the Starretts outline 10 “vital signs”—indicators of how well and how much you move, and how well your other behaviors support movement.

Their book is not intended as an exercise boot camp, but as a way to learn to move more efficiently through life.

In writing this book, we wanted to help “restore [physical] capacity and movement to people so they can do what they want in their lives,” says Kelly, a physical therapist who consults with athletes and coaches, US armed forces personnel, and corporations.

Whether you want to keep doing sports, reduce pain in your body, or play with your grandchildren on the floor, the foundational behaviors in the book can support your movement goals—and much more.

“We truly believe that if people paid attention and followed the 10 vital signs that they would feel better, live longer, have more durable bodies, and be in less pain,” says Juliet, an entrepreneur, attorney, and podcaster.

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Benefits of moving

Being sedentary is linked to a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of dying early. Moving more, though, is not just good for the heart and lungs, but for the entire body, because “there's no system in the body that works alone,” explains Kelly.

For example, exercise promotes positive changes in the gut microbiome, the collection of bacteria and other microbes in the intestines. Research has found that a healthy microbiome is linked to a lower risk of obesity and improved mental health.

Even at the macro level, studies show that physical activity can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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Movement vital signs

The foundational movements in the book include getting up and down off the floor, extending the hips, walking more, moving the neck and shoulders efficiently, squatting, and balancing while standing.

“We've chosen these behaviors because we see these vital signs as the hinges that swing the biggest doors,” says Kelly.

How well you can perform these movements—based on assessments in the book—can provide clues as to why you have aches, pains, and fatigue, the Starretts say.

Improving in each area can also help you reduce your risk of injury, they say, because you will be able to move more efficiently and strongly through your natural range of motion.

After each assessment, Built to Move provides specific activities to help you improve in each area, such as hip and shoulder mobilizations, squatting variations, and ways to add more steps to your day. The activities come with various levels, so you can ease into the movements as needed.

While much of the book focuses on movement, the Starretts also highlight other behaviors that support movement: breathing, nutrition, and sleep.

“We really believe that if people get enough sleep, eat more vegetables, and walk and move more, they're actually going to have more capacity to do more in their lives,” says Juliet.

One last assessment involves looking at how much time you spend sitting and creating an environment—at home or work—that supports moving more.

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Fitting in movement

For those wondering how to fit more movement into the day, the activities outlined in the book can be done five or 10 minutes at a time.

People often think “health and fitness has to happen in one-hour blocks,” explains Juliet, but in some of the healthiest communities, “movement is built into daily life.”

Even better, “people don't have to drop their favorite activities,” she says, “Ultimately, we find that if people do the behaviors outlined in the book, it becomes expansive and not restrictive.”

How to breathe properly

Breathing well can help you move more efficiently, avoid injury, and find relief from pain, say the Starretts. They recommend this breathing trifecta:

  • Breathe spaciously: For maximum movement of air, expand the belly, ribs, and chest on each inhale.
  • Breathe through the nose: The nose filters, warms, and humidifies incoming air.
  • Breathe slowly: Slowing down your breathing can have positive effects on your heart rate and heart rate variability.

Sleep walking

People who were asked to walk an additional 2,000 steps a day slept longer and better on the days they walked more, shows a study by Brandeis University researchers.

Veggie loading

Eating 800 g of vegetables a day is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and dying early from any cause, research from Norway shows.

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