By John Sifferman
Doctors agree: moving naturally does the body good. And some movements do the body a lot of good, which is why many doctors are now recommending Natural Movement to their patients.
And it’s no wonder why. Simply by making a habit of moving naturally, you’re likely to experience fat loss, lean muscle gain, increased mobility, less pain, improved strength and conditioning, higher energy levels, increased bone mineral density, lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol numbers, improved cardiac and respiratory function, and a stronger metabolism, along with many other benefits that are usually associated with traditional exercise.
These benefits come as a natural by-product of moving the way your body is designed, and they happen automatically through a Natural Movement practice.
Plus, whenever you practice Natural Movement, you’re not only improving the various conditioning attributes such as strength, endurance, power, agility, and coordination, among others – you’re actually building the movement skills that are meant to express these attributes in a natural context (i.e. in the real world, not the lab or gym).
So, you’re going a step beyond functional fitness and gaining practical fitness – and getting a healthy, fit, lean, and strong body as a result.
The best part? These health and fitness benefits are only the beginning.
7 Doctor-Approved Natural Movements For Better Health, Fitness, and Quality of Life
Most of these movements are very easy to integrate into everyday life or in a workout format (e.g. like in our MovNat Adaptive Practice Sessions). And when you do, it does your body good. That’s why doctors regularly recommend these seven natural movements, even if they don’t always use that terminology.
So, give these a shot and begin to experience the transformative power of these simple and restorative human movement skills.
1) Balance Training Reduces Risk Of Falls…And So Much More!
Balancing is obviously a useful skill for fall prevention, which comes into focus for most folks later in life. But it also delivers many other benefits for people of all ages. Apart from the practical benefit of being able to navigate the world effectively (e.g. everything from standing up from a chair to crossing a raging river via a fallen tree), balance also greatly improves the strength and stability of the legs, and your posture as a whole.
Timothy L. Uhl, PhD, who is a faculty member at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, says that balance training helps to reduce knee and hip pain, and rehabilitate the ankle from injuries such as sprains. Another researcher, Vivian H. Heyward, PhD says, “a review of balance training studies concluded that balance exercises are effective for reducing the risk of ankle sprains in athletes.”
And of course, it’s no surprise that according to a recent study, “a progressive exercise program that focuses on moderate to high-intensity balance exercises appears to be one of the most effective interventions to prevent falls.”
But here’s where it gets interesting. Another study showed that balance training not only improves balance, it also leads to significantly better memory and spatial cognition. So, the data suggests that balance training might be as beneficial for your brain function as it is for your physical fitness.
How to practice balancing in everyday life:
- Stand on one leg while you’re brushing your teeth or waiting in line.
- Instead of walking on the sidewalk, balance on the curb.
- Put a 2×4 board in your hallway to practice balancing every time you go down it.
- During your workout, spend some time between “sets” working on your balance while you’re resting.
- Or, better yet, spend 5-10 minutes balancing in various ways during your next workout.
Note: you can find many balancing movements to practice in our Natural Movement Video Library.
2) Crawling Boosts Fitness and Helps Prevent Injuries
Crawling is not just a good developmental tool for babies, it’s also a great motor relearning activity for adults, too. Crawling is also a “big bang for your buck” movement that is a favorite among fitness professionals because it delivers tons of benefits, such as core strength and coordination, among others. But it’s also an invaluable tool for health and rehab purposes – even providing some surprising brain and nervous system benefits, too.
Dr. Jenny Ploss, PT, DPT who is a specialist in bone health and injury prevention says, “I like to use inverted crawling to improve posture and shoulder range of motion. Forward crawling is wonderful for scapular stability. And the tripod transition between the two connects the core to the sequence and refines shoulder stability in various planes of movement. Lastly, the crawl series progressions are almost limitless, so we can keep our clients challenged and engaged. We can move to the hand-foot crawl, add obstacles, or include balancing across a beam.”
Needless to say, crawling does the body good in a lot of ways. And Dr. Ploss, who also happens to be a Level 2 MovNat Certified Trainer, reveals an important aspect of Natural Movement training: progressions that are safe, challenging, and fun. That’s one of the ingredients in MovNat’s “secret sauce” recipe.
How to practice crawling in everyday life:
- Instead of walking around a barrier, crawl under it (e.g. low tree branch, fence, railing, etc.).
- Add some crawling movements into your workout’s warmup.
- Add some crawling into the conditioning portion of your workout (e.g. as part of an exercise circuit or MovNat Combo).
- For a challenge, see how far you can crawl without stopping. Or, crawl while carrying or dragging something.
Note: if you want to really up your game, try combining these first two skills for a fun challenge: 7 Progressions For Crawling While Balancing.
3) Get Ups Can Help Predict Your Mortality
There are many ways to get up and down from the ground, and we’re willing to bet that the more ways you can do it, the better your life expectancy. If you think that’s a bold claim, check out this study that found the more limbs you need to use to rise up off the ground, the greater your all-cause mortality.
The study author, Dr. Claudio Gil Araújo, says, “If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand — or even better without the help of a hand — they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so…It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favourable influence on life expectancy.”
Get Ups are not only a practical, everyday skill, they also provide the movement skill and fitness benefits to help you stay healthy for a lifetime. The MovNat curriculum covers several Get Up techniques, and they are taught progressively. Here are a few examples.
Beginner: The Tripod Get Up requires 3 or 4 limbs to be used as Points of Support.
Advanced: The Single Leg Squat Get Up requires only one limb to be used as a Point of Support.
How to practice get ups in everyday life:
- Every time you have to get up and down from the ground throughout the day, be mindful of how you’re doing it.
- Instead of using your hands to help you get up, try to do it with just your legs (or as few additional limbs for support as possible).
- Add some Get Ups into your workout’s warmup or MovNat Combo.
- Spend 5-10 minutes practicing as many different Get Ups as you can.
- For an extra challenge, try performing Get Ups while holding an additional load.
Note: Here are some more ways to Get Up from the ground: 5 Natural Movements to Help You Get Up From The Ground Easily (and Get Fit in the Process).
4) Hanging Repairs Shoulders Better Than Surgery
Dr. John M. Kirsch, M.D., is a board certified Orthopedic Surgeon who made his living doing surgery for 33 years until he discovered that some simple hanging exercises could cure almost every kind of shoulder ailment (e.g. shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tears, frozen shoulder, etc.), oftentimes with better results than medical intervention could provide. This was such a revelation for him that he stopped doing surgery, founded the Kirsch Institute for Shoulder Research, and wrote a book about his methods.
He says, “When we were children, we played in the playgrounds and we swung on monkey bars. As we moved on in life, we left the playground and discontinued these activities. Over time, with disuse and gravity, our shoulders become deformed and we begin to have difficulties…using these exercises you may be able to return to the playground.”
The lesson? If you start using your body the way it was designed, your body will start working the way it’s supposed to. You can start with simple hanging movements like the Side Hang or Front Hang, which are a great starting point for a Natural Movement beginner. But hanging is just one component of the larger skill of climbing, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities and benefits, especially in terms of fitness.
How to practice hanging in everyday life:
- When you go to the playground with your kids or grandkids, join in the fun!
- Install a doorway pull-up bar in your home and hang from it every time you go through the door.
- Find other places you can hang in your normal environment (e.g. sturdy doors or door frames, tree branches, underneath stairs, etc.).
- Plug some hanging into your normal workout program.
- Once you’ve got the basic hangs down, try some swinging and traversing on the bar or branch.
- If you have a pre-existing shoulder injury, and some of the movements above are contraindicated, even hanging from your arms with your feet or legs supporting some of your weight can begin to strengthen your shoulders and work towards correcting postural imbalances.*
*If you have a medical condition, we strongly recommend consulting with your doctor and/or medical team prior to beginning any training. Please see our Terms and Conditions for more information.
5) Walking More = Higher Quality Of Life (Especially When You Do It Like This)
There is overwhelming evidence that walking is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health and fitness. Walking has been clinically proven to improve body composition, reduce stress, boost immune function, protect against depression, and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia, among other diseases. So, it’s no surprise that walking is significantly associated with lower all-cause mortality and a higher quality of life, in general.
That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and American Heart Association recommend walking as one of their top choices for aerobic activity. Their recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate walking or other aerobic activity per week. Another popular guideline to go by is to walk at least 10,000 steps per day.
Most people know walking is really REALLY good for us and can help us live longer, healthier lives. But we don’t just need to walk more. We need to walk better. More mindfully and adaptively. This means we should strive to walk in diverse ways instead of merely on flat, level, smooth surfaces. It also means we need to pay attention to what we wear on our feet and how it affects our locomotion.
Once you start seeing walking as not just a form of exercise, but also a skill to be developed, a whole new world of possibilities appears. You can take the path less traveled by getting out into nature or even just looking for obstacles to add complexity to your normal walking route in your own neighborhood. So, instead of just logging a 30 minute walk each day, per the CDC’s recommendations, try to make each walk as interesting as possible. Step under and over things. Balance on a log or curb. Tip toe. Carry something. Or, play the childhood game and never, ever step on a crack!
This hints at another ingredient in the MovNat “secret sauce” recipe. Nature provides the optimal environment for walking because you’ll encounter different surfaces, grades, obstacles, and other environmental variables that challenge the body in unique ways. Sure, you can imitate a natural environment indoors by adjusting the surfaces you’re walking, balancing, or jumping on. But it will never deliver the many benefits that nature provides. Which gets at another important point often made by doctors: spending time outside – especially in nature – in the fresh air and sunshine, does the body a world of good. It’s almost like we’re meant to thrive in it. That’s why MovNat teaches people how to take what they learn in the gym outdoors as much as possible.
How to practice walking in everyday life:
- Make the decision to become a “walker” so that when you can walk, you do walk.
- Park further away from your destination so you have to walk more.
- Fit a walk into other activities, such as phone meetings or lunch breaks.
- When you visit with friends or loved ones, spend some time walking together.
- Go for a short walk after each meal, after your workouts, or at the end of a long day.
- If nothing else, spend some time on a treadmill (or even an “under desk treadmill”), which is better than nothing.
6) Lifting Could Be The Fountain Of Youth
Lifting objects is a daily reality for most human beings, and how you lift things could mean the difference between whether that movement is helping you or harming you over the long-term.
Now, it wasn’t that long ago when most doctors would be quick to recommend cardiovascular exercise, such as aerobics, or other gentle forms of movement such as yoga or Pilates, as their first choice for exercise. However, recent research is continually showing that any and all forms of resistance training (e.g. weight lifting) provide many unique benefits, including some unexpected ones – and particularly for increasing longevity and reducing the effects of aging.
Apart from the well-known benefits such as increased strength, lean muscle, and bone density, weight lifting also improves mental health, critical thinking skills, blood sugar levels, flexibility, and self image, among many other things. And the interesting part is that some of these benefits appear to be correlated either exclusively or predominantly with resistance exercise – not with other activities.
So, how do we tap into this fountain of youth?
DC Lee, who is an associate professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State University says, “Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key…My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”
So, while anything that stresses your muscles will be helpful, we believe the best results will be obtained by moving the way the human body is designed – naturally and efficiently for the long-term. So, it’s no surprise that lifting is one of the manipulative skills covered in the MovNat curriculum, in which we teach the safe and efficient performance of movements like deadlifts, lapping, cleans, presses (and push presses/jerks), among others.
How to practice lifting in everyday life:
- Be mindful whenever you have to pick something up (e.g. bag, groceries, etc.)
- Don’t just lift objects that were designed for weightlifting (e.g. barbells, dumbbells, etc.). Lift odd objects, too.
- If you are already engaged in a resistance training program, make sure some of the exercises you practice are natural movements.
- Or, better yet, start a complete Natural Movement Fitness program that incorporates not just lifting, but also carrying (and all of the other natural movement skills). You can start with our free MovNat Adaptive Practice Sessions newsletter.
7) Swimming Provides Many of these results without the risks
At MovNat, swimming is part of our Aquatics curriculum because it’s one of the many natural human movement skills – and an important one at that, given the prevalence of water on our planet. So, while we approach swimming from an evolutionary, natural, and practical perspective, many doctors are quick to recommend swimming as their go-to form of exercise. That’s because it delivers many of the same benefits as the other activities on this list, but with a lower risk of injury – making it especially useful for people who are already injured, in poor health, or who can’t do other activities, for some reason.
Swimming is a safe, low impact form of exercise that improves both your cardiovascular and muscular conditioning – making it a great all-around option for improving your health and fitness while also learning a practical life skill that could come in handy someday.
Note: if you want to increase your confidence and competence in the water, check out the MovNat Aquatics Workshop.
How to practice swimming in everyday life:
- If you don’t have a suitable, natural body of water available locally, get a pool membership.
- Go for a swim first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or after work.
- Add a swim session to the end of your normal workout routine.
Note: By now, you’ve realized these movements aren’t anything new. They’re actually very old. So, ask yourself, how many of these do you actually practice on a regular basis?
Here at MovNat, we hear story after story from our students about how they were in pain, injured, or out of shape – and nothing was helping…until they started moving naturally.
They might have jumped in for all kinds of reasons. Maybe traditional rehab or exercise wasn’t working for them. Or, maybe they just wanted to try something new. Regardless, when you start moving the way your body is designed, great things start to happen – no matter what your age or starting point. Many problems that used to ail you will begin to disappear.
Plus, anytime you improve your movement skills, you become more prepared for the demands of the real world – including the grind of everyday activities and even unexpected emergencies. This process begins a transformation of not only your fitness and movement skills, but also your confidence, among other things that have to be experienced to be understood.
Note: We believe movement is medicine. And the best movement is natural, practical, efficient, and adaptable, among other things. So, if you’d like to learn what your body is truly capable of when you start moving naturally, please join us at one of our training events.
Attn: Licensed Medical Professionals
Introducing MovNat Medical: New 2-Day Course on the Clinical Applications of Natural Movement
We developed this new program with a team of over 15 medical professionals to provide a deep dive into a practice that’s largely missing in modern health care: Natural Movement. We believe this is the most complete and fundamental movement course for practicing medical clinicians available, anywhere.
If you want to continue your education and provide the very best care for your patients, please join us at this premiere event to learn why Natural Movement is trusted by health professionals all around the world.
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- Why I Shed Tears After The MovNat Workshop
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- MovNat Helped Bring My Body Back
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