June 11, 2020
by Gareth Ellis

Want to get truly healthy this summer? Return to natural movement!

“Perhaps the only way out of our poor physical state, created by our culture of convenience, is a return to the behaviors of our ancestors.”

― Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement

Summer is awesome isn't it?  Time at the beach, the pool, and not having to be bundled up in winter clothes, yay!  But let's be real for a minute.  Summer is busy!  If your life is anything like mine, you are still working, but now juggling the kids who are home for summer!  We have added to that, buying a house this summer, so it's been exciting, abundant, but also downright busy and crazy too!

We had a camping trip planned for the Fourth of July weekend, and the thought of packing for it almost threw me over the edge.  But thanks to an awesome husband, the packing did happen and all at once I found myself at an absolutely beautiful campground in southern New Hampshire with great friends and no to-do list.

All I can say is that spending three days walking everywhere, relaxing in between, sitting by the fire, swimming, breathing fresh air and laughing with friends was the most healing medicine I could have imagined.  It was amazing how all of my aches and pains just magically went away!  And it hasn't just been me.  I've had several patients tell me that while they were camping, they thought that their neck/back pain was gone, only to find it return the moment they arrived back home.

Well it turns out, that this experience is backed up by science.  In my research it turns out that the paleo diet, goes way beyond just food.  It encourages a return to the natural movements that our ancestors did, outdoors, before the gym existed. There were no elliptical trainers in the Paleolithic age.  As was my experience with camping, it really wasn't exercise, but living, walking where I needed to go, lifting wood to make a fire, carrying dishes to wash them, that led to feeling vibrantly alive and healthy.  The other side of this Paleo type of movement is that rest and recovery are built into your life.  You make a fire, then rest and enjoy it.  No wifi, no email, no Facebook, just space to enjoy quiet and friends.  

So here are my five suggestions for connecting to natural movement this summer:

1.  Practice Forest Bathing:  The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku Forest Medicine is to spend time in nature, walking slowly, breathing and opening your senses to the natural world around you.  Research studies have shown that subjects who participated in this practice had lower blood pressure, heart rate and concentrations of salivary cortisol - a stress hormone - when compared with those who walked through a city setting.  This is intuitive to many of us, but sometimes knowing the science behind the intuition really motivates the practice!

2. Take Off Your Shoes:  Walking barefoot is good for your body.  When you get home or if you are outside in your backyard, take off your shoes and let the feet be free!  Walking barefoot, also known as "earthing," has gone from being a kooky counter-culture trend, to a scientifically-researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages, such as increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep. Our body, connecting directly with the electrical charge of the earth, has shown benefits to the immune system, blood pressure and chronic pain levels.  So, take off your shoes and connect with your inner bohemian!

3. Sit Less and Walk More:  Sitting in chairs is associated with many of our modern ailments, especially back pain.  Walking, especially in the woods on irregular surfaces is healthy for your joints and the fresh air is great for your insides.  If you work at a desk, make sure to get up every 30 minutes to walk and stretch, and if you can take phone calls on the go, walk as you work!  Also, if you never sit on the floor, give it a try.  Sitting on the ground engages your core and back muscles and is much healthier for your body than being propped up by a chair.

4. Remember How to Swing like a Kid:  When I was a kid, I would hang upside down and swing from the monkey bars and climb to my hearts content.  I see this in my kids who are naturally strong and limber.  But me, not sure I could do the monkey bars anymore, haven't tried in years!  But moms, it's time we stopped sitting on the sidelines at the playground and learned how to swing from the monkey bars again!  This practice strengthens and stretches your body from head to toe.  It stretches and tones the core of the body which is so often tight and lengthens the vertebrae many of which become compressed over time.  Start slowly and hang from the bars (or tree limbs) with your feet on the ground, building up slowly to swinging!

5. Swim in Natural Bodies of Water:  We are blessed to live down the street from Walden Pond, and I can tell you first hand, there is nothing like swimming in natural water surrounded by the beauty of nature.  You feel refreshed, rejuvenated and connected to something bigger!  Plus it's summer, so take a break from the chlorine pool and opt for the swimming holes instead!

Next week we head to the beach for a week of relaxation, and these practices will surely be coming with me!  I hope you find some inspiration here and things you can add to your life right away!

Happy Summer and see you soon!