Today’s guest post is by Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of the bestselling Move Your DNA and a new release, Movement Matters, which examines our sedentary culture, our personal relationship to movement, and some of the global effects of outsourcing movement. I’m happy to welcome her back to Mark’s Daily Apple.
Ancestral health models have begun reaching beyond diet and have expanded to include sleep, stress, parenting practices, and movement. This leads to the question, “Can we better incorporate the ideas of ‘natural health’ into our holidays?”
Of course we can! We can prepare our holiday meals with better-sourced ingredients and eliminate the things we know aren’t doing our bodies good. But beyond the primary meal, are there other aspects of a holiday we can consider? Spoiler alert: there are.
I’ve always loved giving gifts. Choosing the right book, the perfect necklace, the coziest sweater for someone I love has always been an essential part of the holidays for me. But in recent years, I’ve run into a gift-giving dilemma. Most people I know complain about having too much stuff, and many are striving for a more minimal approach to life, from footwear to furniture.
Many are trying to find ways to add more movement to their lives beyond exercise—and to stop outsourcing so much of their movement to items of convenience produced with the expense of fossil fuel production, in some other area of the globe, in conditions we wouldn’t find acceptable were we the ones having to labor.
The more I’ve come to understand the ecology of human movement—how directly exchanging our own personal movement for the things we require in our daily life not only improves our personal physiology, but can decrease the strain we place on other humans and the planet—the fewer irresponsibly manufactured items I feel comfortable gifting.
BUT I LIKE TO GIVE PRESENTS! So, how can we be generous and festive, revel in the joy of giving, while reclaiming our outsourced movement and addressing our essential human need to MOVE? How can we be generous with our family and friends and our communities and our own bodies and the rest of the world all at the same time? Is it even possible?
It is. Behold, for I bring you great tidings of joy: a list of holiday gifts that not only get you and your giftee moving more, but also increase what I call “vitamin Nature” and “vitamin Community”—other important aspects of ancestral health.
If you’re feeling pressed for time, don’t fret (fretting doesn’t need to be part of a celebration); there is all sorts of gear you can quickly source that encourages more movement, more natural movement, and more nature—i.e., it will get someone moving after the gift has been given.
GIFTS TO BUY…
These are a step up from the conventional store-bought gift in terms of their impact on your giftee’s body and life.
Here, I’ll just say it: Everybody poops. If you want more movement in your life (and in your bathroom), use a squat platform to toilet. More squats and less bearing down. If you want to get moving more, too, download DIY instructions and build one to gift, or gift a Squatty Potty (I’m going out on a limb and suggesting this gift is best given to someone you know pretty well). They’re made in the USA, i.e., with labor practices you can stand (or squat) by.
An excellent companion to #2, a good foraging guidebook can introduce your loved ones to the landscape around them. Moving directly for our food allows for a far wider range of movements than we usually get—squatting to collect berries, reaching for fruits, digging for tubers—and it results in nutrient-dense food!
Wild food is completely unprocessed, meaning some part of you—teeth, hands, arms—needs to work to get it ready to digest. Foraging and wild-food cookbooks are typically applicable to certain geographical areas. Research carefully as the region covered by the book should be noted. Again, search out local foragers, and connect with them online or in person (vitamin Community!) as they’re likely well-versed on the best books for their areas.
Hiking and Foraging Accouterments
Moving through nature is our family pastime, so often the gifts we give are things that allow us to stay outside longer. A thermos full of a hot drink makes a winter hike much more appealing. Fill one with hot ginger tea or bone broth, and you’re ready to keep warm on winter hikes. And a foraging bag or basket for foragers big and small makes it easy to keep moving as you collect.
Human-Powered Kitchen Tools
There used to be, and can still be, a ton of movement going into your meals. A hand coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, potato masher, and traditional food mill that you can use instead of a stick blender to purée soups all offer your giftee the opportunity to move more in the kitchen and save electricity in the process (and speaking of electricity, if you’ve got a giftee looking to understand more about how electricity makes it into one’s home, check out The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future).
Bonus: doing things by hand also means fresher ingredients—there’s nothing like the scent of fresh herbs and spices being pulverized by the mortar and pestle.
A Living Tree
For those whose holidays include a Christmas tree, give the gift of a living tree in pot. You can buy traditional potted Christmas trees and then plant them after the holidays are over (an amazingly movement-filled activity), or you can go for an unconventional tree—like a fruit tree—which will continue to offer gifts far into the future.
There are experts in many communities willing and excited to pass on their knowledge of wilderness survival. Buy a gift certificate for a traditional firebuilding class, a class on how to build a shelter, or how to track animals. These skills aren’t quaint throwbacks—having them not only affords us a huge range of movements never called on in the modern Western world, but also makes nature and wilderness a more appealing place for us, so we’ll spend more time moving in nature, which will make us even better at those skills, which will make nature an even more appealing place for us to be, so we’ll spend more time in it… You get it, right?
A Plot in a Community Garden
Do you know someone who’s been dying to start growing more of their own food but doesn’t have the space? Many cities have community gardens established where plots can be purchased or rented.
GIFTS TO CREATE…
Handmade gifts typically require greater exchange of your personal time and movement—something that can make them even more treasured.
Perhaps thanks to Pinterest, it seems we’re going through a second Arts & Crafts period. Before you start groaning here, let me say I am HORRIBLE at arts and crafts. However, a few years ago my family decided to gift only handmade items, and it turned out homemade doesn’t equal crafting at all. It just equals labor (read: movement). Movement, I am good at, especially when it comes to turning wild food (like elderberries) into something functional (like medicinal elderberry syrup).
You’re probably already good at something, like knitting or sewing, or woodworking, or painting, or people walking (seriously). Put your skills to work to make your gifts this year (how about sewing reusable grocery bags or building small raised beds that support future movement?). You can also consider learning a new skill before the holidays—learn to crochet a simple scarf or hand-build a mug. Each skill you learn brings you more opportunity for movement, making every gift something you’re also gifting yourself!
Wild-Harvested Food Gifts
If you have any foraging or hunting knowledge, use it (and thus your movement) to create a delicious food gift. Some of my most favorite gifts include a bag of wild rice, a jar of dehydrated rosehips, and a bag of venison steaks. Another way of moving comes after the wild ingredients are sourced: make acorn-flour cookies, roast fresh chestnuts, make cranberry sauce from foraged berries, turn porcini mushrooms into a savory shortbread, or fill your giftee’s freezer with a moose lasagna. P.S. I’ve had moose lasagna, and it’s delicious.
Local/Sustainable Food, Prepared by You
If you’re a homesteader, you’ve probably done this for years. For those of us just catching up, walk to (or through) the farmer’s market or head to a U-pick farm and gather ingredients to make jams, jerky, pies, pemmican, and more.
A Handmade Wreath or Winter Flower Bouquet
Harvest boughs from living trees yourself, collect acorns and pinecones and holly berries, and give someone a beautiful, fresh, movement-made wreath. Or take a walk to harvest branches, grasses, and winter blooms and make your giftee a beautiful nature arrangement that will last the entire winter.
If you have a green thumb, toss the rest of us a bone. Transplanting a little pot of basil or creating a more complex indoor gardening system (a living wall, yay!) is not only a gift of fresh future food, it’s also a gift of movement: to tend to the plants, to harvest their leaves, and to process the herbs into something they might just invite you over to eat (win-win!).
As I’ve already said, many in our culture have so much and know it. This year, like no other before, I’ve been hearing more and more loudly from friends and family, variations of “I really don’t want any more stuff.” Thus, I’ve started thinking about how to apply the “move more” mentality to gifting experiences that benefit those beyond my normal gift-giving circles.
Serve Others Directly
While this idea isn’t new, it is sadly underutilized. So consider this a reminder: You can check in with your local soup kitchen to see what’s needed this season (and beyond). You can start working with others to gather unused foods from local trees and farms and delivering them to food banks. You can also work directly in the kitchen—use your body to chop, stir, ladle, and carve to feed those far less fortunate and privileged. If you celebrate Christmas, this can be an incredibly rewarding, invigorating way to spend time during the holidays. (And again, beyond—your volunteering journey can begin during the holidays, but continue during the rest of the year.)
Build a “Little Free Library”
Organize a group of people you normally exchange gifts with to make a Little Free Library together for your community. Walk to a secondhand bookstore to fill the shelves, or request each gift-giver donate books from their own shelves. Little Free Libraries aren’t only about the books; they make your neighborhood more inviting to walkers. Not only will you be moving together to build and stock it, you’ll be encouraging your community to move (and learn) more too.
Volunteer at or Create a Community Garden
If there is a community garden already in operation in your neighborhood, ask your friends to donate their time and movement with yours and assist in putting gardens to bed for the winter (or, if you’re down under, to tend and grow!).
And guess what: If there isn’t a community garden in your neighborhood, you can make one. Do the work of talking to your local government about permission, secure some land (many churches and schools are happy to donate space to this endeavor), and get some materials donated from a hardware store. Then you and your fellow gift-givers can set up a community garden to be planted in the spring. The movement involved in tending to food is another gift that keeps on giving.
Go Caroling on Behalf of Your Local Food Bank
Choose traditional songs or pop tunes, promise your family a cup of warm broth or spiced cider, print out some lyrics, and sing your way around the neighborhood. Collect and then carry donations for the local food bank as you go (They’ll get heavy, but so what? Haven’t you been wanting more exercise?) alongside the gift of beautiful (or at least enthusiastic) music for your neighbors.
Hopefully, this list not only inspires you to move more, but also inspires more of your own ideas. Use the hashtag #mymovementmatters on social media to share your attempts at or ideas for “gifts that move you”!
Thanks for reading, everyone. Which of these ideas has inspired you the most today? Other ideas to add? To learn more about Katy Bowman’s work, she suggests walking to your local library or bookshop. And for more ideas of how to create a movement-rich life, follow her on Instagram. Have a great end to the week.