What If We Got Exercise All Wrong?
Biomechanist Katy Bowman argues that our fitness mindset has environmental consequences in her new book, Movement Matters.
It started with a chair. Biomechanist Katy Bowman asked followers of her Nutritious Movement Facebook page what would happen if someone suddenly removed the back of your seat. The most common answer: I’d fall backwards.
Exactly. The outsourcing of postural muscles, designed to hold our bodies upright in a variety of positions, would for many be so weak and untrained that the entire structure would collapse. Sitting tall takes work, the type of work too many humans are unequipped to handle. We recognize good posture, so prevalent and acceptable has trademark slouching become.
Another light bulb went on while at her laptop, an unexpected epiphany. Where did that chair come from? Which workers delivered it to their house? Were they the same workers that stocked the warehouse? What about the workers that built the chair, those who sourced the materials? A lot of movement happened to honor sedentary sitting.
This is one of the main ideas in Bowman’s latest book, Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement. Regarding the chain of movement that led to the chair, she recently told me,
You’ve outsourced the work it takes to hold you in place to an inanimate object. That was work that, were that object not there, you would have had to have done for yourself.
This phenomenon extends beyond furniture. What we eat, how we connect, what we wear, how we travel—all sources of movement that we have removed ourselves from. Our economic system relies on movement, yet profoundly unequal contributions make for a skewed relationship to the environment.
For example, Bowman began researching conflict minerals about seven years ago, realizing materials used to construct the device you’re reading this article on most likely involved non-voluntary laborers partaking in natural human movements: crawling, climbing, digging, and gathering.
Our cultural relationship to movement is backwards: we champion (and financially reward) sedentary occupations at banks and think tanks while scowling at physical labor. The basic message is that if you have to use your body to earn your daily bread, you’re not worth much bread.
Yet we have a biological requirement for movement that’s starving due to these sedentary positions. The movements of the labor class are sadly frowned upon. In fact, as much as anti-immigration policies make headlines, a few years ago the state of North Carolina needed 6,500 farm workers. A call to Americans for help yielded a total of seven. Fellow citizens were unable to handle movements needed for picking and sorting. As Bowman says,
The things that you depend on every day come from raw materials that are found by people squatting and crawling and digging. It’s one group of people’s perspective that these are archaic movements.
Bowman doesn’t believe our fitness solution helps. Like the false notion that you can burn off holiday calories with an influx of cardio, it’s impossible to undo ten hours falling backwards onto a chair by rushing to the gym. She compares this trend to the minerals, herbs, and supplements that are the cash cow of many grocers:
We don’t move at all for anything we need, then we walk into a gym and see all of these movement supplements that we can take. But they don’t really produce anything. They are simply producing within us good health, which is fine for us, but there’s a lot of other people around the world doing those movements on our behalf. If we can convert some of the extra time we spend on exercise that benefits only us and maybe start using that movement to accomplish something more than just the movement, you would be extracting more nutrition, if you will, from your bout of movement.
Coders partake in Spartan Races to chase after a physical reality that should be more gently and regularly woven into the fabric of daily life. Yet as technology advances we become enthralled with the prospect of uploading consciousness into the cloud. Like Gilgamesh seeking everlasting life, the fallacy is that consciousness is extractable from biology.
At least the King of Uruk planned to dominate his domain in his half-divine body. Only a sedentary culture could produce fantasies of disembodied ideas floating through the ether. Like early ascetics that viewed the body as a disposable meat wagon, futurists down gallons of Soylent in hopes of transcending the bloody reality of chemistry.
Alas, animals we are. As Thomas Friedman recently stated, earth does not care for our desires; it relies on physics, biology, and chemistry, not hopes, dreams, and prayers. Humans evolved over millions of years thanks to movement. An emphasis on sedentarism in the wake of the Industrial Revolution has resulted in an entire industry of mismatch diseases. Humans have not defeated the elements, as we often believe. We have surrendered.
Thus we treat exercise as medicine for poor habits. We construct chairs for weak spines and bulging middles, we drive a few blocks instead of walking—and since we barely walk, we pad our feet in sneakers that produce anatomical nightmares up the posterior chain to our neck—and then we hope four or five hours a week on a treadmill will even the playing field.
In Movement Matters Bowman offers numerous tips for rethinking your relationship to how and why you move. Just as we would not need anti-inflammatory drugs, statins, and surgeries if not for poor diets, our bodies would dramatically change if we moved more naturally and put that movement to constructive use. Our relationship to our bodies would change, as would how we understand and treat nature.
Movement should be something that you’re doing all of the time for yourself. That is the natural relationship of a human to movement. It’s like saying that breakfast is medicine for starvation. It’s not medicine; it’s just food. You’re supposed to be eating; it’s a biological requirement. The same holds true for movement.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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