Most days of the week, before the rest of my family is out of bed, I meet a friend for a morning walk. We bring our coffee and chat while our bodies slowly wake up. I don’t wear sneakers—just simple, minimal shoes that allow me to feel the ground beneath my feet. My toes and arches respond to the terrain, bending and flexing as we wind our way through town and stretches of open field. When I get home, I make breakfast for my two young children, squatting down to grab the dishes I’ve deliberately placed in low cabinets and stretching up for the ingredients I keep on higher shelves. Later, I’ll duck into our backyard to haul water for the chickens or do a little gardening before sitting cross-legged on the floor to work at my low desk. I answer emails, write, or do whatever the day calls for, making sure to stretch, change positions, and take a 2-minute walking break every 30 minutes. (See exactly how walking affects your body.)

There was a point in my life when I thought these simple, gentle movements were a waste of time. All through high school and college, I was an intense exerciser. For at least 60 minutes a day—between all those hours in class or studying at a desk—I either ran, swam, strength-trained, or taught some form of aerobics. While I certainly won the respect of my friends and the title of “healthiest” family member, I couldn’t escape the nagging truth that I didn’t feel healthy. I was capable of amazing cardiovascular feats, but my body felt, well, old. I had chronic lower-back pain, my hips were achy and tight, and I had to wear a knee brace to exercise. One day as I bent down to push an ottoman across my living room, my back gave out. I was only 30 years old!

The more I worked with my personal training clients, the more I realized I wasn’t the only “fit” person living in a body sounding alarms in the form of pain or illness. Often, despite meeting or exceeding the recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, millions of us don’t feel well in our bodies.

The more I compared my life with the lives of hunter-gathers, the more I realized that convenience was slowly debilitating me.

It wasn’t until I went to graduate school and studied biomechanics on a cellular level that I had a life-changing realization: The reason I was in pain was because I’d been thinking of activity too generally and hadn’t been moving in the way my body needed. I’d spent a lifetime believing that as long as I did some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, I’d be healthy. I was surprised to discover that movement is far more nuanced. In fact, the specific movements we feed our bodies can be as vital as the specific foods we eat for better health—and the general feeling of being “too old to move” is fueled not just by lack of movement but by lack of nutritious movement: the kind that includes all the bends and squishes our cells demand in order to function optimally. My movement diet was the equivalent of eating nothing but apples (the same workout I did day in and day out) and candy bars (the time I spent sitting). (Try these 12 gentle hip-opening yoga poses.)

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