Every Step Counts by Sarah Mayo
I’ve long been interested in “exercise”, but that’s what I would now call “formal” exercise… My interest in exercise is now more about movement, specifically, regular movement, as opposed to formal exercise per se… and I’m a huge advocate of “free” movement as much as possible… there’s so much you can do without being a member of a gym to keep you fit and healthy, and it will save you money, and can save you time too… if planned right!
The month of May is National Walking Month, so it feels appropriate to walk the talk by talking about the benefits and pleasures of walking… something I’ve only recently “discovered”. Most of us have heard the fact that we should be walking 10,000 steps a day… now without alarming you, that’s actually a minimum recommendation. But that’s really difficult to do isn’t it? Particularly when you think of the way that we lead our lives… always in a hurry to get from A to B as quickly as possible, whilst juggling work and family responsibilities. So, we opt for the train, or the car, or the bus. Where we sit and are transported. And inevitably when we get where we’re going to, we end up sitting… for long periods of time.
The fact is most of us lead predominantly sedentary lifestyles these days, through no fault of our own when you consider how many of us have desk jobs. But this is compounded by the fact that we outsource so many things that we didn’t once before. Think about all those little tasks that we used to do that required moving a little. Getting up to go and answer the phone. Going to the end of the road to post a letter. Going to the shops. Now we can do all of that from our devices, whilst sitting.
While our relationship with technology has a lot to answer for (a whole other subject for another time), let’s start by casting our minds back to our ancestors, who spent their days hunting and gathering, and their nights resting. What do we have in common today? It’s actually more than you would think. While the world around us has evolved at such an exceptional pace, with advances in science and technology, our minds and bodies are still designed and equipped for “hunter and gatherer” living, although we’re sadly not as lean now as we were back then.
Our bodies are designed to move and our minds are wired for worry – essentially to help us survive as a species. Yet according to the British Heart Foundation Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour Report 2017, 39% of adults in the UK don’t meet physical activity recommendations, and as many as 13 million aren’t active at all.
The benefits of movement on our physical health are widely known, but how many of us truly appreciate the impact movement has on helping us to maintain our mental and emotional health and wellbeing, ensuring we are happy, healthy and thriving at work and at home? There are numerous studies that show how the simple act of regular brisk walking can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, and much more.
When you consider the many micro-stressors that we face day-in-day-out (not to mention the inevitable macro-stressors of life), and how we have removed many of the natural de-stressors from our lives (walking for one), and added so many more in… is it little wonder that stress builds up and manifests itself in so many different ways – be it physically, mentally or emotionally? Dr Rangan Chatterjee (author of The Stress Solution) says that up to 80% of all GP consultations are related to stress nowadays.
We are asking so much more of ourselves and our bodies, yet we don’t give ourselves and our bodies the time, resources or care to properly function or recover. So many things that we do – eating, sleeping, working are directly impacted by how much movement we do… and vice versa. Our wellbeing is a complex web of interconnecting elements that impact each other.
Just as our bodies were designed to move, they were also designed to rest… to recover from all the “hard work” that our ancestors regularly partook in. But hard work nowadays is very different and requires in many cases more mental fitness than physical fitness. Now sleep is a whole separate subject in itself, but is it little wonder that we don’t sleep so well now (according to Matthew Walker of ‘Why We Sleep’ fame, 80% of the world’s population don’t get enough sleep), when we don’t use our bodies in the ways they were designed to be used? Now when we go to bed we’re exhausted from the mental stresses of the day, more than the physical stresses… and we wonder why we find it difficult to switch off and succumb to sleep.
So, if movement and the simple act of walking is so good for us, why don’t we prioritise it? Take time this May to re-evaluate your lifestyle. What small adjustments can you make to move more frequently throughout the day? We believe that incremental changes are the key to sustainable living – so be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today, by moving a little more each day…
Here are our 11 tips to building more movement into your day…
- Reframe your day and plan ahead. Look at everything you do and everywhere you go. Ask yourself the question “how can I build more movement in”? Plan when you will fit “formal” exercise in and how you can generally be more active, day-to-day.
- If you want to be more accountable to yourself, buy a fitness tracker. This changed how I approached my day. It made me reassess my commute and made me build walking into my day as much as possible. I became competitive with myself and feel the benefits physically, mentally and emotionally. Not to mention I have saved money too!
- Kick-start the day with some movement – start with gentle stretches to mobilise the joints and muscles ahead of the day.
- Build movement into your commute… can you walk to a station further away from you or get off a stop earlier, and walk some of the way? Also, consider standing instead of sitting on the bus or train – and engage the core!
- Exercise at lunchtime – either by going to the gym if that’s your thing, or by going for a brisk walk.
- Move every hour at least – stretch the legs, step away from your desk… research proves that the most productive people are those that work for 52 minutes and then take a break.
- Take your meetings on the move – this has been shown to unlock the creative and problem-solving parts of the brain, so a great tool for brainstorming!
- Go for a walk and let the mind wander… we believe that in order to be productive we need to be sat at our computers. Change this thinking! We need to allow our brains to move from the beta state (where we’re task orientated) to the alpha state (where we process things, and come up with new ideas) and walking encourages this.
- If you’re meeting a friend for a catch up… why not make it a walk instead of sitting in the pub? Walking side by side with someone has been proven to encourage people to open up more.
- When you drive somewhere – to the supermarket, cinema or airport, park as far away from the entrance as possible. It feels counter intuitive but you’ll get a better parking spot, and you’ll get some extra steps in too!
- And of course our 11th tip is to take part in our “free” weekly 11 minute challenges combining 8 minutes of HIIT and 3 minutes of CHILL – if you’re taking part in the 12 week challenge, check this out through your login. We also post a condensed one every Monday at 7am on YouTube and Instagram. Our research shows that as little as 8 minutes of getting your heart rate up through high intensity interval training has great health benefits, plus our muscles, bones and joints benefit from the resistance workout too. And 3 minutes of mindful breathing will bring you back to a state of calm and focus… find out more about the practice of mindfulness in part 2 of our Move More Mindfully series.