In this episode, Katy explores the way all the “move more” messages we hear and read are framed and how they could be a lot more helpful and effective. It turns out that simply telling people to “exercise now to not die later” isn't working the way we might want it to.
(time codes are approximate)
00:02:15 - Katy’s “Move More” Essay (Jump to section)
00:05:20 - 11 Ways to Walk for 11 Minutes (Jump to section)
00:18:40 - Your Homework (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
Guardian Article about Walking 11 Minutes a Day
Studies and articles
Promote Physical Activity through Messaging
Immediate Rewards for Intrinsic Motivation
Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythm
Finding the Sweet Spot of Cell Phone Use
Social Interactions and Well Being
Day to Day Contact Among Neighbors
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman – biomechanist, author, and movement motivator. All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get moving.
Hey friends. In the movement (or fitness) space there is a lot of talk about motivation, inspiration, and other ways to help us all ensure that bodies will actually get the movement we want them to. But motivation is such a tricky and sometimes icky topic. How we get motivated, how we stay motivated, how we create motivation, and then recreate it, again and again, and again ... that can be a bit of a moving target.
Trust me, you are not the only one who doesn’t feel magically and effortlessly motivated every single morning to roll out a mat, or lace up your minimalist sneakers and head out to move your heart and lungs. Even professional athletes and movement teachers can struggle. They have to drag their butts to move - and even in those cases, right, you're getting paid.
So today’s episode is going to be me, reading a short essay I wrote that explores the way “move more” messages, "get physically active" messages, and "you need to move" messages are framed. Are we movement teachers, health professionals, public health officials, and journalists doing a good job? How would we tell? Surely “the number of people moving” could be a measure. And in that regard, we aren’t doing so well. I am very much interested in why.
Movement has been a tricky thing to “sell” to the public, and many of the reasons (some of which I’ve covered in my books) have to do with the messaging being used; we’re not thinking enough about the person receiving the information.
People aren’t moving enough (or, in case of those who are doing lots of physical labor in the course of the day - they're not moving with enough variety). Scientists, doctors, and public health officials are rightfully concerned about what data crunching reveals when it comes to long-term health stats regarding longevity, disease outcomes, and injury in this modern population that we're all a part of. The population needs movement and they need it now. Got it. But populations aren’t people, and people aren’t all the same.
While health data might very well be what motivates many folks who work in health and movement science (myself included), very few people are actually motivated by their stats - especially long-term ones. So when we create messaging based on the assumption that people are motivated by the same things as we are, we aren’t communicating well with a wide range of people and their individual value systems.
The Guardian just published a new article on movement. This is the title: “Walking just 11 minutes a day could stop 10% of early deaths, researchers find.” And then the article goes on (sweetens the deal): "11 minutes is just half the amount the government had recommended previously, and it can be whatever movement that you want!" Actually. It doesn't have to be walking.
But even though that's a sweet deal, preventing an early death with a daily walk is unlikely to launch a thousand fitness regimes. I know, I know, it’s just eleven minutes a day. "Please sir, can we have eleven minutes more?" Can’t we all as a population each spare only eleven minutes to save ten percent of us all? And that's a joke. That's not how stats work. Anyhow...
“Exercise now to not die later” is the opposite of effective messaging. While movement is absolutely ... ABSOLUTELY... an investment in your future (and boy do we have a (bleep) ton of data to prove it), this idea isn’t enough to get people moving. Movement needs to make our lives better right now if we’re going to go through the hassle of making it happen. It must also make more than just our bodies perform better. It has to enrich other parts of our lives too. And, it not only needs to make us and our lives better right now, we must perceive a strong association between the movement and the better right now. #psychology
And for those of you listening, this essay has a lot of research papers linked to it. Go to the show notes where you can find those including one for that little bit about that strong association we need between the movement being the thing that makes our life better right now. Back to the essay:
When you read something that concludes with “you need a daily walk,” and you can’t imagine where that could fit into your day, or how it could possibly be interesting, stop and think about the changes you’d like to see in your life that go beyond movement. Maybe it’s better focus or mental well-being. Perhaps it’s creativity, connection with loved ones, or anything that leaves you feeling like your life is more than just “go to work, repeat, repeat, repeat.” Then, figure out how to use a walk to give those feelings that you do want a boost.
So with all of that in mind, here are eleven ways you can use an 11-minute walk to make your life better right now: (and I will just cc the Guardian on this because this would be a nice addition to News It reports that getting the 11 minutes is helpful.
Morning sunlight bath.
Are you in the “hormone-forward” part of life? And that's a trick question. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES. Hormones do so much in the body, and they need sunlight first thing. Put your pants and shoes by the bed at night to make it easier to get up and do a quick tromp around the block right when you wake up. And then enjoy the mood boost in the interactions that follow. And I just want to put a little aside here - a little bonus audio. My husband was editing this essay and I had said, "leave your pants and shoes by the bed and get out quickly right when you wake up." And he said, "why don't you want them to wear their pants shoes?" And then I had to clarify - you leave them there so they're ready for you in the morning. So just in case - I DO want you to wear pants and shoes for your morning sunlight bath. And that's just a little behind the scenes of the writing process ... or my marriage. I'm not really sure. Anyway...
Walk 2: Lullaby/help sleeping.
A lot of us could use better sleep. Give yourself the gift of an on-foot lullaby - at any time of day doesn't have to be in the morning - and sleep better that evening. And again, if you like these tidbits, go look at the show notes because there are good research papers that you can look through if you want to take a deeper dive.
Right? Using a walk as a blood sugar balancer. You're going to balance your blood sugar better and support your digestive processes by taking a short walk right after a meal. See if you notice immediate pay-off in the form of more energy and alertness and a better mood, as well as fewer tummy troubles.
This is one of my favorite walks: Couples therapy/mini-date.
If you're feeling too time-crunched to connect, talk it out on a walk. If I was going to write a rom-com, it would include wooing the protagonist with clever mini-walk dates. So you're gonna invite them (and remember, invite them! It’s a date!) to come out with you on foot for eleven minutes. Bring a good question: “Tell me something about you I don’t know.” or “What’s been the hardest part of your week?” or “What’s on your bucket list?” And if talking isn’t your thing, load up eleven minutes of your favorite songs or maybe even a comedy show and listen on the move together. Or count the different birds or flowers that you see together. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll return feeling refreshed you're going to be aware that you did something for yourself and your relationship. And you also got the walk in, right? That's the sneaky part. That walk is the vegetables that you're shoving into the brownie so that nobody sees them.
Next walk: Tech-free connection time with kids.
In a society where there’s wifi everywhere but human connection is lagging, we need to get creative. Parents and alloparents, you can take the spelling words, drama class lines, study guides, and even book reports outside and let kids bound and dawdle and move by your side as they talk through what they’re working on. You can be their note-taker while they figure out their essay, or help them plan the perfect birthday party. Once you are out on the move together, follow their lead when it comes to sharing and exploring. And P.S. It’s the thought of “only eleven minutes!” that gets things going. One of the immediate payoffs can be inertia. Once you’ve escaped the weight of the house, they might not be quickly ready to come back in!
My favorite mug says “Sorry I’m late to this online meeting. (laughs) I didn’t want to come.” Which is totally true. While I enjoy exchanging ideas in a meeting, sitting at a computer and staring at a screen for any long period of uninterrupted time leaves me feeling bad. So refresh your body with a post-Zoom break to shake out your hips and your eyes, to help you focus and be creative the rest of your workday. (And this also works for in-person meetings too; use your break to breathe out the boardroom air! Yo!)
Walking as Meditation.
Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and negative thought habits. And you can do it without keeping your body still (especially great if you already spend a lot of time being still). There are lots of walking meditations. You can find tutorials for those on YouTube where you focus on slow steps or phases of gait. Or, this is my favorite, you can set out on foot for eleven minutes, trying to not ruminate or pay attention to your thoughts for that period of time. So you're just walking, taking mindful breaths. When you notice you've maybe started thinking again, come back to just stepping and just breathing. Those are the only two things that you are paying attention to.
Another idea: Use an 11-minute walk as a phone screen-time reducer.
This one is really tough because not only are we moving less than ever before, we're also rarely doing nothing, right? That's an interesting paradox I bring up in Move Your DNA. We no longer take any downtime. When we find ourselves with even a handful of free seconds, boop - out comes the phone. So if you’re looking to decrease your phone use for a mental-health boost, (and again check the show notes for linked references for some of these ideas including that one). If you're looking to decrease your phone use for that mental-health boost, but like cigarette smokers trying to quit you need something to “do with your hands,” so to speak, take your hands on a walk. While you’re waiting for takeout or you're waiting to pick up your kids, just let your arms swing for those few minutes instead of “phone.”
All right. Next walk: Use an 11-minute walk as a way to slow down and get some perspective.
Sometimes it feels like the whole world is in our computer or our factory floor or our house, and relatively small problems start to take on an outsized role. So a few (eleven) minutes on the move, looking at the sky, watching things grow, and seeing other people just doing ordinary things that are happening in their lives, it can remind us that a lot of our issues are solvable and that the world is much bigger than let's say for example, whatever mistake we just made or problem that has arisen. So it's a way to slow down and get some perspective.
Using a walk to get to know the people nearby.
Neighboring, my friends, neighboring is a verb! Humans need community, and we need it nearby. If you’re always having to drive to connect with friends and family, you're always having to log on to somewhere to connect with friends and family, you’re probably not connecting as regularly as you need, or with the people next door to you. Strong, resilient communities - ones that can withstand difficult times and where people help each other in emergencies - they are built on familiarity and trust. So start getting to know your neighbors by just meandering around the block regularly. Note that being outside in the daytime also helps you connect with some of the people who tend more toward loneliness, like stay-at-home parents or seniors. It's worth clarifying that not every neighbor needs to be a best friend. Interactions with so-called “weak” social ties, those can still have a big impact on your social and emotional well-being.
Ok. Last one. Use and 11 minutes walk for play…on the go.
Humans like to play. No doubt about it. Right now a lot of that need is being played out on video games and creative social media posts. I see you tic-tokers. Just as our hunger signal can be quieted via foods with poor nutrients, our play signals can also be stimulated with activities that aren’t as enriched as they could be. To boost the nutrient density of your play, take it on the go. So walk and dribble a ball at the same time. Take a hike with a frisbee and pass it between you as you cover some ground (which works well for friends, walking with kids, walking with dogs!). Practice throwing a ball or a rock at trees to hone in your aim as you ramble. Or, simply seek out challenging, creative places for that 11-minute walk - with obstacles, or more adventurous terrain than what you're used to, and things to balance on.
Something that's really about play: the play part of your brain has a long relationship with using your body parts in a skilled way to achieve some external reward, which is reinforced with an internal reward in the form of brain chemistry. The more we cultivate our screen-based play habits, the more difficult it will become to engage in play activities that are more challenging - more physically challenging - than those created through tapping and keyboarding.
So those are the walks.
In a society set up to provide unlimited wants - a society where it’s harder to meet our actual needs: like live community exchange, nutritious food, adequate rest, and daily movement, we need solutions that better meet the “need-density” of a period of time. Said another way: we need solutions that help us meet more than one need at a time. And we need solutions that help us enrich our lives, not only tomorrow but today.
Those of you who have read or listened to the audiobook of Movement Matters know I have a term for this: stacking your life. To refresh yourself on or to begin exploring this idea, check that book out.
Think about your own life, your morning habits, your commute, your leisure time, your work day, your sleep routine. Picture a normal day (not your best day or your worst day, just a normal day) and go back to the list I just gave and think about which of these 11 ways could help you get out the door for 11 minutes of nutrient-dense walking.
Here is the list again:
- A Morning, on foot - or on wheels sunlight bath.
- A Lullaby walk that helps you sleep better that day.
- A Blood-sugar balancing walk.
- A Couples therapy/mini-date.
- Using a walk for some tech-free connection time with kids.
- The business meeting or Zoom session defrag.
- Walking as Meditation.
- Something to do instead of scrolling on your phone for even a handful of minutes.
- A way to slow down and get some perspective by noticing more of the world around you.
- An opportunity to get to know the people nearby.
- A way to take your play on the go.
And here’s a bonus walk: a way to fit in some learning. I started a podcast years ago for just that reason a way for folks to learn about movement while moving. And that works for audiobooks too. So you can convert some of your educational time to "on the move" educational time. If you’ve ever listened to the audiobook of Move Your DNA, I even give the average mile each chapter is worth at the beginning of each section.
So back to your homework: don’t review this list only in your head! Write these down on a piece of paper. Keep that piece of paper somewhere where you can see it. And do not be constrained by my list either. If you thought of some ideas of your own, add them in! And more importantly, email them to me! I would love to hear your ideas.
That is it for this episode, friends. Per usual, once I get out of this recording studio aka my bathroom, that is draped in bedspreads, I am going to defrag with an 11-minute “un-podcast my body walk.”
I’m just going to leave you with this Latin phrase: solvitur ambulando. Solvitur ambulando: It is solved through walking. Solvitur ambulando. Think about it. While moving, obviously.
This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan MacCormick. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen. Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com.