I read about this study not long after it was published and have had many occasions to remember it and tell it’s story, which goes something like this. A sample of 84 of hotel room attendants were divided into two groups. Group 1 participants were in the control group and were not given any special information and continued to perform their cleaning responsibilities as usual. Group 2, the informed group, were given the intervention, which was being told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. On average, hotel room attendants clean 15 rooms a day – work that requires exerting activities like walking, bending, pushing, lifting, and carrying. They were provided with examples of how their work was actually exercise. Remember, subjects in the other group were not given this information.
Although actual cleaning behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. Results suggest the possibility that prior to the onset of the study, room attendants were not receiving the full benefits of their exercise because they were not aware that they were actually getting exercise.
The placebo effect is a favorable response to an intervention — a pill, a procedure, an activity — that doesn’t have a direct physiological effect. The classic example is when people enrolled in a study experience some improvement in their condition even though they were given fake pills that don’t contain any active ingredients. In the case of hotel attendants, beliefs and expectations elicited significant physiological improvements. Simply shifting their mindset to perceive their work as exercise improved their health. The placebo effect was in play.
What if you looked at all of your possible and actual movements in a given day as having potential health benefits? I include possible movements because humans are inclined to choose convenience over movement. My movement teacher, internationally renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman, sees convenience as the problem. Start replacing the word, “convenient” with “takes less movement,” and you will find that’s how it translates most of the time.
If something is convenient, it means you made less physical movement. If it’s convenient to park close to your destination, it takes less movement. If its convenient to blow your leaves or snow rather than rake or shovel them, it means it you moved less or less of you moved. Even really small things, like the convenience of having your wife or husband hand or bring you something, means you didn’t move much. And less movement is not what most of us need.
If treating some work tasks as exercise has positive health aspects, why not also consider some movements made throughout your day as exercise? This could be especially fruitful for those with sedentary jobs. Many of the movements that you make (or could make) just getting life done have the potential for maintaining or improving cardio respiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and neuromotor fitness.
How can you stack more movement into your life? For some great ideas, I turned to the most passionate and creative people I know, when it comes to moving more. You should know that this group of movers are avid students of courses and writings of Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement. Some, including myself, have trained and certified with Katy as Restorative Exercise Specialists. Movements like walking, sitting on the floor, squatting, and dynamic core activities like carrying, hanging, and swinging feature prominently in our lives and for those of us, who are movement teachers, in our work with clients.
I share with you ideas for more movement that also provide fitness components necessary to be considered exercise – cardio, strength, flexibility, and neuromotor fitness. Your job is to move, move more, and move more of you in your life and contemplate how this movement is physiologically as beneficial as exercise plus it gets life done!
Movement for getting transportation & travel done
I have embraced things that I formerly thought of as inconvenient, uncomfortable, or risky, which mostly means walking everywhere, carrying, climbing, leaping, swinging, and not acting my age. I walk to and from work every day no matter the weather or what I need to carry (once I carried an armload of cherry wood that someone chopped down and said I could have).
At the airport, I hand carry my carry-on luggage through the terminal instead of rolling it – even carrying it up/down stairs instead of using escalators. And I never use the moving walkway.
I always take the stairs rather than the elevator, even if its 30 flights!
I coordinate my errands so that I can park centrally and walk to each place.
I try to walk all errands under two miles.
If I can’t walk the entire way to my destination, I will drive part of it and park and walk the rest.
I carry my backpack in my arms instead of on my back and change up how I carry it every couple of minutes.
Whenever I go for a walk, I bring a trash bag and pick up garbage along the way, which gets me lots of squatting and stooping, some carrying, and a sense of doing good in the world.
Movement for getting house stuff done
Today I painted my kitchen ceiling, and I left the paint on the floor in the corner and every single time I needed to reload my brush, I climbed down the stool I was using and squatted down to the paint – it took longer than just staying up there with paint right there, but it was an inconveniently lovely movement experience- and the ceiling looks nice.
For grocery trips, I carry one or two hand baskets instead of using a cart.
At Costco, I decline a box so that I have to load and unload items individually to my car and house.
I often prep food in various positions on the floor, and I chop outside when weather permits.
I use a short handled broom instead of a long handled one. (Here is a fun video of Shannon of Purna Wellness doing just that, but there’s more to it. She conveys an important idea about how we often outsource our movement to tools that require us to move less).
I use a mortar and pestle to grind spices instead of a spice grinder.
I hang my laundry instead of throwing it in the dryer.
I installed hooks on the tops of the kitchen cabinets for coffee mugs & wine glasses so that every time I use one, I have to really reach for it.
I moved my silverware and favorite coffee cups to the lowest drawers so that i have to squat or stoop to get to them
I keep a lot of herbs in mason jars that I’ve put on top of my pantry cabinet so that I get to climb on the counter or stool in order to get them down.
Movement for getting outside stuff done
When I water my gardens and flower pots I fill two gallon jugs of water in the kitchen and carry them outside to the plants instead of watering with the hose. I make about 10 trips a day during the growing season. When I return to refill I look for different ways to get on the deck rather than always using the steps. e.g. : climb up the high end, butt plop on and swing legs up (challenging with a 70 lb dog who thinks you are playing) etc.
We haul wood up to the house from the woodpile (our sole source of heat) in a plastic sled, but now I often carry armloads of wood up the steps, in different configurations, rather than just dragging the sled up the stairs.
We retired all of our motorized lawn tools for hand tools. Instead of a weed whacker, we use hand clippers; instead of a leaf blower, we rake; instead of a snow blower, we shovel; instead of a rototiller, we double dig the garden beds; we still mow the lawn, with an old fashioned, human powered push mower.
Movement for getting kids done
I carry my baby (now toddler) in my arms instead of on my back or in a stroller.
I play on the playground equipment with my children several times a week – monkey bars, ducking under, climbing over, running around.
I park a few blocks away from my daughter’s school so we have to walk for drop-off/pick-up.
I let my kids lead our hikes. I have to (try to) do whatever they do – walk across logs, crawl under low-hanging branches, hang from high branches, step from stone to stone, carry a heavy rock or as many sticks as I can as far as I can, walk backwards, wade through streams, run up scree slopes, jump up on and down from boulders.
Movement for getting sedentary done
We got rid of our couch and purchased a low dining table. So we squat and sit multiple ways all day long.
I switched my desk out for a floor desk with a cushion. We also now watch Netflix in the evening on the floor (in front of the couch, we just pull the cushions off) and I do hamstring stretches while I watch.
We keep the house cooler so all our bodies do more of the work heating us.
I have Metolius rock rings hanging in my car port, and I hang for a few seconds every time I get in and out of the car.
A portion of all screen time (computer, tv, etc.) or reading time has to be done either standing or sitting on the floor.
Please share your ideas for moving more and more of you.