How to use movement as a tool for building resilience, better performance and more creativity
Do you exercise?
Perhaps you work-out five times a week. Perhaps it’s once a month or not at all.
The answer doesn’t matter because you are likely to be chronically inactive. Which means you spend the majority of your day sitting.
The possibilities for being inactive are endless. Unless you have a job that keeps you physically moving, your day probably involves sitting at your computer, in meetings, eating, commuting to work and watching TV.
I don’t mean to dishearten you. Exercise is fantastic for our health and essential to compensate for our sedentary lifestyle. But instead of counting your gyms sessions, the real question you should be asking yourself is:
How are you moving over the entire day?
Inspired by Katie Bowman, I’ve been exploring this question for myself. Katie describes exercise as something we do when we put on our gym kit. Whereas movement is what we do the whole time. It’s how we move our bodies to achieve a non-exercise goal e.g. walking to the station, carrying a child and going shopping.
I would argue that movement is just as important as exercise for our resilience, creativity and performance at work.
If you think about it logically, one hour of physical activity is easily negated by 23 hours of relative inactivity. But if you moved throughout the day, the impact could be remarkable.
The benefits of movement include:
- Building resilience
Resilience is our ability to bounce back and recover quickly. Even though movement is a stressor on the body, the right types of movement make us stronger, more robust and better able to recover. This means movement supports our ability to bounce back quickly from life’s stresses. This enables greater agility in our work, and life in general.
Resilience is commonly confused with endurance which is like weathering a storm. Even though endurance is a fantastic quality it can mean we end up enduring situations instead of trying to change them. As a result, many people I work with are surviving rather than thriving at work.
2. Better performance
There are numerous studies that correlate movement with increased brain performance because our heart pumps faster which circulates more blood and oxygen to the brain. For example, NeuroImage found people with higher levels of physical activity tend to have larger brains, better memories and clearer thinking. In a separate study, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki demonstrates that physical activity promotes neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells, which helps improve cognitive function.
3. More creativity
Other studies have found a connection between movement and creativity. For example, a piece of research by Stanford University found walking can boost creative output by 60%. Movement that doesn’t require much conscious effort, such as walking or anything where you have a certain level of mastery, gives us something to focus on but enough space for our minds to wander.
There are so many benefits from moving because humans are designed to move. That is why I created a business called Made to Move, to explore the power of movement as a tool for performance and resilience at work.
So if there are so many benefits to movement, how can we move more without exercising all the time?
Here are four simple suggestions to start:
Tip 1: Meet on the move
Get away from your desks more often to walk and talk. e.g. hold your meetings and phone calls on the move. Steve Jobs famously used walking for many of his meetings, even if it meant using the carpark outside the office. Walking can inspire ideas, foster collaboration, build new relationships and improve productivity. I have described a process here for getting the most out of this approach.
Tip 2: Swap conveniences for movement
In less than two generations, physical activity has dropped by 20% in the UK because modern conveniences encourage us to save time and energy by moving less. The way we travel to work is one of the best opportunities to reverse this trend. Try cycling or running instead of driving or taking the train. Take the stairs rather than the lift in your office. Exploring opportunities for moving your body requires a mindset that values movement throughout the day.
Tip 3: Work dynamically
Standing desks have become increasingly popular in recent years which is great. But if you’re standing for the majority of the day it doesn’t mean you’re moving. You are just swapping one static position for another one. To work dynamically it to constantly change position. Mix things up over the course of your day — sit, stand, stretch and move! Take plenty of breaks too. Katie Bowman explores the concept of dynamic working in her book Don’t Just Sit There.
Tip 4: Play more
Play is a very natural source of movement, and one that we tend to neglect as we get older. Just pause for a moment and recall what you did as a kid on breaks between classes or after school. If you were anything like me, you were running around and playing games.
To play means connecting with the child in you. This concept is frequently used in creativity classes but it’s just as important for movement. I am working with movement coach Ben Medder who has inspired me to play more. Here are a few examples that I’ve recently used:
- Playing with Florence, my daughter
- Climbing a tree in my local park on the way home
- Seeing how far I can walk along a railing before falling off
- Testing how many steps I can jump in one go.
Rowan Gray is the founder of Made to Move and a qualified executive coach who supports corporations to improve their performance, better understand team relationships and build resilience at the board level. He also work with high growth enterprises coaching them to move towards their vision and goals.