For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in a pedometer challenge at work. My team has a lofty goal of 20,000 steps (or more) each day—per person. And while my urban location makes this challenge easier, it’s still hard sometimes. But, instead of providing reasons for why I won’t meet the goal, I make excuses to walk more instead.
When I get bored or frustrated, I take laps around the office building. Instead of binge-watching our current favorite show after dinner, my partner and I meander around the neighborhood. Some mornings, I even make my three-mile commute by foot instead of bus or bike.
I’m not saying you should do exactly what I’m doing. I really like being active and exploring my city, and my environment lends itself to these two things. I do realize that everyone and their lives are different than mine. (What? Shocking.)
What I am suggesting is that you make this physical activity a more intentional part of your day. After all, it’s almost always on the list of suggestions for what to do when you need a break.
Because even if you don’t have an office competition to motivate you, it’s really, really, good for you.
1. It Gets You Thinking
A few months ago, I received a befuddling email right after I left work. I’d asked a co-worker a question, and the response I received was way different than I’d expected. I was confused and frustrated. By the time I trekked the 20 minutes from the bus stop to my apartment, though, I felt a lot better.
Over the course of those 10 blocks, I was able to untangle the mixed messages. Sure, I was still a little annoyed, but being able to think my way through it helped me realize it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d initially believed.
And it wasn’t just time that did the trick. It was the actual movement. “When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain,” explains Ferris Jabr, a science, health, and environmental journalist.
Oxygen is absolutely essential to optimum brain function, and better brain function means better thinking. So bring on the oxygen!
2. It Can Boost Creativity
In 2014, Stanford University researchers conducted a study comparing the ability to come up with ideas between walking subjects and sitting subjects. To do this, they presented each individual with the same objects and asked them to list different uses for the each one. Those who were moving produced 60% more than their inactive counterparts. 60%!
And here’s the even better news: The effects didn’t automatically stop when the active participants took a seat. “Walking markedly improved people’s ability to generate creative ideas, even [after] they sat down,” explains Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.
Don’t worry—if you can’t get outside for a stroll, it’s OK. The study concluded that there isn’t a huge difference between getting in activity outside or indoors. So, if taking laps around the building better suits you, follow your heart (and your feet).
3. It Can Make You Feel Better
At my previous workplace, my teammates and I dealt with a slew of frustrating situations. It quickly became our habit to get outside and vent as we looped around the block a few times.
We never really solved any of the problems—most of them were well above our pay grade—but I almost always returned to my desk feeling at least a little bit better.
“The mere act of putting one foot in front of the other for a few minutes,” explains Christian Jarrett, author of Great Myths of the Brain (Great Myths of Psychology) has a significant beneficial impact on our mood, regardless of where we do it, why we do it, or what effect we expect the walk to have.”
An Iowa State study confirms this. Researchers discovered that undergraduate students who took walking tours of campus (rather than looking at photos or watching a video) reported much higher rates of cheerfulness, energy, and confidence after the tour.
In other words, they proved Elle Woods right (not that I ever doubted her!).
It may seem easier to stay put sometimes. To power through the project in front of you and not move until you go home. But easier isn’t always better. And I’m not just saying this because a sedentary lifestyle is horrible for your health.
Increasing your step count each day can stimulate your brain to think better and be more creative, plus it can put you in a better mood. (Ugh, sounds horrible!)
So, next time you’re stumped or just feeling plain crabby, get moving. It’ll be a lot more beneficial than staying hunched over at your desk and giving your monitor the stink eye.
How do you stay active throughout the day? Let me know on Twitter!