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Five Ways to Build A Movement Practice at Work

My last article outlined the Power of Mentoring, and now I move to the second of the six “M’s” in the M6 Workplace Wellbeing ModelMovement. This one is near and dear to my heart as I am a physically active person who loves playing hard with friends and teammates. I swim, bike, and run as a triathlete who competes for the fun of it and to support others. Having a race schedule keeps me focused; it is easy for me to prioritize other things over training and end my days “without time to exercise.” Who hasn’t said that at some time?

Living in Busy Times

We are only beginning to understand the immense impact the age of technology and free-flow access to data has on our lives. People predicted technology would simplify our environment with less paper in the workplace; streamlined processes; better, more informed decisions; fewer meetings, and, basically, more time for “time-off.”

While we certainly have more data at our disposal and nearly everything is now electronic, we are hardly less scheduled; and few companies embrace more time off for its employees as a norm. Instead, we are faced with schedules that leave us gasping for air as we move from meeting to meeting, wondering when we will get our “real” work done, leaving little time for fun, volunteer commitments, or the family that may also be woefully overscheduled.

It’s been said that busy-ness is to this generation what smoking was to previous generations – a health-threatening habit of massive proportion.

So, how does moving more help solve these worries?

The truth is that moving is essential to activate the brain and maintain consistent energy which humans need in order to work at their potential and make the best decisions. If fact, movement, “. . . impacts mood, anxiety, and attention; . . . it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain.”[i]  When your body is out of balance, your mind is out of balance.

Movement, just like the cell wall, the mitochondria, the cytoskeleton, and the nucleus, is a part of every working cell. Cells don’t work without movement, and you aren’t fully operational without all of your cells working well. The movement of a part today is what affords it the ability to move tomorrow.”[ii]

Exercise increases growth of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which stimulates new neuron growth and increases the ability to remember and learn while lowering the impact of stress on the body. It expands our cognitive flexibility, or ability to shift and think “out-of-the-box” rather than provide the same mindless responses. This trait “correlates with high-performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.”[iii]

Leveraging the Power of Movement

Adding movement to your workplace culture has the opportunity to literally change the way people think and the quality of important decision-making. Picture your workplace with less depression and anxiety, happier people, and more effective meetings – in short, where people work wisely.

Every expert I talked with or read agrees on one thing – start with something. If the entire workplace culture isn’t ready to support the science behind the efficacy of a movement-focus, start with one thing on one team. Here are examples of eight behaviors anyone can easily encourage, from a team leader to the CEO:

  1. Walk a lot. Schedule moving meetings whenever possible. Walking and talking is not optimal for all meetings; however, if the objective is to check-in or talk strategy, you may be well-served by stimulating the brain with activity. Beyond walking, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially conducive to energizing brain activity.

“If you have an important afternoon brainstorming session scheduled, going for a short, intense run during lunchtime is a smart idea.”[iv]

  1. Understand a deeper WHY for incorporating movement into daily work life. Change attitudes about moving from “having to exercise” to valuing it is a gift.[v] Change the focus from, “I have to lose weight,” for instance . . . to, “It energizes me to walk during lunch with friends.”
  2. Find OTMs (opportunities to move) and ‘stack’ your work life. Stacking, as defined by K. Bowman in her book Movement Matters,[vi] is about achieving multiple desired outcomes in the same block of time. It can be fun to engage the team to think creatively about incorporating movement into everyday tasks, i.e., stretch or twist at the copier, stand up at the back of a meeting occasionally, practice innocuous yoga moves at the desk while on a conference call, take the stairs, ensure the printer is far enough away to require standing up – you get the idea. Everything counts.
  3. Stand up a lot – at least once every 30 minutes.[vii] This particular advice is from Joan Vernikos whose job at NASA is to keep our astronauts healthy within the effects of zero-gravity. In studying zero gravity, she has become an expert on what keeps people fit here on earth, and her finding is basic – stand, squat, kneel – in short, alternate your body position frequently.
  4. Incorporate a sense of fun/play using improv techniques; it encourages movement and builds trust. Identify a handful of “energy breaks” that allow people to quickly reactivate; incorporate them into meetings of more than 30 minutes.

The new science around the importance of movement is incredibly powerful knowledge for organizations – by valuing and encouraging movement in the workplace, we are able to improve our ability to generate new thinking, to be creative and innovative, and to inspire healthier, more resilient people.

“The top 5% of all high performers are 40% more likely to exercise at least three days per week than the 95% below them.”[viii]

Movement is a key component of a workplace of wellbeing which enables people to connect body and mind to thrive and grow. It energizes the brain and fosters innovation and creativity – it creates a culture where people feel valued and want to stay, and it initiates new thinking and better decisions. All good for our emotional and physical wellbeing . . . and not to mention, the bottom line.

What one movement practice will you and your team start today?

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to reach out to me at karen@nobleconceptsinc.com, and we can talk more about building a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think may find this of interest!


[i] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[ii] Bowman, K., Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement (Propriometrics Press, 2016)

[iii] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[iv] Ratey, J., Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[v] Segar, M. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (New York: Amacom, 2015)

[vi] Bowman, K., Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement (Propriometrics Press, 2016)

[vii] Vernikos, J., Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health (Fresno: Quill Driver Books, 2016)

[viii] Burchard, B., High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way (Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc. 2017)