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Stand up for your health!

Over the past month, I read and then re-read a book that has fundamentally changed how I see what it means to be human. The Awakened Ape investigates the life of hunter-gatherers and explores how we can integrate elements of their prehistoric lifestyle into our modern way of living. Its underlying premise is that our biology has not had the time to evolve since our transition to agriculture that ultimately spawned our lifestyle today. Therefore, to live a more fulfilling life, we should consider satisfying our biological needs as hunter-gatherers.

Besides living in small communities, hunting in the wilderness and not using soap (all ideas that go beyond the scope of this blog), one key lifestyle element that fascinated me was the amount of time they spent on the move. Hunter-gatherers, as the name suggests, would spend perhaps 3-4 hours per day hunting and gathering; roaming around the environment. Tracking deer and collecting berries was their “work”.

Contrast that to our working lives. Assuming you have an office job like I do, you probably spend at least 8 hours a day sitting at your desk or in meetings. Then perhaps 1 hour or more sat down during your commute, another 2 hours eating, 1 hour watching TV… you get the idea. We spend a lot of time sitting down.

A strong recommendation of the book was thus to spend more time being active. And that doesn’t mean running marathons, or going to the gym every day - those concepts were unknown to hunter-gatherers. Physical activity can be something that almost everyone can do: standing up, or even better; walking. Naturally, I didn’t want just to follow the advice of one resource; so I did some googling and found out that Steve Jobs swore by walking meetings, integrating them in his work routine. This is something my boss and I occasionally do, stepping out of the Maastoren and walking along the Erasmusbrug - the beautiful swan-like structure that connects the two sides of Rotterdam.

I read further and discovered an excellent quote by the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” This suggestion that physical activity enhances your cognitive functioning is also backed up by science. Provocative studies have even produced findings that for every hour sat down; your life shortens by 22 minutes.

The abundance of evidence from various sources had me convinced. So for the past two weeks, I have been attempting to integrate walking or standing into my daily routine. To make standing up the new default, instead of sitting down.

As an office worker, my calendar is filled with meetings - apparently, the average for this type of work is 62 meetings per month. So I thought, why not change the default sitting meeting into walking meetings? My new rule is that – unless you need to write on a whiteboard, show something on your laptop or the weather is awful (summer is a great time to start this): walk! I found this makes for more open and productive conversations; whether brainstorming for a creativity event I’m facilitating, interviewing a potential new team member, or sharing project updates. One time my meeting at 16:30 turned into walking one of my colleagues to the front door of their house.

This works just as well for phone meetings, assuming I can stay clear of the Dutch wind. Gazing at new environments as I explore the city has a way of sparking my creativity, while making me more relaxed and thus able to communicate more smoothly. There’s a reason people pace up and down while on the phone - it actually helps them think!

In my private life, I’ve started taking morning walks along the park next to my apartment. I’m combining that with learning French on an app and finding a bench to stop and meditate halfway through (a topic I have also written about). Rather than meeting with a friend in a café, I now choose to meet at a park and walk through the treeline - being active in nature, as our biology wants us to.

Even at home; I’ve thought about how I can make standing up the new default. My hidden hobby is singing while playing acoustic guitar – I used to sit on the couch to do this, but I made myself a guitar strap and now do this standing up, pretending like I’m a real performer on stage. I haven’t started standing up during my date night dinners yet – otherwise my girlfriend probably wouldn’t stick around much longer. But we do enjoy long digestive walks during sunset, where we have the best discussions.

So, assuming I’ve piqued your interest, how can you integrate walking (or standing) into your daily routine?

  1. Try-out walking meetings. Before a low-key meeting (preferably) on a sunny day, convince your colleagues to get some fresh air. From my experience, they’ll be much more open to the idea than you expect!

  2. Walk during phone calls. If you’re in a conference call, catching up with friends, or Skyping family; there’s often no real reason why you need to sit down. Walk and talk!

  3. Start your day with a morning stroll. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes before breakfast, throw on some shoes and walk around your neighbourhood. You can check social media without being in bed! The natural light and physical activity will help wake you up too.

These tips are all straightforward but super effective! Let me know how you get on with them, and I’m also eager to learn from any routines you have to make standing up the new default. Right, I’m off to purchase a standing desk. I’ve been sitting down typing this blog for far too long.


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