Personal Experiment: Does Daily Movement Make You Happier, More Energetic and Less Stressed?

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. What’s the condition of your backside? Can you feel your legs, or did at least one of them fall asleep a few hours ago? And your back? Neck, shoulders – how much tension are they carrying at this point in the day? Not to mention your mood and concentration? Does your attitude take a nosedive this time of day? Has your brain turned to mush? Did you just have to read the same set of instructions or email memo a couple of times because your mind wandered off? How often do you end up feeling like this in a typical afternoon?

And…when was the last time you got up and moved – beyond a quick trip to the toilet or break room? I sense a lot of blank stares on the other side of this screen.

Are you one of them, or did you identify with any of the above scenarios? Consider your day for a moment – specifically your activity level. How compartmentalized is it?

Maybe you have your designated gym time, outdoor run or at-home routine. Excellent. Perhaps on the weekends you play with the kids, walk the trails with your partner or fit in a game or racquetball or Ultimate.

Now…what about those other hours?

You know – the ones you spend hunched over a keyboard or on an assembly line. The ones you’re sitting in meetings or at lunch with your coworkers. The ones you’re stuck in your car, trying to hold onto your sanity through an hour of traffic. The ones your aforementioned backside is glued to the couch.

The upsides to getting ourselves up and moving around throughout the day are so numerous, they’re almost overwhelming. We might understand the physical imperative for frequent movement – the role it plays in chronic disease and mortality risk, but we might not give it all the credit its due for its role in everyday satisfaction and concentration.

For instance, we might not appreciate the impact of moving on reducing anxiety (cue the performance reviews, project deadlines and drama-addicted coworkers) by growing the prefrontal cortex and promoting its communication with the brain’s fear center, in effect calming us – and maybe keeping us from turning an irritating office scenario into an emotional version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We might not understand that less than an hour of walking or otherwise moving at just half of our suggested “maximum heart rate” can significantly reduce our physical experiences of worry – as well as anger and cynicism. (The office cynic routine isn’t nearly as funny outside of sitcom land. Am I wrong?)

Maybe we don’t know that getting up and moving frequently is a boon to our executive functioning – the very capacity associated with goal attainment. Perhaps it eludes us that simple movement at various times of the day offers us a creative advantage that could help us at work or home – from the smallest tasks to the biggest decisions.

In fact, we might not understand that we can gain all of these advantages in a single day by putting in less time with our work when we simply commit a couple hours a day to exercise.

What do these prospects tell you about your daily process?

Let me propose a grand experiment. Those of you who have been around the blog a while know how much I like my self-experiments. How about some personal research on what movement does for you – on the impact daily continual physical activity has on your mood, energy levels and productivity. Forget the peer reviewed studies. Yes, they’re compelling, but be an irascible PIA who demands his/her own evidence. (I frequently place myself in this category.)

Make yourself a guinea pig for the sake of your health and curiosity. Put yourself under the microscope, and see what comes of it. And, if you’re unhappy with the positive results for any reason, trust me: you can always have your sedentary life back – 100% guaranteed, no questions asked (except a small, silent “Why????”)!

Use the first week as a control week. That means don’t do anything differently. Literally go to work, sit at your computer or work station. Don’t lift a finger you otherwise wouldn’t lift. Live the sedentary life you’re probably used to at work – with no guilt whatsoever because this week you’re doing it for the sake of science.

Simply rate the following items from 1-10 (10 being the best) for a full week. The items to rate are as follows:

  • Energy
  • Motivation
  • Health
  • Mood
  • Stress
  • Productivity

That’s it. Those of you who have used the The Primal Blueprint 90-Day Journal will recognize this list (with the addition of Productivity) as the metrics you used there, too.

Now for our second week. No more slacking for science. Here’s the new and simple addition to your day. Remember, it’s a short trial. If after a week you don’t feel better, you can chuck the whole plan. (Here’s betting you won’t though.)

For this second week, perform a set of some type of exercise movement (10 pushups, 10 air squats, 10 burpees, etc.) every hour from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. That encompasses the work day for most of us. (If you’re on a different schedule, simply adapt to that.) I’d suggest even setting a timer for each 60 minute segment between movement stints so you won’t forget. Choose a movement that is moderately difficult for you and based on your fitness level. Scale the number of reps up or down according to your fitness level as well. The key thing here is to feel slightly out of breath and/or otherwise taxed after each set.

As you did in the previous week, rate the six metrics on a scale from 1-10. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious or just want to make the most of this scientific endeavor, take some notes on just what differences you’re seeing.

Were you able to get through a staff meeting without nodding off like you normally do? Did you have more ideas or initiative for a project than the first week? Did work get done more efficiently? Were you more patient with your kids, spouse or coworkers? Did you feel motivated to slant other behaviors toward healthier choices? Did you experience fewer or less noticeable slumps in energy or mood at certain times of day?

Okay, the floor is officially yours. Print off your PDF and start your self-experiment today. No time like the present after all! Start noticing what the effects of your “normal” sedentary/minimal movement are during the day, and be prepared for what you’ll observe in your life and work when you take on a modest but impactful change the following week.

Oh, and if you haven’t been introduced to Don’t Just Sit There! yet, check this out. This personal experiment is a great adjunct to that online multimedia program.

Enjoy, everyone, and share something of your process in the comment board. Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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