Creating a daily movement routine that helps you feel your best : Body Electric Last fall, over 20,000 listeners joined our study with Columbia University to take movement breaks throughout the day. They reported that the more breaks they took, the better they felt. So what's the secret to sticking with it? In this episode, host Manoush Zomorodi shares the top 10 listener tips to start moving, and keep moving, in 2024.

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Tips for building movement into your life—and how to stick with it

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MANOUSH ZOMORODI, HOST:

Hey, it's Manoush, and this is NPR's BODY ELECTRIC. So the benefits of taking regular movement breaks are clear. People have more energy, work quality improves, a better mood. Plus, it's good for your glucose levels and blood pressure. And the more often you move, the better the results. So on your most sedentary, screen-filled days, aiming for five minutes of movement every two hours, every hour or, if you can, every half hour is optimal. But let's not mince words. Making time for regular movement breaks is hard. When we did the study with Columbia University, only half of the people who signed up to take breaks every half hour managed to do so. But that means half did manage. How did they do it?

Well, we have gone through all the emails and voice memos people have sent us and put together some of the best suggestions that people had. But I want to make something clear before we start. Some breaks - any breaks - are better than none. This is not about all or nothing. Getting up once during a big chunk of sitting time is really good. Would several times be better? Sure. But please don't let perfect be the enemy of progress. So with that said, we've got the best tips, tricks, hacks to get more movement into your life from listeners, including a pediatrician, college student and serious multitasker.

SARAH COLOMA: This is a new kind of chair that literally tips you out of your seat when the time is right.

YANNI: It feels like a major disruption to take those breaks, but it's not.

KEITH DIAZ: When you use your phone and just, like, set the alarm yourself, like, you're telling it, like, OK, I'm in the mood to be bugged right now. Let's do it.

ZOMORODI: Yep. People have thoughts. That's coming right up. And, hey, why not march in place during this quick break?

OK, without further ado, the BODY ELECTRIC top 10 ways to get more movement breaks into your life. Kicking us off at No. 10 - double dip, by which we mean move and get something else done.

SANDY SARBER: Hello, this is Sandy Sarber (ph) from Sacramento, Calif. My friends and I are determined to find new and unique ways to work those moments and those breaks into our day-to-day. One of the ones I've learned is the microwave. When I am heating up water for coffee or defrosting, instead of standing there staring at it, I can use that time to move throughout the house. My latest tip is unloading the groceries. Instead of dragging in the bags in as few trips as possible, I'm leaving them in the trunk of the car and instead picking up the groceries I can fit into my hands. Sometimes this takes 15 trips. And when I find myself thinking, this is a waste of time, I remind myself that actually I am gaining movement. I'm building movement. And that is the new paradigm that I'm working with.

ZOMORODI: Healthiness through inefficiency - well, sometimes efficiency, but also inefficiency. I love it, Sandy. OK, coming in at No. 9 - let your body be your timer. This one comes from listener Marielle Mariansky (ph), who writes that once she started paying attention to her body's cues, it would tell her when it was time to get up from her laptop and move. And at first, she'd walk around her apartment. But then she decided to turn those five minutes into what she calls dance celebration breaks to celebrate sending an email, what was going on in her life in that moment, or, you know, sometimes bigger deals. But here's the point - by listening to her body and having a party with herself, Marielle was boogieing into a healthy future. Thank you so much for writing in.

Next up, No. 8 - and this is kind of building on No. 9. Focus on the reward. Focus on the reward that comes with moving your body even if getting started is really annoying. This one comes from a listener named Yanni (ph).

YANNI: It feels counterintuitive to take those breaks. It feels like a major disruption, but it's not. It's a time to explore and play and find a new way. Today I engaged with my movement snacks in a different way and focused on the fact that they would realign my focus, that they would energize me. And that helped a lot.

ZOMORODI: Yep. Sometimes the carrot works better than the stick. Coax yourself with the promise of feeling good. And that brings us to No. 7. And this one comes from me. I definitely endorse walking with other people. This is more specific. Try synchronized walking with someone. So I figured out that one way to get my daughter to walk with me - she's 13 - is to link arms with her and try to walk in sync - you know, like, right foot together, left foot together, right foot together, left foot together, right foot together, left foot together, trying to get synced up. Like, it always makes her laugh. And it also feels weirdly relaxing. So it turns out there's a reason why. Synchronized walking - well, it's a competitive practice in Japan, which is cool. But there's also a reason why it's good for parent-child harmony. Studies show that when two people behave physically in a synchronized way, their brain activities sync up, too. So, yeah, put that one in your pipe.

OK, moving on to No. 6 and listener Kelly McClain's (ph) suggestion to let your movement snacks turn into feasts.

KELLY MCCLAIN: My first snack was parking further away from the store that I needed to walk and recently reached a milestone of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim in a day. I'm not done yet, either, as I'm always finding more things to do. The act of finding opportunities changed my life for the better.

ZOMORODI: So look out for Kelly to show up in a town near you sometime this year. But if you're like Kelly, listen. I can't go jaunting off to the Grand Canyon. I've got schedules to stick to, deadlines. But I'd like you to consider Ray Senna's (ph) tip, which is coming in at No. 5. And I am calling it, if your budget allows, consider going hardcore. So nearly 15 years ago, Ray was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He decided to get a walking treadmill desk. Yeah, Ray was, like, way ahead of the curve. So he's been walking around eight hours a day during the work week since then. Clearly, it works for Ray, but more recently, a bunch of his colleagues decided to get on the bandwagon. They got walking desks, too, to deal with other issues - back pain, overall health, just be in a better mood. Ray, a bunch of us here at NPR are thinking about investing in under-desk walking pads, which seem to be the new thing and are less expensive, as they're called online - yeah, walking pads. I'll let you know what we decide.

OK, we've entered the top five now, so things are getting serious. No. 4 is use movement breaks to get through your least pleasant tasks. And this one comes from Dr. Anne (ph).

ANNE: Hi. My name is Anne. I'm a pediatrician for approximately the last 25 years, and I have to say listening to the BODY ELECTRIC series has really opened my eyes.

ZOMORODI: So Anne realized part of the reason she feels great at work is because she's moving constantly, you know, every, actually, 20 to 30 minutes to see a new patient. She's walking out to check in with her nurses. But she realized that she needs to bring those breaks home with her to break up all the hours she has to spend in the evening typing and updating her patients' charts for insurance companies.

ANNE: When I'm at home, my mood is terrible. I get angry at the computer. I'm frustrated. Sometimes, unfortunately, I get irritated at my cat because he's in my way. And I really need to find a way to make sure I get movement snacks when I'm at home, doing my charts. And this is really neat, so I'm going to work hard on it.

ZOMORODI: And you are not the only doctor we heard from who felt like BODY ELECTRIC brought them a new perspective. Thank you for that. It's incredibly gratifying. OK. Our third tip is called lead the way. And it comes from John (ph), who has a kind of hilarious, inspiring story. He writes - OK, I'm going to read directly from his email. (Reading) Some time ago, I was a management consultant at a very large energy company. Despite having a rather stodgy and old-school corporate culture - think beige cubes, business suits, and an actual water cooler - this company was actually kind of forward-thinking when it came to employee wellness.

OK, get this, you guys. (Reading) Three times a day - mid-morning, after lunch and late afternoon - you could hear people shouting, fit break, fit break, in the halls. And everyone would stop what they were doing and go for a 10-minute walk, stretch or some other form of exercise and movement. Sometimes fit breaks were led by trained exercise coaches. In other instances, managers would simply do jumping jacks with their teams. Others would stand up at their desks and exercise alone. While the breaks were not compulsory, nearly everyone would do them, and nonparticipation was generally frowned upon. John, I have never heard of an office like this before. It sounds simultaneously rather irritating and endearing, I guess, depending on what kind of day you're having. But your point is well-taken. Any of us could be the goofball in the office or on the Zoom or at home who yells, fit break, to get those around us moving. We can all lead the way.

OK, on to tip No. 2, and this one is a tie. We've got two tips here. The first one isn't the easiest, but it gets extra points for ingenuity. It's called build a contraption that forces you to move. Yes, build a contraption. This one comes from Sarah Coloma. She is a user experience designer and researcher based in D.C. who also recently graduated from design school. So she writes that as part of her thesis, she designed and built something she calls the Balanced Chair (ph).

COLOMA: This is a new kind of chair that removes the sitter's ability to sit at a customizable time interval. It literally tips you out of your seat when the time is right, and then the seat lowers back down when you've had the opportunity to stand up, maybe stretch, take a break. No more notifications that you ignore. This chair creates a standing opportunity without any internal negotiation from the user. You know, I invite anybody who's willing to try it to try it and no harm, no foul if not.

ZOMORODI: Sarah, I love how you call it an opportunity. It's not really an opportunity because you're forcing people with this chair. But you know what? For some people, that's what it takes. And clearly, you know you need to out-design your bad habits. And, yes, I definitely want to try it out. OK, tied with Sarah for tip No. 2 is something rather easy in comparison but equally useful. It's acknowledge your accomplishments. And it comes from a lovely listener named Aravinda (ph), who really enjoys ending each day with a tally of the breaks she took - just that simple.

ARAVINDA: I think that the very fact of completing the daily goal of taking movement breaks itself confers a sense of accomplishment and improves one's mood and productivity, at least it did for me.

ZOMORODI: Yeah. Maybe you mark your calendar with the number of breaks you took that day or you just give yourself an emoji thumbs up in your calendar for taking any breaks because moving should not be punishment. It's a reward to yourself. Put that on a T-shirt, right? All right, enough of this. Let's get to the No. 1 tip to get movement breaks into your life. And it is - low tech is good tech. This one comes from all the listeners who participated in our study. Columbia researcher Keith Diaz explains.

DIAZ: You know what the No. 1 hack was for people reminder-wise? They set their phone alarm. They didn't use a fancy app. And I've been thinking about this a lot 'cause I'm like, yeah, duh. When you use your phone and just, like, set the alarm yourself, like, you're telling it, like, OK, I'm in the mood to be bugged right now. Let's do it.

ZOMORODI: OK, so just use the timer on your phone - any timer, egg timer, I don't know, whatever you got to keep yourself on track. And listen, sometimes you will say, sorry, timer, I'm too busy to move right now. But probably, as you keep up the breaks, you'll start feeling like, phew, the timer went off. I am going to step away from the screen. I'm going to give my aching butt and brain a break. And when I come back, I will feel better, and that will keep you going.

If you liked this episode, please share it with someone who you think could use it or would get a kick out of it. And also, I would love to stay in touch. Do you have a favorite tip? Email us at bodyelectric@npr.org. By the way, if you want to hear what we're going to be up to next with BODY ELECTRIC and get alerted when the findings are officially published, please go to npr.org/bodyelectric and sign up to be put on our list.

This episode was produced by Fiona Geiran and Katie Monteleone and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour. Original music from David Herman. Our audio engineer was Stu Rushfield. Many thanks also to Lauren Gonzalez, Lyndsey McKenna and Irene Noguchi. I'm Manoush Zomorodi, and you have been listening to BODY ELECTRIC from NPR.

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