Walking in October: Of Travel and Timers

Another multimodal trip, this time to Kansas City, Missouri, for a transportation conference. 

The multimodalism started on Sunday when my sweetie dropped me at the Amtrak station in Olympia. Train to Tukwila, King County Metro Rapid Ride bus to downtown Burien, walked a few blocks with my baggage to the wonderfully tasty Centro Neighborhood Kitchen. I settled in with chips, a trio of tasty salsas, and a fig margarita to wait for my sister-in-law. She was stuck in traffic driving back over Snoqualmie Pass and hindered by a wreck, fortunately not hers. She doesn't text and drive so she called (hands-free) to check that I was there and waiting. We had a wonderful dinner and then she drove me to her place where I spent the night. 

Early the next morning she dropped me off at SeaTac and I boarded the plane for Kansas City. On the other end I had planned to take the free KC Transit bus from the airport to downtown. A colleague was taking an Uber so I opted to join that as a good chance to catch up on our plans for the sessions we were involved in. 

Each day at the conference I did a lot of sitting, then I found a group that wanted to walk to dinner somewhere. This was a transportation safety conference so of course we made note of intersections where the walk button didn't work (we know that as the beg button) and volunteered comments on the infrastructure design, signal timing, all the usual tourist attractions.

One evening there weren't any walking takers; I wasn't going to walk either because it was about four miles to the restaurant we had decided to go to but again, bus ride was free! Caught the bus, misread the app and got off one stop early but that was actually a fortuitous mistake on my part. I got to walk on a wonderfully resilient rubberized path surface through a linear park. The trail and park lay alongside a hospital and along the way there were stops with rehab equipment so I'm guessing this is essentially a therapeutic trail. At the end of the park, a fountain shot streams of water up into the twilight.  This sort of serendipitous discovery is one of my favorite things about walking.

The final morning in Kansas City brought yet more multimodal travel. I walked to a nearby coffee shop, then just had to see the giant books before I left. Painted on the outside of the library's parking garage, this is known as the community bookshelf. Such a cool thing to do if you have to have a big block building. Why not make it into art? 
From there I walked to the bus stop and caught the #229 for the hour ride to the airport. Time on the bus is always productive and relaxing. I can read, do email, catch up on things generally, and look at my surroundings. 

The catch in all of this: It was supposed to be my baseline week of data collection for a study I signed up to participate in. But I wasn't getting the emails. I finally found them lurking in my spam folder and got started in the airport. Walking there led me to the discovery of a set of medallions set into the floor that I wouldn't have seen if I had stayed seated at the gate waiting for departure.

At the other end of my flight, it was light rail to Rapid Ride to Amtrak Cascades to my sweetheart picking me up at the Olympia station. So much more pleasant and productive than fighting traffic, so much cheaper than paying to park a car for several days.

About that study—it examines the benefits of mild activity engaged in over the course of the day. I learned of it thanks to NPR's "Body Electric" series with Manoush Zomorodi and of course was immediately in for the Columbia University study of how movement can make a difference. And by "make a difference" I mean everything from lowering your blood glucose levels dramatically to lowering your blood pressure to improving your mood, fatigue level, and productivity. Your brain works better with these breaks so it isn't losing time you should be working; it's improving the quality of the time you work.  

And so little movement, relatively speaking! Five minutes every half-hour. Not five minutes of high-intensity intervals or five minutes of jumping jacks or five minutes of running in place. Could be five minutes of strolling back and forth in the living room or a lap around the block. The key is to have that light movement five minutes out of every half-hour.

That's the catch. Every half-hour? But what about meetings scheduled for 55 or 60 minutes? What about really getting into the flow of something and concentrating? What about binge-watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? AKA binge sitting.

Hence the timer. I set it for 25 minutes, then for 5 minutes to move, then for 25. Sometimes I bypass the five-minute movement break for a variety of reasons, like being in the middle of presenting a webinar. Many of my meetings can be handled using a headset so I can walk up and down the length of my living space or take a quick turn outside for some fresh air. I have yet to make it through a day in which I take every five-minute movement break but I'm moving more often than I did.

The study sends a survey each night asking how many movement breaks I took, average length, what motivated me to move, what interfered, and how I feel in terms of fatigue and productivity. The time zone shift from my travels skewed that a bit in the earlier days, but I definitely feel more energized on days I move more. 

I also observe more of the natural world, like the brightly colored (poisonous) mushrooms that sprang up almost overnight along the sidewalk. There was only one when I walked a couple of days ago and now there are dozens.
I'm in extra need of prompts to move right now. I don't have my usual sit-stand desk—packed away while our house has some renovation. When I used it, I know I often found myself locked in place standing rather than being locked in place sitting. I might take a quick three laps around the block mid-morning, maybe a longer walk at lunch, maybe another mid-afternoon set of laps. But even with those chunks of movement I spent hours in between essentially leading a very sedentary life.

How about it—are you up for getting up and moving around? Just a little, every half-hour. No biggie.

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