00:00 You’re listening to the live happier, longer podcast, episode 35.
00:15 Welcome to the live happier longer podcast. We’re your hosts, Molly watts and Angela McDade. We are here to help you build the habits of a happier, longer life starting now.
00:28 Hey Angela. Hey Molly, how are you today? I am well, how are you? I’m good. You feeling really Scottish today? Very much so! That’s excellent news because I think that we are going to thrill our listeners today with the conversation between you and another Scot. So it’s always good to have safety in numbers. We are talking today with Professor Nanette Mutrie from the University of Edinburgh where she is the chair and physical activity for health. She’s a professor and she’s been very involved not only at the university level but in research and uh, with the government in Scotland for a long time. Um, setting forth the idea that increasing physical activity in the population. Yes. And they health benefits of it. Yeah. Yeah. And what I love about her most is her number one exercise activity that she promotes is walking. Yes. Can’t wait to talk to Nanette Mutrie.
01:35 Hi Nanette. Hi Nanette!
01:35 Well, good afternoon for me, but it’s good morning.
01:39 Good morning, good morning, good afternoon and we’re just delighted to find a time that works to speak with you. Just gave a brief introduction on who you are and what you’re doing and we’re happy to track you down there in Scotland and learn a little bit more about everything you’re doing at the University of Edinburgh for improving physical activity in Scotland and and beyond. Yeah,
02:05 thank you. I’m delighted that you’ve invited me on the happy to speak about that anytime.
02:10 So I know that you, I think your title is is something all about physical activity and exercise and sports, but you focus a lot on walking and so where is that coming from, the research, what research have you seen that that really speaks to why walking is such an overall great exercise for people and and what are its benefits for people in the long run?
02:34 Yeah, that’s a good question. My title is Physical Activity For Health and, and I understand physical activity to be a big umbrella term underneath that sits exercise, which is usually much more structured and oriented towards fitness and also underneath that since sport, which may or may not be done for health reasons, most people play competitively and that might or might not always healthy. So physical activity is the big umbrella term that we like to use. And when you think of her, people might choose to be active and you tried to survey the population. Walking is by far and away the most frequently done mode of activity, at least in Scotland and sometimes in in American cities, it’s not possible to walk because there are no sidewalks, but we have a tradition of walking, well lit, pavements, parks, etc. Uh, and the history of this is that around about 1997, uh, one of the seminal authors in our field, Jeremy Morris, wrote a paper called walking for health. And up until that time, I think people had thought walking is not sufficient, intense activity to get health benefits. You know, we really needed to get a bit sweaty, do something more like running, go to the gym, play a vigorous sport. That’s the thing that it gave us health benefits.
04:03 But this 1997 paper laid out, the idea that of course walking for almost everyone is a moderate intense activity. You have to be quite young and quite fit for your heart rate, not to get into the moderate intensity zone from, from walking. So actually it crosses the whole population and it’s an activity we’re actually humanly built to do. We are built to do that walking. That’s exactly how our skeletons constructed. And we do that activity best. Everything else requires a bit more from us where we might be built to run, but not all of us can do that so easily. We might be built to be strong and lift and carry and do gymnastics activities, but it’s not so easy for everyone. So walking is easy for almost everyone. It requires no new skill. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Just some good shoes. Maybe if you live in Scotland, some waterproof clothes course.
05:06 Oregon too!
05:08 Yeah, of course. That’s true. Um, and you know, therefore it reaches into the population as something most people do already. And so if you encourage them to do more of something they do already, that’s typically an easier approach to promoting activity to take up something they’ve never done before. So walking ticks a lot of boxes and when you look at the people that can achieve 150 minutes of activity over the course of the week, that’s the recommended amount of activity for health globally. Uh, noted. Uh, the, the biggest mode of activity that people do is walking after that, it’s a domestic activity, housework and gardening. So it’s walking first, then domestic activity and sport and exercise as much, much lower in the list. That’s what we know from the Scottish population.
06:06 Yeah. And I think that’s the thing that is more surprising is that it as so, well, it’s universal, but it is so good for you and people don’t, people haven’t appreciated how good it is for you. And for us, when we speak about her five daily actions, we want to, we want people to do things that are easy to do because as you said, if, if it’s, if it’s something that takes, you know, equipment and time out to do so that you have to go to a gym or you know, something that requires that extra step, it may mean that people just wouldn’t do it. So to walk straight out the door is, is easy. Yeah. Like you said, it’s underappreciated and been under utilized. And I think people do have misconception that they need to literally hurt themselves almost in terms of breaking a sweat or getting their heart rate up to receive a true benefit. And that just isn’t the case.
07:10 Yeah. So, right. The no pain, no gain is a phrase that comes from athletic training for fitness. But it may well be true that if you want to be a competitive athlete in any sport, you to push your physical limits constantly to build up that extraordinary ability to run faster, lift more, uh, be higher at all of those Olympic ideals. But that doesn’t apply to population physical activity promotion, because frankly, people get displeasure from that, displeasure in your body, feeling effort, feeling pain, being sore the next day, putting in a ton of effort for something is a short lived motivation and we quickly go, oh, that’s too much like hard work. So we tried to turn that around and we say there’s no gain with pain promotion of physical activity everyday people. If you’re getting into painful situations and you’re out of breath and catching your breath and having to stop, then that’s too much and slow down and be nicer to yourself. Enjoy the movement that you’re doing.
08:31 Oh, I love that. I love that because that’s sustainable, right? Yeah. I mean, and I think that’s something that we talk about a lot because our five daily actions are really driven towards longevity as well, and things that are proven to increase longevity and improve overall quality of life. So walking is just, as you said, it’s one of those things that even if you’re in your seventies your eighties your, even your nineties you can walk. Most people, you know, I mean there are obviously there’s, yeah, there’s not, you don’t know exactly if you don’t have a mobility issue already, but it’s also one of the ways to prevent mobility issues is, you know, walking is something that the, the vast majority of us can continue to do throughout our lives.
09:21 Yup. And fought we need, amongst other things is cities and tends to appreciate that. So we’ve seen a big increase in pedestrianized zones for shopping. The shopkeepers used to think, or, hey, this isn’t going to work because people can park outside the shop, but in fact, they get the message that people walk through the actually, there’s greater footfall into their shops. That actually increases the number of people that come and see what they’re doing. And when they reduce cars in any circumstance, were increased physical activity. So the parking goes further away. We get a little bit of a walk to wherever we’re going. All of that’s good for our health and actually good for the environment. Now all of these things are coming together. So reducing pollution from budgeting, car congestion and the exhaust fumes, etc. Actually will encourage more active commuting, improving public transport so that people opt for that.
10:25 There’s always a bit of activity to be involved in getting public transport and cities that have done that sort of thing. Improve the public transport, reduced cars, come into the city. We’ll see increases in the economy and the environment and in their participants or the other population health because the become more active in a very routine way by walking. Occasionally by cycling, you know, people want to promote cycling. I love, personally I love cycling and I do commute by cycling, but it’s a tiny percentage of the population that can do that well under 10% whereas up to 80% of the population can walk, so walking is a bigger public health reach.
11:11 I think as well, cycling although, the infrastructure allows for it. It’s not really, there’s very few places where it’s truly set up for safe cycling.
11:24 Exactly. Exactly. Scandinavian countries in the Netherlands where sadly as a result of the devastation caused in world war two to their cities, they started again. So they built correctly for walking, for cycling and for limited use of cars and great public transport and other cities have to kind try and retrofit cycling into a street that was never designed to have it. So it’s, it’s certainly less than less than perfect.
12:03 Streets that were hardly designed for two cars, let alone two cars plus.
12:08 They were actually designed for a horse and cart.
12:14 So when you’re in cities that are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. It’s a little trickier. Yeah. Portland here where we are as a very big bicycling city. It’s a very cycle friendly city prides itself on that and in fact I know you’ve been involved in that there in Scotland to really with uh, with governments trying to initiate some, some things that, that help build that infrastructure for a country that ensures better physical activity. Actually in my, in my building downtown, and I heard you mentioned this on a previous talk, they just a retrofit and we just built a bicycle room so that people can escape their bikes, can escape the rain when they’ve cycled in from work, you know, for work. So, but that takes, that takes effort on behalf of, you know, companies or the country too.
13:07 But that, so, um, uh, win win, you know, spending the money on that and find it all the way to retro fit it, will get a healthier workforce. Will get a workforce that likes going to their work better because the workplace has done something for them to, to benefit their health. And we know that you get more active people have less absences, enjoy their work more when they’re feeling in control and taking care of a little bit by the company for simple things like bicycle storage, showers, uh, flexible working that allows you to walk in at a time that suits you or lunchtime or take a break when you want, sort that you could do your activity and work it around your working hours. All of that gives a sense of control to, to the, the workers. And that’s a benefit. I’m sure
14:01 Scotland has been, um, has done a lot of work in the last 15 to 20 years in terms of promoting physical exercise to the country. And, and I think you’ve been a good part of that. So does it feel good? Do you feel like you’ve, you’re, your work’s been successful. Yeah. Yeah. So that the implementing it is one thing, but how, how are you seeing the results?
14:25 Really good question. I feel very privileged to have been around long enough to be involved in the very first physical activity policy in Scotland. That was in 2003 let’s make Scotland more active. And then we had a five year review of that, um, that I was involved in that review and we called for more national leadership, um, uh, clear set of outcomes and improved support for local areas. And as a result of that, eventually over time, what I see is government now has a strong physical activity for health unit, more than one person, which was all we had in 2003. a big unit. And they’re six agreed that comes, that go across all the political parties, although its current government strategy, the park, all parties have signed up to it. And some of them involve getting the least active, a little bit more active. So a modest goal, but incredibly important one, not just trying to make everyone reach the recommendations.
15:34 Another one is helping people who are active stay active. So it’s your point of longevity and, and how do we do that? How do we build in support for people to stay at over time and into their old age? And then we have one that focuses and children, and this has been hugely successful. The policy was to create, um, recommended two hours of physical education at all stages of school. And when we started that policy, 5% of Scottish schools achieve that. Now some 15 years later, almost a hundred percent achieve it. So that’s been a hugely successful policy. Undoubtedly helping children gain the skills for active living as they go through life. Another one is about the environment that the places that people are active in and then there’s one of the communities and then there’s one about sport. So trying to get sport not only to focus on performance, people love gold medals and Scotland’s done its part and getting some of them for various sports.
16:41 But to get sport to say, well we should play a part, we should be increasing participation in our various sports and help develop that aspect as well. So I’m hugely pleased with that and we were at the forefront of in Scotland of trying to evaluate that policy and we have experts in the World Health Organization coming to Scotland in a couple of weeks’ time. The person leading this for the WHO is Fiona Bull and she’s a very big helper, a friend to Scottish policy. She’s been involved from the beginning as well and she’s coming to do a workshop with us and how to evaluate getting all the systems that are required, education, transport, health, all working together in a collaborative way to really push the levels of activity as high as we can reach.
17:35 And I think that is what is the most impressive part of it is getting all those different areas to work together. Because half the time, like you were just saying there, you know, all political parties agree on, you know, they’ve, they’ve signed off on this. That is, a lot of the time. That’s a number one stumbling block for anything to happen. And it’s like, really this is a political issue, but it’s all about, you know, where money comes from and you know, implementing all these things. So the fact that you have so many people involved in this is in itself, that’s really impressive, because if you don’t have all of those people involved then as so much more difficult.
18:21 Yeah. And I think what I see is, you know, just takes time. If most, most political situations and politics situations are set in the short term future by the nature of politics and politicians putting out a manifesto. So they rarely are more than three or five years long. So the Scottish strategy was set for 20 years, 2003 and that that made the difference. We’ve built on it. People, nobody said let’s stop this policy. It’s not worthwhile. I mean it’s so like, you know, motherhood and Apple Pie. I think the American phrase be, that nobody can really disagree about physical activity being a good, good thing for the nation.
19:07 Yeah, it’s amazing though what you mentioned and it’s so important. It’s something that I’ve been, we’ve been studying a lot with five for life is the vision and the infrastructure and what steps we’re taking in, especially here in the United States, which it’s, you know, we’re obviously much, it’s very large and, and kind of trying to group everyone together and get on a United front. But the sheer number of people that are going to be senior that are going to be over the age of 65 by the time we reached the year 2030 here in the United States alone and across the world. Yes, our cities and countries and you know, communities are not better built for this type of activity for walking and for biking and doing all these things. It’s a major concern for for healthcare as we age too. I think it’s wonderful that Scotland has had that vision for so long because it’s, I think it’s a shortcoming here in the United States. We’re, we’re, we’re, we seem to be more worried about gridlock and traffic and all that. Then you know, then actually. Which is a big issue! It is a big issue because it’s a pain in the butt, but you know those.
20:18 There’s always the cartoon, I like, talking about that of of the family speaking to an interviewer or perhaps like yourself standing outside their car and there’s traffic going past and the main highway and they’ve got their children with them and they’re saying to the interview, we would like to walk to school but there’s just too much traffic so we drive.
20:47 Well and it is, that needs to be addressed for sure. One of the things too, I think that I liked about what you said in terms of the focus on sport versus the focus on activity and I think that it applies especially you know here in the United States we seem to be a culture that is obsessed with winning and going and you know, proving ourselves and I think that teaching people that, that leap from doing things that are sport and competitive, taking that and transitioning it to a life of activity and how that really sets you up for a much healthier, happier, longer life, you know, in, in, in, in and of itself. Yeah.
21:35 Some sports are very amenable to keeping on playing all through your life. Especially if they’re a lot of recreational opportunities or age group opportunities. So tennis and swimming are good examples of sports that construct themselves for long time involvement and their participants need the encouragement to keep doing it. They’ve always done it, they love it. Find the way to keep that going. But then in other sports that are highly demanding, you know, American football would be one. Basketball is one, you know, people generally don’t keep doing these highly demanding activities, uh, with ease because just as different as you age. I mean actually I played, uh, squash to a very high level and I came to a point where I couldn’t recover quickly enough from playing to kind of enjoy my daily life. So there’s a moment that you have to perhaps consider letting that goal and what sport needs to remember to teach people is that they’re skillful and able and strong and they need to keep active to keep those attributes going with them.
22:50 I think I would say that most sports don’t do that. They’re not good at helping you retire from the sport and lay out a pattern of how to keep going. Um, I have actually seen recently a story of an Olympic rower, uh, in the, in that competition, who that sport of rowing did have a retirement plan as it were, and it kind of de-trained and help the athlete detained keeping going with some of the routine, letting it go until they got to a kind of level that was good for health rather than good for competition. But sports don’t typically do that. And comp competitive instinct may change and it isn’t just a joy to not need to feel that you have to compete against others the whole time. And lot of people compete themselves with step counters or other fitness tracking activities, but even that’s not needed.
23:53 And the joy of simply walking out on a blue sky day and getting some green trees, uh, scenery around you as you will know that I have available in Portland as we have in Scotland, um, has has to be really appreciated that the joy of just being able to move outside in those environments has a double health benefits because we know there’s so much benefit from being in green space itself. And if you’re walking or being active and walking the dog or with the kids or just a short hike up a hill, then probably a double benefit involved in that activity and green space benefits.
24:38 Yeah. And grab a friend or a family member, like you said, and then you’re going to get even a third benefit. Think that will lead us right to what I’d love to the last kind of part of walking that I think you’ve, you’ve done research on and touched on is the mental health benefit of why is your research shown that there’s not only just that physical benefit for people, but a true mental benefit. Yeah.
25:03 This has has been under researched in comparison to to the physical health benefits so that the walking for health paper that that mentioned to you, that was first produced in 1997 they said, well, we can’t really find any evidence for this, but we, we can observe ourselves that there have been mental health benefits for walking.
25:23 You know it’s there, you just can’t prove it yet.
25:24 But we’ve just done a review from our colleagues at Edinburgh University and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine at scoping out what do we know about walking in mental health and now we’ve got a lot more studies. It’s certainly still under researched in terms of physical in comparison rather than physical health benefits. But we’ve got pretty solid evidence for prevention, particularly of depression and all increasing our prevention of different kinds of anxiety. Anxiety’s such an amorphous term that it’s hard to pin it down the different kinds, but there’s increasing evidence there.
26:09 And for promotion of I’d describe as good mental health, so our self-esteem or mood, in fact our papers called walking in sunshine because it’s a kind of happy feeling that we think that people can get from the simple act of going outside and walking. So the prevention side and the promotion of good mental health is growing. And then on the treatment side, I think there’s very solid evidence that walking and physical activity in general can treat, uh, depression and could teach it as a first line or it can treat it as an adjunct treatment to whatever else might be recommended. And there’s growing evidence for other mental health conditions that activity plays its part. Anxiety would be one of them. Schizophrenia is one of them. Certain phobias can be helped in this way. Uh, eating disorders, strangely enough, can be helped and treated by regulated use of activity. So I see this is a growing area under researched, but I’m confident that walking can help er good mental health and prevent poor health. And in fact it should be a front line of treatment for depression in particular. But for many mental health conditions, activity is going to play a part.
27:32 Yeah. And I, I think that we are now in a situation where people are embracing speaking about mental health. Researching mental health, that when you know, 20 years ago, I mean it really not that long ago that people like just really did not, it was whispered about. Yeah, it was and it was embarrassing and, and like our kids growing up, will speak about their friends who are, are, they suffer from depression and they’re teens and like they’re openly and it’s like, you know it’s a real shame, it’s just like if somebody broke their arm or broke their leg, you know, that’s a real shame. They broke their arm, you know, they, they speak about it as an illness like any other illness and it’s much more accepted now than like when we were kids.
28:29 Yeah. It’s not implausible that the reason why we see increasing rates of this being noted other than it is reducing in stigma, but it’s not implausible to suggest that it’s a lack of activity. That might be one of the root causes here because w where’s the set or our bodies are set to respond to activity when it’s reduced, and we do not get the benefit of the, the brain chemicals that promote, um, our mood and resist our feelings of depression. You know, and most people know about endorphins and how that operates, but they’re but one single system, there’s a multitude of systems where the activity of our body promotes the release of that neural chemistry that promotes health and wellbeing mentally, but also physically through her body. Um, we’re built to do that. And if we’re not doing it, my suspicion is that’s one of the root causes for increases and people not feeling mentally well cause they’re, they’re not maximizing their own body’s potential to, to help them feel good.
29:47 Right. And that, I mean, that goes hand in hand with the, the sedentary lifestyle that has become such a big problem. And they say that, you know, sitting’s the new smoking in terms of physical health. But I, I agree with you. I think that it’s also probably causal for the increase in mental health problems that we are seeing and especially in those depression and anxiety and the, those, you know, negative, um, feeling type disorders. So I think you’re spot on. Well, we could talk for hours about, about walking and moving and all of the, I just love the work that you’ve done. I love the research that you’ve, you’ve been a part of. And to coin a phrase, I would say that it’s brilliant, uh, that what Scotland is doing in terms of putting exercise and activity high on the list for its priorities for its citizens and for helping people live that happier, longer life.
30:52 That’s very kind of have to say so, I really appreciate those comments and you’ll have to give me the link so that I can send your little commentary to the government and say “look, people are appreciating what we’re doing”..
31:03 Yeah, absolutely. Without question, we will link to your, um, to all your website and your research and your work there at the University of Edinburgh in our show notes and we just appreciate you taking the time.
31:15 I’ve loved, I’ve loved chatting to you. It’s been brilliant. Thanks. Bye.
31:24 Thanks for listening to the live happier, longer podcast. Now it’s time to move, learn, share, give and let go. Five daily actions to make the rest of your life the best of your life. See you next week.
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