Mind over muscle. Lessons learnt from hotel maids.

Mind over muscle, and yet this torso is headless. I hope the irony is not lost on you.

Mind over muscle, and yet this torso is headless. I hope the irony is not lost on you.


How is January’s gym attack going?
If you didn’t make one, this post is still for you, because I will show you how to turn everyday activities into calorie burning workouts through no extra movement, just by using your mind.

Being Mindful

By now you’ve probably heard the word mindfulness brandished about everywhere.  It’s a hot topic. It’s also applicable to physical movement too, and I will show you how via one of my favourite psychology experiments.

Lessons learnt from hotel maids

Crum & Langer (2007) were interested in seeing if the well-known placebo effect had powers outside medicine. They were interested in finding out if it could have benefits on your health when applied to physical activity.  They needed to test this hypothesis on a normal population, not fitness fanatics, but who didn’t have sedentary jobs. So who better than hotel maids who are on their feet all day cleaning on average 15 rooms per day. They exemplify functional fitness to a T- they bend, stretch, push, lift, walk the whole day long.
Interestingly enough they didn’t view their jobs as a workout.
When asked if they exercised regularly, 67% said no.
When asked to rate from 0 – 10 how much exercise they get, a third said 0.
Shocking, right? Lesson to learn here: always good to get an outsider's perspective! You may not be seeing what's in front of you.

So the researchers took the necessary measurements (hip-to-waist ratio, BMI, even job satisfaction) from the hotel maids and divided them into 2 groups: control group and ‘informed’.  

Workload for either group didn’t change, and the informed group didn’t do any extra exercising outside of work.
All that was different was the ‘informed’ group were given a sheet of paper informing them that they were actually quite active. That their average daily activity surpassed the Surgeon General’s daily minimal recommendation and they were in fact burning a lot of calories. Then all the sheet did was outline an average:

  • changing linens for 15 min burns 40 calories
  • vacuuming for 15 min burns 50 calories
  • cleaning bathrooms for 15 min burns 60 calories


The informed group:

  • Lost body fat
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reported increased job satisfaction

And all because of a sheet of paper that served to raise their awareness of current activity, and also told them to expect to see physical benefits (placebo effect in action: expecting a good result).

What does this mean to you?

Your perceived level of activity dictates your results. If you think you’re not doing much, you’re right.
Trying bringing mindfullness to the exercise you are already doing.
Climbing stairs, walking the dog, playing with the kids, walking to the printer…all workouts.
Even better news, if you are crushing it in the gym, you can up calorie burn and other benefits, just by being more mindful of the muscles you're using and the movements you're doing.

Take-away message

Become a hotel maid? Not the key message here.
Get a life coach? Yes. If that simple awareness sheet can get maids physical benefits, what wonderful benefits can you expect to receive from raising awareness elsewhere in your life?