Hayley Lever is moved by the Active Soles revolution

We are all designed to move. We were born moving.

But our modern world is designed and organised to keep us sitting still…. In our cars, at our desks, on our sofas and glued to our phones. Inactivity is killing us. And in the meantime, it’s making us sick and unhappy. Our obsession with the car and the lack of viable alternatives is choking us and our communities.

This is not right….But the good news is; all of this is within our power to change.

Moving in any way will make a difference. You don’t need to run a marathon. You are never old to start

What if I told you that there is a proven way to help you feel better, today and every day? Something that will help with most things you go to your GP with. It will reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, mental illness and other long-term conditions. If you are living with one of these conditions, it will help you to live better.

This thing will improve your kids’ confidence and wellbeing. And their grades at school. It’ll boost your productivity at work, and even your earning power. If we all did more of this thing, we could reduce air pollution, and congestion and tackle climate change. More people would be out and about where they live. Communities would be stronger and fewer people would feel lonely.

How incredible would that be?

2019 07 25 Trainers
Walk to work in your trainers image by idlesociety

This amazing thing is available to the vast majority of people and I am grateful to have discovered it years ago. I just wish everyone could find their way to it. That’s why I’m writing this. To share my passion and what I know with you, in the hope that you will find it, and share it with others…

This magic solution, this wonder drug is simple. Human movement.

How do I know it works? Because I live with all those emotions too. We are all human. I am a full-time working mum, with three daughters. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a colleague. I too have bumps in the road on my journey through life. But I know, putting on my trainers, going for a walk or a run, helps me to deal with tough days and stressful times. It helps me to feel better. Without fail. Happier and stronger, mentally and physically. And more energised. It has helped to build my family, my friendships and my community. These days it even reduces my carbon footprint.

2019 07 25 Sunnythinkingandscribble Gmwalking
You can start with walking... GM Walking Festival

The evidence is clear. Brisk walking is good enough for most people. Moving in any way will make a difference. You don’t need to run a marathon. You are never old to start, and moving more will help with the vast majority of health conditions. When we shift from doing nothing, to doing something regularly, we gain the biggest health benefits of all.

And we can all do something, can’t we?

Moving has been designed out of life. It needs to be designed back in. And that will take more than a few of us changing our lifestyles and making different choices.

Imagine that together we could improve the health and happiness of a whole town.. the whole of Greater Manchester…the nation… the world! There are thousands of influences on our daily activity levels. We need to redesign places, policy, systems, practice and change culture. We need to enable moving, to get a whole population active. And I mean a whole population. Accessible and inclusive design and change for all.

2019 07 25 Health Great Run Gmr 8
...and end up in the Great Manchester Run Greatrun.org

Changing some of these things clearly takes longer than others. But it is all possible. And if we start today, small, simple things can make a big difference. Here’s one story that shows just how powerful culture can be. And how changing it can impact, at no cost. Just by changing the conversation.

Because conversations do change the world.

Two years ago I started a new job in the city. I was able to get the train to work for the first time in my career. I could ditch the car. Brilliant. A few weeks in, I realised that walking to the station was more appealing in my trainers than in my ‘work shoes’. But then when I got to work, I felt I had to change back. Working all over Greater Manchester, I was constantly carrying spare shoes around with me.

2019 07 25 Conference Team Soles 1
Active Soles is gaining momentum Hayley Lever

A colleague, Rachel Allen and I, decided to rebel. We started to leave our trainers on. At our desks, in meetings and even in the big board rooms. It was really interesting. People became curious. It started a conversation. It turns out that shoes really matter to some people! And what do you do when something really matters to you these days? You write a blog.

Rachel wrote a blog about enclothed cognition– she knew about a psychology concept that proves what we wear changes the way we think, and can change our behaviour. So she had proof. Wearing flat shoes and trainers at work made it more likely that we would walk.

For women and men, there are cultural norms and rules at work . Even the Queen and Michelle Obama shared their frustration that they are expected to wear uncomfortable high heels in public life. Then there are own attitudes and worries. Am I smart enough? Do I feel professional enough? Will people take me seriously? 

2019 25 07 Trainer Ab

But I became braver. Hosting the GM Moving Conference, I wore high heels. But I took my trainers with me for the lunchtime walk. Then I thought…why should I change back into my high heels, just because I was presenting on stage? So I kept them on, with my dress. I still felt the need to explain myself… but at the next conference I spoke at in London, I didn’t even take my ‘work shoes’ with me.

It was becoming normal. And the conversation continued…

A colleague in the office showed Rachel’s blog to the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. It made him think too. Why don’t we give explicit permission to our employees to wear shoes that they are more likely to move in? So he did. And this really matters. Because the senior leaders need to enable health and wellbeing for their staff. And set the example. It was now policy across public services in Greater Manchester.

We debated a hash tag to hang this on. #ActiveSoles won. It connected with the Greater Manchester Northern Soul identity and spoke of people (souls) as well as footwear (soles). It gave us an easy way to invite people to join in and spread the word. Active soles gradually became ‘a thing’. It was public and easy to follow. Everyone is embraced, and encouraged to invite others to join in too.

We made a presentation to the Health and Care Board. Our Chair, Steven Pleasant, sent out an invitation for all members to come in their active soles. This is a big meeting, full of political leaders and chief executives. But people wore them. It was brilliant to see. We were announcing an investment from Sport England. The team spelt out the £10m in trainers.

2019 25 07 Health And Care Board Active Soles
The team present to the Health and Care Board Hayley Lever

Our #activesoles movement continued to grow…. GM Moving is regularly tagged in social media posts, and people check in with us when they see us, as they enjoy wearing their active soles and moving more. We have had politicians, surgeons, teachers, nurses and all kinds of people. All doing their great work in their trainers.

Flat, comfortable shoes or trainers enable us to move more. and moving more has a positive impact on our work. We can all do great work in our active soles.

So what. People are wearing trainers to work. What difference does it really make? People are moving more thanks to their footwear. They are feeling better Some have ditched their cars for public transport and active travel. People feel energised at work. They feel happier.

At my daughters’ school, uniform is jeans, hoodie and trainers. I’ve seen first-hand how this enables more active school days (and saves us money as we don’t have to buy multiple pairs of school shoes). There is bags of evidence that active people are more productive. Active people are less likely to have time off work for ill health. There is a significant financial benefit for employers. 

We want everyone to join in this revolution.

2019 07 25 Hayley Ted
Hayley Lever appears at TEDxOldham Hayley Lever

So what if… instead of reaching for the biscuit tin or the wine, when we feel low, we reached for our trainers instead? What if, we all got moving. For 30 minutes a day. 60 minutes for our kids. It doesn’t even need to be in one go. You can break it down. Ten minutes at a time. Heart beating faster. Getting stronger. It all counts.

What if we could ditch the car and combined walking, with public transport? What if we designed movement back into daily life and culture? The benefits would be massive. All of these things, and much more. How amazing would that be? Your Active Soles are just one way to move more. You can find your own way. And when you’re living an active life, and feeling the benefit. Tell others how great you feel. Invite them to move more too. Start your own conversation and watch the ripple effect. Because conversations that change culture, change the world.

Do small things that make a big difference.

If you can do big things.. because you’re an employer, a politician, a headteacher.. any kind of leader…. ask yourself with every decision and policy you make… does this enable people to move more? And if it doesn’t. Change it so that it does. Let’s start an Active Soles Revolution.

We can redesign moving back into life. Why not start right now?

Further information

Hayley Lever is Strategic Manager at GMMoving. You can follow her on Twitter at @hayleylever

This is an abridged version of a blog post by Hayley inspired by a talk she gave to TEDxOldham on 19 July 2019 you can read the full version, with links to further scientific evidence on the benefits of daily movement, here.

For more information on GM Moving, click here. If you want to share your ideas, or talk to them about how to enable people to move more in Greater Manchester; in your school, workplace or community, email info@gmmoving.co.uk and they will connect you to the right people to help.