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What Maids Teach Us About Physical Health and Life Longevity: A Lesson in Mindfulness

Can mindful awareness of our movements improve our physical health?

I have no idea what the politically correct term is for women who clean hotel rooms. Maid? Chambermaid? Housekeeper? Female room attendant? Hoover lady? If I offend anyone, my apologies for failing to master the appropriate terminology. But everything else is true and rather inoffensive. In this brief post, you will learn a single secret to physical fitness and mental health that might translate into longer, better living.

Hotel maids are notorious for waking up at ridiculously early hours to start working. They also are confronted with unwanted flesh at surprising intervals and in surprising situations. There's the man who refuses to make a peep while sitting on the toilet until spotted. There's the man who opens the front door with swinging genitalia lacking a single synaptic connection to the idea of covering up. There's the guest's drunken friend who rests peacefully face to the ground, ass in the air, burrowed behind the curtains. I'm not being sexist. Ninety-seven out of 100 encounters, the naked being will be male. But I digress.

Hotel maids are stressed out and thus, have little time for a formal workout. If you don't believe me, go ask a hotel maid how often they go the gym or jog in the park. They certainly do enough bending, lifting, climbing, and moving to burn off calories. Which begs the question -- what if maids were made mindfully aware and open to the idea that a fitness routine is embedded into their job? Could changing their mindset lead to actual changes in their physical and mental health? A few researchers sought to find out.

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As the most minimal of interventions, one group of hotel maids were informed about the importance of daily exercise and how their regimen of climbing stairs, vacuuming, cleaning linen, and scrubbing tables and tubs affects their body. They were given exact details, for example, a 140-pound women burns 50 calories after vacuuming for 15 minutes. They were told that their typical workday far exceeds the exercise recommendations of the Surgeon General. A second group of hotel maids were given the same information about the benefits of exercise but weren't told anything about how their work effort is in fact, exercise. With this comparison group, the researchers could determine whether there was some unique benefit to being mindful about what constitutes exercise.

So what happened when these maids were tracked down a month later? After only four weeks of learning that work might serve as exercise, the maids lost an average of two pounds, lowered their blood pressure by an average of 10 points, and trimmed their body fit even though they didn't change their diet or add any exercise to their routine. The only thing that changed was that how they attended to their physical exertion at work. That's it! As for the comparison group, they basically remained in the same shape as when they started.

Yet another testament to how our mindset can alter our bodies. We can't always feel good but we can almost always be profoundly aware and open to what we do. Being fully alive during these moments are the building blocks to a life well lived.

Here's a question that we should all be asking -- what do I fail to notice in my daily routine that's important to my physical, mental, and social well-being? And tell your hotel maid how muscular her arms are looking so she can live a long, healthy life...

 

***Business and marketing guru Seth Godin writes that curiosity is the secret to creativity. Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, mentions that while we try to desperately seek control in our lives it is novelty and challenge that makes us happy. Want to learn the science behind these insights? Want concrete ideas for how to use this science to enhance your life, the lives of others, or your business? Pick up Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life


Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University. For more about Curious? and his other books and research, go to www.toddkashdan.com

 

Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at George Mason University and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your 'Good' Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment more...

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