Meet Thierry & Mary Anne Malleret, who reveal the life-changing benefits of moving, and in particular walking out in nature. Not only is walking good for our bodies, it stimulates our brains, gives us access to our creative and strategic minds, and helps us to make good decisions. Compelling evidence from leading institutions such as Harvard and Stanford University and The Wellness Institute support movement as not just being important, but essential for us to be able to enjoy physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Thierry and Mary Anne challenge us all to transform our lives, and our world, 1 step at a time. They highlight that every single step we make as individuals ends up being relevant when aggregated at the scale of the 7.5 billion people who live on the planet.
- Mental Health
- Decision Making
- Injury Prevention
Belle de Seigneur by Albert Cohen
The Godfather directed by Francis Ford Coppola
‘Every Journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step’
~ Lao Tsu
‘All truly great thoughts are born by walking’
THE LIFEWISE SHOW #16
‘10 GOOD REASONS TO GO FOR A WALK’ WITH THIERRY MALLERET
Tania Cotton: Welcome to the LifeWise Show, where we explore the things in life that make you feel truly alive.
I first met Thierry Malleret quite by chance, that is if you ever meet anyone just by chance in Chamonix, in France, where we are all drawn towards exploring nature amidst the inspiring peaks of the Mont-Blanc massif. Thierry and I, and his wife Mary Anne, clearly held a united belief that movement is not just important, it is essential, a non-negotiable for us to be able to enjoy physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. And then Thierry mentioned that he had written a book, with his wife Mary Anne, called ‘10 Good Reasons to Go for a Walk’. As the founder of Movement Wise this really interested me, and I arranged to meet them for a walk and talk in the mountains to find out more.
Thierry has a background in economics and social anthropology. He started his career in the Prime Minister's office in Paris and then expanded into research, academia, investment banking, and public policy in London, Moscow, New York, and Geneva. He is now based in Chamonix, where in 2015 he founded, with prestigious partners, the Summit of Minds Conference - a mind opening conference where the curious and committed participate in conversations amidst the awe-inspiring peaks of the Mont-Blanc mountain range.
Last year, I had the privilege of accompanying delegates on a walk and talk, and then pausing to admire the view and explore how movement can nourish the body and stimulate the mind.
Thierry has a gift for joining the dots between complex topics, such as health and wellbeing, economics, geopolitics, the environment, societal issues and tech, and presenting them in a succinct and understandable way that can be applied personally and professionally. His cutting edge Monthly Barometer newsletter is an antidote to silo thinking.
Thierry’s most recent book is the international bestseller ‘COVID-19: The Great Reset’, and at the Summit of Minds this year he challenged us to reset the world and ourselves one step at a time. He wrote this book in a collaboration with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, who is renowned for taking his employees for vigorous walks to contemplate complex questions, with the objective of returning only when they have found the answer.
I am keen to find out whether simply going for a walk is the secret to unlocking our health, happiness, and creative and strategic minds. Thierry, thank you and Mary Anne for coming up to meet me again.
Thierry Malleret: Well, thank you so much, Tania, for having us.
Mary Anne Malleret: Thank you Tania.
Tania Cotton: So, Thierry, when did you and Mary Anne begin to really appreciate how extraordinarily beneficial it is to go for a walk?
Thierry Malleret: I think we began to realise that back in in the early 2000s, when we came back from Moscow to Geneva. We had small children, we had walked all our lives, and we loved it. When we lived in London, we walked in the Chilterns, in these spectacularly beautiful hills around Oxford, often. Then in Moscow, we could not walk. Moscow is a very heavily polluted place, and incredibly unamicable for walkers in the winter, you simply cannot walk. When we moved to Geneva, and the Alps, we started to walk.
By that time we noticed, both of us, that when there was something going wrong in the family, when the children were fed up or when there was some tension, going out was a miracle cure. We sensed it. We could not put our finger on it, but we sensed it.
Ever since we moved back to the Alps we have been walking on a very regular basis, in Chamonix, everywhere, really everywhere and when we are in cities, of course, it is something that is eminently doable when you visit a place. Then I started to write, about five years ago, a Wellness Barometer. So I do Monthly Barometer, which is about macro issues, and we started to Wellness Barometer, at the request of the Global Wellness Institute based in New York at that time, which wanted to have a precis about the macro issues that impact wellness and wellbeing.
I knew a bit of wellbeing economics from my studies in economics. At that time wellbeing economics was a burgeoning study subtopic in economics. So we started to do this barometer. I say ‘we’ because both Mary Anne and I were involved. It gave us a chance to talk to doctors, to psychologists, to neuroscientists, to physiotherapists, and it made us realise that walking was really good for you. I think, at that time, everybody knew that walking was good from a physical point of view. It is good for your physical health and for your physical wellness. We started, about five years ago, to become aware that it was also something very good for your psychological wellbeing.
And at that time, as an economist, I thought, “Okay, what can we add to the conversation?” So digging into the research, particularly in the research conducted by behavioural economists, I started to realise that there were a few people, particularly in the US, who had an interest in the way in which walking favours decision-making. So basically, a few economists, particularly in Stanford, had realised and had conducted studies showing that when you are outside, when you engage in light physical activities, like walking, you become more creative. They measured it, and they showed it was a fact corroborated by science, by research. So that is when we started to realise that it was good for us on many, many fronts.
Tania Cotton: That is wonderful. Do you still write the Wellness Barometer, as well as the Monthly Barometer?
Thierry Malleret: Yes, we do. Yes, in fact, several barometers. We are even going to start a Food Barometer for large global food company. So, yes, we do. We have been doing it for five years. It has been boosted, in many respects, by COVID-19 because, surprisingly, one of the big, big winners, quote unquote, of the pandemic is walking. Walking has exploded with COVID. Nobody understands really why, but we have reconnected with nature, and maybe we will come back to this. But walking, like ski touring, by the way, ski touring, measured through sales of equipment, has increased 1,000% just over the past two months, in Europe and the US.
Tania Cotton: Extraordinary, we will come back to that! You wrote your book, ‘10 Good Reasons to Go for a Walk’ before the COVID-19 pandemic. So it is very interesting to see how things have changed, and how things like walking people are doing a lot more, and that the benefits are being measured.
So what made you so convinced that, actually, you decided to write a book about it, and to present some of the research findings that support walking as far more beneficial than most people realise?
Thierry Malleret: It is very hard to pinpoint what is the triggering event that prompts you to write a book, but we discussed it on many occasions. There were some articles and interviews being conducted with people who were promoting the virtues to the walking. As I just said, the angle that was of interest to me was decision making, and there were very few articles explaining the benefits of walking from an economic point of view, which were of interest to me as an economist.
For example, you know, one of the many, many studies quoted in this book is that if you walk a few minutes every hour in the office, just going to coffee machine, or to the loo, or whatever, you become from 12% to 14% more productive in the hour that follows. So, it became totally obvious that these things needed to be known and widespread, because, as a society, we do the opposite. You know, very few of us walk when we work, and we wanted to promote the idea that you can do both. Hence this notion of walkshop that we created with the Summit of Minds.
Tania Cotton: I love just what you have mentioned that, the way walking does not have to take a lot of time, that simply pausing for five minutes each hour and walking around in the office can have a big impact. You also mentioned in your book that walking for an hour can neutralise the effects of sitting at your desk for eight hours. So it seems like it is more important to move regularly than needing to have to go out and climb up a mountain, for example?
Thierry Malleret: Well, you can do both, but not moving is deadly, from a psychological perspective and from a productivity perspective. We are not made not to move. It sounds obvious to you, it sounds obvious to us, but it does not sound obvious to many, many people. It is amazing that companies have not grasped yet the significance of enticing employees just to stroll or to walk a bit, because they would be much happier, much more productive, and much healthier, of course. It is not something that is being very much encouraged at the moment, even though it is changing a bit.
Tania Cotton: So Thierry, you mentioned just then that just taking a little pause to walk around the office, you become how much more productive?
Thierry Malleret: There have been many, many different studies conducted, on average from 12% to 15% in the next hour.
Tania Cotton: That is very significant.
Thierry Malleret: So if you do this every hour, if you just take a few minutes every hour, just to walk in the office or better to go outside the block, you will be more productive, more creative, nicer to your colleagues, less irritable, etc., etc. It is a net win. It is a net game changer, from an economic point of view.
Tania Cotton: So that already sounds like a number one top tip for us all.
Thierry Malleret: And it is so simple.
Tania Cotton: For those of us now who are working from home, we need to still have a little reminder, whether it is a buzzer on our phone or something like that, that just enables us to get up for those few minutes every hour.
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely. If it is not something natural, if it is not a natural pleasure to do so… we need a post-it or a reminder to do it, otherwise we will sit here, and… I do not know how you say it English, disparaître, do you know how to say this in English?
Mary Anne Malleret: Fade away.
Thierry Malleret: You fade away, yes, disparaître in French.
Mary Anne Malleret: Your concentration drifts and you think you are still working, but actually you are probably not actually achieving anything.
Tania Cotton: That leads us into the first good reason you gave in your book, ’10 Good Reasons to Go for a Walk’: IT IS GOOD FOR OUR BODIES. You mentioned a study undertaken over 10 years by Harvard University, that walking at least kilometre-and-a-half a day can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 82% compared with if you are sedentary. So it sounds like doctors should be prescribing this as medication.
Thierry Malleret: They do, or they are starting to do it. At the Global Wellness Summit, which takes place every year, and we participate every year, there is an abundance of doctors and studies showing that you should be prescribed walks outside. Now in the US, The Cleveland Clinic, which is very cutting edge in terms of research and top medicine, has put into place, with the Harvard Medical School, a programme whereby you are being prescribed walks, not only for physical benefits but for depression. So in the early stages of depression, this research team has proven that walking and being outside is a very effective treatment, and, of course, non-invasive with no after effects, or only positive after effects. It is much better than a drug.
I think one of the reasons why walking has not been promoted more is because it is so detrimental to the vested interests of the pharma industry. You know, if you do not start taking drugs, if you start walking instead of absorbing all this medicine, it is not very good for the industry. So it is not being promoted as much as it should. But it is now being part of the arsenal of doctors, both for physical benefits and for mental health benefits.
Tania Cotton: It sounds like walking will also become a standard treatment against cancer, alongside other conventional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy?
Thierry Malleret: Yes, absolutely. We met two years ago, in Singapore, a Japanese doctor using Shinrin-Yoku, you know, the forest bathing. So Japan is very much at the cutting edge in researching the benefits of walking in the woods, in terms of cancer treatment, particularly in the early stages of cancer, and it has a positive effect, which is now being documented by biologists, they understand why because of the chemicals that being emitted by the trees.
Tania Cotton: Yes, I think the science behind how trees communicate, how our interaction with trees and the chemicals that we can get from them has really…
Thierry Malleret: It is incontrovertible now.
Tania Cotton: It is absolutely fascinating, and incredible.
Thierry Malleret: Yes, Mary Anne was adding that in Japan walking and forest bathing is now being reimbursed by the social security system in Japan, in some cases.
Tania Cotton: So, walking in an office or on a treadmill compared to walking outside in nature, there is a big difference?
Thierry Malleret: Of course, there is a big difference. It is much more preferable to be working outside. But even walking on a treadmill is better than not walking at all. So many studies, again, many research studies, have been conducted trying to measure the effect of walking on a treadmill compared to walking in the woods, or the mountains, or the beach. From a decision-making point of view, when you try to correlate working with decision making, for example, or creativity, it is pretty much identical. It is as good. It is less pleasant, but it is almost as good as being outside. So it is just the physical act of walking or moving, which is positive, that the conclusion infers by the fact that it is positive in both cases.
Tania Cotton: Yes, it is incredible.
How far do we need to walk to feel the benefits? Where does the 10,000 steps a day guideline come from?
Thierry Malleret: It is a fiction. It comes from Japan. It is a doctor in Japan that came up with this fiction that 10,000 should be your target. In fact, walking as little as a few 100 steps a day is good, it is positive, in terms of health effect. Of course, the more you walk the better it is. There is no linear conclusion in terms of the thresholds after which the positive effects start manifesting themselves. Just walking a bit or walking a lot is good.
Tania Cotton: So, it is a piece of fiction invented by the Japanese that this 10,000 steps…
Thierry Malleret: Well, it is a doctor in Japan that came up with this 10,000 step benchmark, because it is easy to assimilate and it is easy to understand. We love round numbers, and, from a cognitive point of view, it is easy to remember round numbers than having to remember that you should be walking 12,872 steps a day. So 10,000 everybody remembers, and it becomes a benchmark. But it is wrong.
Tania Cotton: On the flat, how long would it take us to walk 10,000 steps do you think?
Thierry Malleret: Well, 10,000 steps is about six kilometres. So it is an hour-and-a-bit/an-hour-and-a-half at the normal pace.
Tania Cotton: That sounds very reasonable.
Thierry Malleret: It is very reasonable.
Tania Cotton: That sounds like a really good benchmark to me. It sounds like there is a lot of good sense in that! How about climbing stairs and climbing hills? Does this has added benefits?
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely. We attended a very interesting lecture being given by a doctor, an Italian doctor, who has been researching Blue Zones. Blue Zones are these places in the world, there are about 20 of them, or between 15 and 20 of them, where the life expectancy of people is amazing, dramatically above the average, where people tend to live above 100 years old, on average. So they exist in Sardinia, they exist in Central America, they existing the Caucasus, they exist in Japan. So they have been identified by doctors, and this team from Catania University, in Italy, has been researching the commonalities between these different Blue Zones, with many different cultures, and many different practices. So it is food, it is sleep, it is all the good things we know about, but the difference seems to be walking up. In all cases, they live in hilly terrains, and it seems that the fact of moving upwards often is a very beneficial element. So that is commonality between all the Blue Zones.
Tania Cotton: I find this interesting as a movement analyst, because I would say it is not just the walking up, but it is also the walking down.
Thierry Malleret: Probably, yes, you are right.
Tania Cotton: Because of the control and the movement, eccentrically working your muscles, as they get longer, that really stimulates your muscles to grow quickly; and also it is the control of movement. So, yes, walking up and walking down, I think that is fascinating. So we need stairs or hilly places.
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Tania Cotton: I really want to thank you for emphasising that it is not just if you walk, it is how you walk, that is important. You highlighted the importance of posture and movement habits, that they do matter. How have you noticed this? And how do you pay attention to this when you are walking?
Thierry Malleret: For myself, do you mean?
Tania Cotton: Yes.
Thierry Malleret: Well, not enough, obviously, because I consulted you. (Laughter) Walking is such a natural activity that we do not pay attention to the way in which we do it. You pointed out to me that I was not doing it properly. So I do not, and I know I should, because otherwise you will hurt yourself, which is what happened to me.
Tania Cotton: I think many people think walking you should be just born to walk and know how to walk. One of the things we know is that, yes, as babies and children we learn to walk and run very naturally. When we sit a long time and then we get up and we walk we have a tendency to pull ourselves forwards, rather than to step through and allow our leg to swing through and pull our body over the other leg. And to create this beautifully efficient system of energy storage and energy release, so that we begin to walk like a slinky dink, you know, the spring that we can get to walk down the stairs on its own.
We are designed to move, but we are designed to move efficiently. With too much sitting and with postures that become adapted to screens and to looking down, we can often find ourselves just pulling ourselves and using too much energy, rather than moving as a movement system that is naturally designed for energy storage and energy release. So yes, I would love to help people enjoy walking more and have added healthy benefits, simply because walking is so much more enjoyable when you do it in a way that is so kind to the body and minimises stress and strain.
Thierry Malleret: I wonder whether you have looked into this as a physiologist, but walking is also very much culture dependent. In the population groups that have to work a lot for survival reasons, you have the Afghan walking, you have the Georgian walking, you have different methods of walking for people who walk for days and nights, to find food, or who used to do this. It seems like all these different ethnic groups have different ways of walking. We researched it a bit for the book, there is very little research conducted by social anthropologists or doctors into the way in which these different groups walk in a very different manner.
Tania Cotton: That is very interesting, because even within different populations of people within society just around us... Each individual has a postural profile, and a movement signature. So if I see someone in the distance, they have a postural profile, and I can often recognise someone from their shape. Then the way people move, I can often recognise it is like a signature. Then certain groups of people, like dancers. You know, dancers tend to have sort of a light bouncy, activated way of walking. People who are used to walk in the mountains have a very stable and efficient way of walking, and comfortable way of walking downhill.
So yes, different populations of people in terms of form follows function. So our shape follows what we do, but also culturally, what we do is affected by-
Thierry Malleret: You have learnt how to do it.
Tania Cotton: Yes, we learn to do it. .So I think it would be fascinating to look at that. I would love to know more.
When we talk about becoming more resistant to disease, ‘dis-ease’, we are talking not only about the physical benefits, but also the huge emotional and mental health benefits of walking. A second good reason you give for walking is that IT IS GOOD FOR THE BRAIN. At Harvard Medical School, they have argued that walking is even more important for the brain than for the body. I find it amazing. I do not know if you have read any of the books by Daniel Amen, who has written a book, ‘Change your Brain, Change your Life’, who says that anything that is good for our circulation is good for the brain.
So in terms of dementia and Alzheimer's, walking, does it have a role to play in preventing dementia and Alzheimer's?
Thierry Malleret: Yes, it does.
Mary Anne Malleret: I think the clearest way of saying it is that we cannot stop the clock on mental disease, mental ill health, but we can slow it down. In terms of dementia, and early onset dementia, physical activity, regular walking, has been proven, there is scientific research and statistics that now show it has a very positive effect in staying off, in slowing down the advent of very severe dementia. And it can be a preventative method of regenerating our brains.
What is very, very exciting is the relatively recent research in the domain of epigenetics, which shows we are not the prisoners of our genes. Our habits, both physical and societal, can change the outcome. In the realm of mental wellness this is something that is exploding, in terms of its potential. Perhaps we could see this as definitely a COVID silver lining that has been thrown into centre stage. People have been going for a walk because they have been told they are allowed to, for one hour a day. They have done it because there was nothing else to do. And they are beginning to realise the enormous benefits that it has had on calming, what has been a ghastly situation of mental stress, anxiety, and fear. Walking has played its role in in helping.
I think that the real challenge now is that this vast amount of new research that is becoming available for the aware, the worried well, and the privileged well, and I count those of us around this microphone amongst that minority. And perhaps this is what COVID will have will have advanced, the real challenge is for that to be filtered down into public health policy. So that the access and the encouragement is there, at a much more widespread level, and in a more widespread manner so that it is not reserved for those who have the time to think about it, but that is presented as a very real method of improving our mental wellness.
Mental wellness is the precursor to preventing mental illness. The opposite of ill health is mental wellness, and mental wellness can be worked on in many, many angles, mindfulness, meditation, but movement, and we have already placed our cards and colours on the table, walking is the pinup boy of moderate regular exercise. It has an extraordinary role to play. I think if COVID has done anything, and the confinements and the lockdowns that is imposed have done anything, it has raised awareness, at an extraordinary degree, to an extraordinary extent. It has touched people that it was not touching before. An awareness of what something as simple as walking can do for you.
Tania Cotton: I would just like to highlight one thing you said Mary Anne, that I think many people may still not be aware of, and that is the most fascinating developments in the science and in our understanding that we are not the victims of our genes. This whole science around epigenetics ‘above our genes’…Can you tell us any more about epigenetics?
Thierry Malleret: Well, we quote in the book a number of studies conducted by neuroscientists showing the effect that physical activity can have on neuroplasticity, to your point about mental health and mental wellness. Today we are aware that the way in which we behave, our social habits/our personal habits, have an effect on the way in which our genes evolve. Hence, epigenetics is our ability to change the way in which our genes affect us. Part of this has a lot to do with movement. Again, movement is something that, from an evolutionary perspective, has been an inherent part of human life. Without movement there is nothing good that we can harness in terms of how genes adapt them to our daily life, and evolve in a way that makes us in good health.
Tania Cotton: I think it is fascinating how we are the embodiment of our thoughts, our feelings, and emotions. And that when we have a thought, those thoughts, for example, whether it be anger, that can release chemicals in our body, and that create in our bodies a state of disease, whether we have thoughts of, say, of gratitude, that can release other chemicals that create a whole different environment in our body. That actually creates an environment for health. These environments actually affect our gene expression.
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely.
Tania Cotton: I think epigenetics has been a message of hope for a lot of people who are afraid that they were the victims of their genes.
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, there is no fatality in your genes, as Mary Anne said.
Tania Cotton: There is a well-used analogy that we hear that our bodies are like the hardware, and our brain is like the software. Yet what differentiates us from a computer is that we are emotional creatures. Can walking make us feel more at ease, and in love with life? Can it change our state of mind?
Thierry Malleret: Totally, because, as you said, the brain is the software and the body is the hardware. But it is a false dichotomy, of course. The science tells us today it is impossible to disassociate the mind from the body, the common entity that the two face are of the same kind. Walking has been known for thousands of years for being positive to your body and your mind.
We have a chapter in the book devoted to literature and walking, and another chapter devoted to philosophy and walking. There is an abundance of testimonies from authors, from novelists, from philosophers, telling us how important it is to walk for creativity, for brain activity, and feeling well. Of course, at that time there was no research to prove it, but they knew it, it was a sensation from within and they knew it was true.
Tania Cotton: So, is it true, Thierry, that you write the Monthly Barometer, and perhaps the other Barometers as well whilst you are walking, with a little Dictaphone, because this is how you can access your creative and strategic mind?
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, absolutely. It is very true. That is the beauty of technology, now you can use your telephone, your mobile phone, you can use Siri to dictate and to send it to your inbox. I think it is a fantastic way to order your thoughts, to be more creative and to think in peace, by not being encumbered by noise, by phone calls and by interruptions. So it is a fantastic way to do so, particularly when you have a chance to do it in the fantastic surrounding of the Alps.
Tania Cotton: I could not agree more. I mean, I do not have good ideas sitting in front of my computer. I go out for a walk with a little note book in my backpack and a pencil, which often comes out very quickly.
Thierry Malleret: It pops up, just like this.
Tania Cotton: Totally. It is not trying to think.
Thierry Malleret: No, absolutely not. If you try, normally it does not work.
Tania Cotton: Because that is your conscious mind. Is it a [fetter 0:34:50] state, when you come into more your daydreaming/imaginative mind, where you get almost into your subconscious, and therefore you are literally unlocking your creative mind.
Mary Anne, I think you have something to important to add on that?
Mary Anne Malleret: We heard recently, from a friend of ours who is a very renowned doctor in this field, that you are also creating grey matter when you are in that very particular mental state. So it does not come as a surprise to the scientists, that you are then more creative and the ideas are better, because actually, you would have created some extra grey brain cells, and those are the ones that are so effective.
Tania Cotton: Well that, to me, sounds like we are already preventing dementia and Alzheimer's. So, yes, the more we-
Thierry Malleret: (Laughter) Let us hope so.
Tania Cotton: (Laughter) That sounds very, very good.
So, ‘Walkshops’… I would say you are famous for your Walkshops, Thierry. You and Mary Anne work so hard to host the Summit of Minds Conference, an incredible opportunity where there are really mind-opening conversations that you create, but many times, through your ‘Walkshops’… Can you walk us through what a walkshop is and how you create these opportunities for people to share ideas?
Thierry Malleret: Walkshops, to be effective, must be structured. We describe in the book how to do it. You can do walkshop with one person, and you can do a workshop with 400 people, as we sometimes do in Chamonix, or 300 people.
Being in nature, again, as Mary Anne just said, is something that favours expansion of grey matter, and it is something that favours not only creativity, but also combinatorial thought, when you are outside you connect the dots more easily than when you are stuck in the four walls of an office. It is something that is not totally understood by scientists, why it is so, and there is an interesting domain of research, called psychology of awe.
Tania Cotton: A psychology of awe.
Thierry Malleret: (Laughter) I cannot pronounce it. I know what it is, but I find it very difficult to pronounce.
You may member that, two years ago, when you were in Chamonix, we had one of the world experts on psychology of awe, a professor from Wharton University.
So when you are confronted with phenomenal beauty, and you are inspired by the nature around you, you become more combinatorial, you combine thoughts. The key to unlocking creativity and new thoughts is a combination of thoughts. All good ideas are second-hand ideas, so to process new ideas you must connect the dots between old ideas. That is what it is all about. There is anecdotal evidence that being outside is good for that. But it is not proven or researched yet. I think it will come, but not yet.
So, a walkshop when you are outside, you know that works because people are happier, they are more creative, they are less constrained by groupthink, for many different reasons that we also explained in the book. So organising the walkshop is something which is actually good for good decisions. In the book, we quote many examples that come from Silicon Valley, in the arena of the big tech where all the important decisions are made by being outside. We quote Mark Zuckerberg, we quote the CEOs of Apple… All these people, when they have important decisions to make, they go outside. The reason why the new headquarters of Apple has been created with with a forest inside it, is because the board meets in the forest, inside this big ellipse of the building. So it is known, it works, and even the most techie individuals among us do it, which proves the point that it is effective.
Tania Cotton: I feel lucky to live in a place that makes me feel awe daily. Yes, fascinating that Steve Jobs of Apple, and Lawrence Levy, the first financial director of Pixar, Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, You quote all of these….
Thierry Malleret: All of them have written about how important it is, for their decision making, to be outside and to walk on a beach, in the countryside, in the mountains, it depends, but they walk in nature, which is a fundamental point.
Tania Cotton: There is no argument that does not support that it is something that we really all need to be pursuing, to make good decisions.
So what would you say to those who believe they do not have time to walk?
Thierry Malleret: Well, I would tell them, “You are wrong. You must find the time to walk.” it is like the argument that I do not have time to read or I do not have time to be with my partner or my children. It is a fundamentally wrong argument.
Mary Anne Malleret: It is time investable, it gains you time at the end of the day or the end of the week or at the end of your life.
Tania Cotton: Oh yes, I would second that. I mean, it’s not just adding years to your life, but adding life into your years... Is that Abraham Lincoln’s saying?
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, yes.
Tania Cotton: I think that is beautiful.
We create time for what is important, and what we believe is important. So I think the first step is for people to experience the benefit and the joy of walking. Say, for me as a movement analyst and somebody who helps people connect with nature, I would say my role is to help people find the joy, not just to feel how they should walk efficiently, well and enjoy the action of walking, but to feel the awe and the joy that comes from walking, so that then they realise that there is a dimension to their mind that they can access that perhaps they have never experienced before. To me, that is really my great wish for the people I work with, and why I am so convinced that I need to take them out of a movement analysis laboratory or a physiotherapy clinic.
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, you are so right. And, of course, you have the privilege to be able to do it because we live in a beautiful and amazing place.
Tania Cotton: So, you also tell us that WALKIN IS GOOD FOR EQUALITY. So why? Why is walking good for equality?
Thierry Malleret: We wanted to push the argument economically that it is good to engage in activities that do not exacerbate inequality. Now inequality, for many different reasons, is a curse of today's world. I mean, there are several, but inequality is probably global risk number one, from an economy point of view. Inequality leads to populism, to tribalism, to all sorts of very negative outcomes from societal and economic point of view. There are very few activities in which you can engage which puts you on a par with everybody else.
You know, if you go to an exclusive golf course you are not allowed to enter the golf course if you do not pay, and a big amount that will put you apart as an individual who engages in economic positioning. You know, “I can spend a lot of money on an activity that singles me out as a rich individual.” When you walk you are on a par with everybody else. It is very hard to differentiate yourself in terms of worth, in terms of economic status, in terms of income… You might have shoes that are a bit more expensive than others, you might have a very posh garment, but, on average, everybody is on par with everybody else. Hence, it is an activity that promotes social welfare by signalling that we are all in this together at the same level. And it rare to have these kinds of activities, from an economic viewpoint.
Tania Cotton: It is accessible to everyone and everyone can have access to these incredibly beautiful places in nature.
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely. In the jargon of the economist you call it an unrivalled economic activity. You can engage in it without significantly altering the possibility of other to engage in the same activity, essentially. So it is good.
Mary Anne Malleret: Perhaps it might be worth adding, that if you take it out of the mountain context, and let us put it into the city and urban context, we have a very dear friend and associate who is a global leader, a global businessman, he has started walking to his office. One of the things that he has noticed is that he is experiencing something that he had simply not looked at before. He is just walking through an ordinary street, and he is coming back, I did not say down, he is sharing something that he had not shared before. Perhaps there is a good deal to be gained for our leaders, both political and industrial, to just get out there, and walk the streets. It is a path to empathy. It is not terribly complicated, but it probably is not done that much.
Tania Cotton: It sounds like it is a great way just to ‘keep your feet on the ground’, as they say.
Thierry Malleret: That is absolutely right. That is what it is.
Tania Cotton: So, Thierry, wealth does not seem to be linked with happiness, yet walking does. Can it also be good for the economy?
Thierry Malleret: Walking?
Tania Cotton: Yes, just the fact that it promotes health, surely that in itself keeps people productive and engaged?
Thierry Malleret: It is good for the economy. It is also bad for the economy, in the sense that there is a phenomenal expression in French that cannot be translated into English, in French say, ‘pas de marché pour la marche’. There is no market for walking. So we do not subscribe an economic value to walking because it is not measured from a financial point of view. You know, if I send you to walk for an hour I cannot invoice you for that, even though some people are starting to do it. It is changing now with apps, and but it remains a very marginal activity.
So it is fundamentally good for us, but it is not marketable from an economic point of view. It may become so as our system of values changes. If we decide the talking is very good for us, and we start putting an economic value on the act of walking, maybe I will decide that it is good to pay someone £200 an hour, to accompany me for a walk. There is evidence that this is now shifting, and you have a few people in the US and in Japan, who charge for taking other people to walk.
Tania Cotton: Yet the fact that walking is good for your health, so if we think of the cost in the health system of people having unhealthy lifestyles, surely that is the impact that affects our economy?
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, you are right. So there is an impact, which stems from the productivity effect that walking, and the health effects that walking has on us. If we are healthier, if we are more productive, from an economics viewpoint, it is better for the economy. But the fact that you engage in walking, and that it cannot be marketed from an economic point of view, that it has no financial value, means that you are unlikely to generate a great deal of economic activity through the encouragement of walking. So it is good downstream. It is not good upstream.
Tania Cotton: So if organisations invest in wellbeing programmes, and include allowing people to have the freedom to walk, what is the evidence that this could lead to increase productivity?
Thierry Malleret: Well, the evidence is all over the place. You know, it exists and it is been measured, we know it. But it is like so many things that are ingrained in our way of doing things, we do not do it because it is culturally alien to us.
We know for example, that if you work in investment banking then you work 20 hours a day. There is a rate after which your marginal productivity decreases, and often becomes negative, you make the wrong decisions. If you have been on the trading floor for 20 hours, it is likely that in the 21st hour you are going to make stupid decisions because you are exhausted. Yet, every single bank around the world continues to push this. Now, I do not know what it is, macho cultural, or habit of pressuring people to death, because it is part of the social habits of working in such organisations.
Well, walking is the same. We know it is good and yet so very few companies practice it on a regular basis. But I think it is changing because now the evidence is becoming more obvious. It is totally incontrovertible from a scientific point of view, so companies understand that it is in their interest to promote it to the employees. There is a lot of burgeoning evidence that it is becoming incentivised. For example, if you buy an insurance in the UK your premium would be dependent upon the number of steps you walk every day, and you would pay less. If you are a student in many Chinese universities, if you do not walk X numbers of steps every day, you will not be allowed to pass your exam.
Mary Anne Malleret: To graduate.
Tania Cotton: Goodness!
Thierry Malleret: So, it is happening, and I think it will happen more and more because we need to be in better health, because the healthcare system is about to implode. The costs cannot be covered by the government deficits, which are snowballing because of COVID. So all governments nowadays realise that we have an incentive to be well, and one pathway to being well, obviously, is walking, is physical movement.
Tania Cotton: Health and wellbeing has been put at the top of most government agendas, notably, those run by women leaders. What do you see to be the most tangible steps we can see from governments worldwide? Are women leaders leading the way?
Thierry Malleret: Absolutely, women leaders are leading the way, there is no doubt about it. The countries in which the governments are actively pursuing wellbeing policies are normally countries led by women. It is first and foremost, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, and states in the US, where you can see that states being led by a woman a more progressive, on average, some states being led by men, with respect to wellbeing policies.
So it is happening, it is paying off. Two years ago, New Zealand was the first country in the world to implement the wellbeing budget, with measurable indicators. So we are moving in this direction, how fast we are going to move, I have no idea, but it is happening. The direction of the trend is clear.
Tania Cotton: How has our attitude to walking change since the COVID-19 pandemic? How can we turn this threat into an opportunity?
TM: Well, surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, nature and physical activity has been one of the ‘big winners’ of COVID. You know, at the beginning of COVID everybody was talking about tech, tech is an unmistakable, winner in terms of benefiting from COVID. Everything that is tech has benefited. But COVID has forced us to realise how critical nature is to us. It has prompted, as Mary Ann said at the beginning, to realise how vital it is to enjoy nature. Do we enjoy the benefits of nature, because now we can correlate the destruction of nature with the emergence of COVID? It is a zoonotic disease, it probably came out as a disease because of deforestation. That is what happens with zoonotic diseases which are transmitted from animals to humans.
So it makes nature more important to us the more variable. So if it becomes more variable you attach a higher price to nature. Similarly, we have done the same with nature and physical activity, because we now understand that it is also a way to boost your immune system. There have been so many articles explaining how important it is to sleep, to eat well, and to exercise. So it is a fact, seven billion people around the world now know that if you want to be in better shape, healthier, you need to move. So it is one of the great insights of COVID, this realisation that physical movement is important to all of us, and makes us stronger.
Tania Cotton: Deforestation, it is incredible, the impact of that. In our last podcast, with Nicole Schwab, she talked about the Trillion Tree Project, and she represents the World Economic Forum. So, I think your two podcasts together give us a lot of hope about how we can improve things in the future, and take an active role, not just leave it to governments, but actually each of us have a role to play.
In terms of tech, how can we become the masters of our time, rather than the slaves of technology? How can technology get in our way? Are there ways that tech can actually help us to emerge from this problem? Or is it part of the problem?
Thierry Malleret: Both. Our relation to tech is fundamentally ambivalent. We know that in many respects it is destroying our social fabric, you see it with social media and with what is happening at the moment in the US, which is being fuelled by the hatred that social media disperses everywhere. We know that overconsumption of tech is detrimental to our mental health. It is established. We understand it. But we also know that tech can offer solutions, if it is consumed with moderation, to many of our ills.
The Global Wellness Institute has published a very interesting report on mental health. There is an explosion, for example, of apps helping you think about how to improve your mental health, you know, basic practices in which you can engage, to meditate, to think more positively about your life… You gave an example, in my case I can work outside because I have a mobile phone. So if I did not have tech I would be obliged to sit by desk. So tech has been, in my case, an engine of freedom. It allows me to be outside, and sometimes people tell me, “You are crazy to be on this beautiful walk with your phone,” but I am outside because I can walk. I can walk and work outside, which is an incredible benefit. So it goes both ways, and I think it is a question of conscious decisions we make about the extent to which we absorb and work with tech. Not too much is important. Moderation is essential.
Tania Cotton: It is great that we now have your latest book, ‘COVID-19: The Great Reset’, that you have written with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. In this book, you give us examples of how we can turn a threat into an opportunity, and perhaps use this as an opportunity to press a reset button in terms of our health and wellbeing.
If there was one message you would want people to take from that book, what would that be?
Thierry Malleret: Well, the key message of the book is that we need to make the world more inclusive, and more respectful of Mother Nature. That is the core message. There are two things that need to be fixed: inequalities or inclusivity and; environmental degradation, more sustainability. Without these two we are doomed.
Tania Cotton: For those who will read this book, are you giving them a call to action to how each of us can take a role in promoting inclusivity, and taking respectful care of nature?
Thierry Malleret: Well, the call to action is evident. It is not for us to tell people what to do. But just engaging in small things can have a very positive effect, when you aggregate these more tiny moves as the scale of the planet. If everybody starts becoming more altruistic, you improve the societal fabric of our world. If you stop consuming too much stuff, if you consume less, in a respectable manner, you know that you're going to improve the environment.
So I think consciousness about these two major problems, and how to alleviate them through proper economic behaviour, is a critical step that we can all take. And it depends upon every one of us to do so.
Tania Cotton: So, in summary, every single life matters, and every action that each one of us takes matters. So we all need to be very thoughtful.
Thierry Malleret: Yes, absolutely. It was a philosopher, Lao Tzu, many, many centuries ago, who said, ‘Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step’. That is what it is. Every single step that we make as individuals ends up being relevant when aggregated at the scale of the 7.5 billion people who live on the planet.
Tania Cotton: That is a wonderful quote to round us up with. I ask all my guests, at the end of each podcast, for their favourite quote, but I think you have just given us a really wonderful one there.
Thierry Malleret: Oh no, my favourite quote is Nietzsche, “All truly great thoughts are born by walking.”
Tania Cotton: That is wonderful. Right, we will heed that. So everybody listening to this podcast, I want them to really think about where they are going to take their next walk, even who with, and perhaps even to organise a walkshop.
Thierry Malleret: That would be amazing.
Tania Cotton: So, Thierry, do you have a favourite film and a favourite book? Would you just share that with us?
Thierry Malleret: Oh, I had forgotten about that. I have not thought about it. But, yes, I have a favourite film, which is ‘The Godfather’.
Tania Cotton: Why?
Thierry Malleret: Why? Because it is a phenomenal family saga, beautifully filmed, and it illustrates the choices we face when having to live within a bigger situation. You know, choices are never easy. You see the Godfather determined to escape the fate of the rest of the family, then he is brought back to this mafia environment and becomes the Don, despite his initial will to do otherwise. So it is a beautiful metaphor about the choices that we have to make in life.
Tania Cotton: Thank you.
Mary Anne Malleret: And the fragility of those choices.
Thierry Malleret: And the fragility of the choices.
The book is ‘Belle de Seigneur’, which is the first book I offered my wife, ‘Belle de Seigneur’. I do not think it is been translated into English? Maybe not.
Tania Cotton: By?
Mary Anne Malleret: Albert Cohen.
Tania Cotton: Thank you very much. (Laughter) That is wonderful. I have not read that.
Thierry Malleret: It is big. It is 900 pages. It is a phenomenal book, exceptionally well written, and it addresses both issues of love… It is a book about love, essentially, it is a love story, and it is also a damning critique of bureaucracies, and the way in which large institutions force us to work in ways that are unpleasant, counterproductive, and sometimes ridiculous.
Tania Cotton: Is it available in English?
Thierry Malleret: I think it is just been translated. It is so complex, the writing, and so big. It is initially 1200 pages, the book. Now it is down to 800 or 900 pages. So I think last year… It came out in the ‘60s, so it took 50 years to translate it.
Tania Cotton: I am going to have to investigate this book so we can share it with our listeners.
How can people connect with the Monthly Barometer, with all the other Barometers, and get access to the Summit of Minds?
Thierry Malleret: Well, thank you so much. They can write to us, either to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to me at email@example.com.
Tania Cotton: That is really helpful, thank you.
Thierry Malleret: Thank you so much, thank you for having us.
Tania Cotton: Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you again.
Thierry Malleret: So, do we, thank you.
Thank you for joining us for this episode of The LifeWise Show. In the next episode, I will be going on a walk and talk with Nicole Schwab, who will reveal how we can get out, appreciate nature and become an ecopreneur. So if you want to be inspired by nature and motivated by movement, come and join us so that you may find your rhythm and let your thoughts flow to become part of a whole new renovation generation. To want to protect our planet first we have to appreciate it. And as José Maria Figueres said, “There is no planet B.” So come and join me. I look forward to meeting you there.
THE LIFEWISE SHOW
DISCOVERING HOW YOU CAN LIVE LIFE, LOVE LIFE, AND BE ON YOUR BEST WITH TANIA COTTO