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Walk the talk – put your best foot forward for office health

Workplaces 28 Jul 2016
Walking meeting summary 600 400

A pilot study in the US city of Miami has shown that walking meetings are an easy way to increase the activity levels of office workers.

Working in an office can mean sitting for up to seven hours per day. Add some TV time in the evening and it's easy to clock up 10 hours of daily sitting. It's been scientifically proven that too much sitting is bad for you; it can reduce your lifespan and put you at greater risk of developing chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

A recent three-week pilot study by the University of Miami showed that changing one meeting per week from a sitting to a walking meeting could increase employees' workplace activity levels by 10 minutes. The white-collar university employees who took part in the study found the walking meetings easy to do and to fit into their weekly routine.

So, there's no reason why your workplace shouldn't be the next one to join the rising number of Australian companies who encourage their employees to walk and talk.

There is currently a huge focus on getting office workers up and active during the day, encouraging them to be healthy while getting their jobs done. Standing desks have become common, as have standing meetings, so walking meetings are a natural progression.

Walking is the perfect solution for the mid-afternoon slump many of us feel; it clears your mind, gets your circulation moving, increases your alertness and also breaks up the day. There are health benefits too – research has shown that just 15 minutes of daily moderate activity, such as brisk walking, can add up to three years to your life expectancy.

Walking side-by-side can be much less confrontational than facing someone directly and may get some employees to open up and say what they really think. It can therefore be a good way to hold informal one-on-one meetings, or have creative brainstorming sessions.

Not all topics are good for walking meetings, though; anything involving precise data, needing a whiteboard or computer screen are best kept indoors (though you can still have a standing meeting).

Organising a walking meeting

The Miami team explored the effectiveness of a protocol for walking meetings to make sure they were effective and achieved goals. Putting some of the following rules in place means there is some structure to your walk.

  • Smaller groups are best, as it can get difficult to hear if you have more than four or five people together
  • Give people different roles – someone to lead the walk, someone to call out the agenda (no, it's not just a nice walk … we're working, remember?), someone to take notes and someone to watch the time
  • Pick a quiet route so you can hear each other speak (research your route during lunch breaks)
  • Check the weather before you leave, grab some bottled water, sunscreen and an umbrella (if you are in Melbourne)
  • Make sure your workmates are pre-warned, willing to take part and have come to work in suitable footwear and clothing
  • Finding a park bench or coffee shop for your halfway point means you can all sit down for 10 minutes before walking back to base. This is a good opportunity to write any notes you need, although this can be done just as easily at the end of the walk.
  • Walk for a minimum of 30 minutes

You don't need to hold a meeting to take a walk; many companies encourage employees to take a walk around the block if they need some air. It's surprising how many great ideas come to you when walking.

Read more about the benefits of physical activity and how to create an exercise plan.