Walking is one of the easiest and best ways to stay healthy. But an overwhelming number of us spend back-to-back hours of our workday sitting at a desk or sitting in meetings. Many working people sit more than nine hours per day. That’s often much more than they sleep. All that sitting can be very unhealthy – even deadly.
According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, adults who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 15 percent greater risk of dying within three years than those who sat for fewer than four hours a day.
“The human being is designed to move,” said James Levine, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Even for people who make an effort to work out two or three times per week, Levine says, long hours of sitting can result in increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
While he agrees that going to the gym certainly can’t hurt, he pointed out, “Repeated activity throughout the day has a bigger total effect on blood sugar and triglycerides than that one episode at the gym,” One of the best ways to make a healthy change in how you go about your work, Levine says, is walking.
Many of us, however, have difficulty finding the time for regular exercise throughout the day. We can’t stop in the middle of writing a report or attending a meeting to go for a walk. Or can we?
According to an organization called Feet First, which works to promote and create more “walkable” communities, walking can be a perfect fit for many types of business meetings. There’s nothing magical about the very ancient technology of a desk and a chair. In fact, when it comes to creative “out of the box” thinking, one of the first boxes to get out of may be the conference room. What is accomplished at many business meetings does not require sitting at all.
Creativity is enhanced when people are physically active and stimulated by variety in their setting. Walking engages the senses – visual, auditory, smell – all of which connect to memories and experience, sparking new ideas that otherwise might never have come. In fact, many of history’s greatest thinkers and artists were enthusiastic walkers. The link between deliberation and walking recurs in philosophy, literature, science and poetry. Hegel walked, as did Kant and Kierkegaard. Poets such as Wordsworth and Whitman did so as well.
Productivity can also be enhanced by long or short walks. Contrary to the notion that one is most productive while sitting at a desk concentrating on work, the prolific 19th Century literary genius Charles Dickens walked multiple miles per day and still managed to often be working on two novels at once as well as editing a monthly magazine. He credited his walks with generating ideas and providing him with energy.
Meetings between two people often are the perfect opportunities to walk. Walking breaks down the barrier created by a desk and chair, and lets people communicate more equally.
Problem solving as well as informal interactions among people can be enhanced by the physical activity of walking. Pairs and small work groups may find walking aids in conflict resolution by getting the parties away from the often more stressful environment of the office. For larger groups the walk in itself can be a way to improve team interactions and generate unexpected solutions.
The health benefits of walking are many. Walking can:
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
- Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Improve blood lipid profile.
- Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity.
- Enhance mental well being.
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer.
- Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes.
Of course, when walking for business, the age and physical condition of the walkers must be taken into consideration. For walkers of differing abilities, some adjustment in speed, terrain, season and even time of day may be necessary. Still, there are often many settings available which are both stimulating and convenient.
- Natural settings such as parks or trails.
- Urban walking malls or streets with extra-wide sidewalks.
- Spacious indoor facilities such as convention centers or shopping malls at low-traffic time.
If you choose to try a walking business meeting, plan a route that will avoid crowds and traffic noise as much as possible. Determine the start location, course, and finish location in advance so that everyone knows what to expect. The starting point can be a gathering place such as a coffee shop, school, or just an outdoor spot. Returning to the start is easiest, especially if people have driven, but it is possible to finish elsewhere if people are using transit, walking, or carpooling.
Oh, and you may just want to ban cell phones. People often feel even less inhibited taking a call during a meeting that’s being held outdoors. QCBN
Written by Ken Boush of Yavapai Regional Medical Center