The research is clear—incorporating movement into the workday can positively impact employee health and a company’s bottom line.
If you knew employees would be happier, healthier and more productive during the workday if they were more active, wouldn’t you want to get them up and moving? Of course! Savvy, health-minded companies offer onsite workouts like afternoon yoga classes and running clubs to their employees. Many have also started implementing walking meetings, which research suggests offers the following three benefits:
- Walking helps stimulate creativity. If you want to enhance cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts, walking is the way to go. In a study out of Stanford University, subjects completed a divergent thinking test while seated and again while walking on a treadmill or outdoors. The results showed that most of the participants benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average increase in creative output was around 60%. Even more interesting was that the creative boost was more evident in the group that walked outdoors.
- Walking meetings increase communication between co-workers. When you’re walking, you’re more relaxed. Elevating your heart rate, even just a little bit, increases oxygen to the brain and the production of neurotransmitters. Think about what happens in a boardroom meeting. People look at their phones when they’re uninterested. Nothing is worse than presenting and looking out at a table of disengaged people. When you’re walking, you’ll have fewer distractions and will be able to openly communicate and problem solve.
- Walking meetings improve cardiovascular health and can help decrease the risk of various diseases. Lack of time is a common reason why people don’t get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Imagine if you could get your exercise in while at work. If you don’t have time for a 30-minute continuous walk, know that three 10-minute walks are equally beneficial.
Disease management costs employers billions of dollars a year, not to mention the loss of productivity from missed workdays and money allocated toward disability services. If employers expect workers to put in extra time outside of the office, they must recognize their role in how their employees’ health is affected. Encouraging people to break away from their desk promotes a healthy environment. As a result, people will likely adhere to other healthier behaviors.
Now that you’ve seen the evidence, it’s time to start walking and talking. Consider the following strategies to help set up your company for success:
- Determine the route in advance. Head outside and walk several different paths. Use your phone to track the mileage. If there is an existing wellness committee/program, discuss how to incorporate a walking challenge into the list of offered activities. Employees will be more likely to schedule the walks if there is an incentive associated with it. By planning the route in advance you can make sure the noise level is appropriate and the walkways are safe.
- Elect a secretary. Ask one person to bring their phone on the walk, so he or she can record voice memos as needed. This person can also be responsible for keeping track of the time. Walking meetings tend to be shorter than meetings in a boardroom, but it might be necessary to set a time limit.
- Cut down on interruptions. Let others know that you’re on task and are taking part in a productive meeting. Purchase lanyards to wear around your neck as you walk. When co-workers see you wearing a “meeting in session” sign, they will know not to interrupt.
- Limit the size of the group. While one-on-one meetings are best, consider limiting the group to three to four people. If you have a larger group, assign individual tasks to each group and have them come to a solution before completing the route. Everyone can meet up at the end to debrief.
- Decide on an ideal time. Take into consideration environmental factors. In the summer months, walking in the morning might be best. If employees are struggling from fatigue and mental burnout mid-afternoon, schedule it during that timeframe.
If you would like more information on the dangers of sitting too long and how movement can change the structure of the brain, check out SPARK, by John Ratey and GET UP by James Levine.
Ready, set, walk!