Have you ditched the boardroom in favour of striding the streets during meetings, or are you writing emails while you’re on the treadmill? If so, you are part of a growing trend of people who are getting their 10,000 steps done during the nine-to-five.
The idea of walking while working makes sense on many levels (for starters, you don’t have to face the gym after work). Studies also show that not only is walking good for us (it helps people lose weight; lowers the risk of heart failure and depression) but sitting at our desk for hours on end could be shortening our lives.
So grab your trainers because National Walking Month starts on 1 May, and what better time to step into a healthier working day?
Work, walk, work
Walking for five minutes every hour during the workday could lift your mood, improve your concentration levels and even dull hunger pangs, research suggests. For most people, walking little and often should be a fairly practical, easy way to up the steps. But it’s easy to forget to do it. The key is to set your work calendar (or Fitbit or smartphone app) to remind you to take five minutes every hour to climb a staircase, walk along a corridor to speak to a colleague or just do a quick loop around your office.
See what your employer can offer
Having a walking workforce makes sense, not least because being physically active can help with stress, back and neck pain (common reasons for absenteeism). So many employers do encourage staff to be physically active and enhance their own wellbeing, says James Rhodes, partner at DAC Beachcroft LLP. “It works for the employer and employees because it can boost morale, lower absenteeism and improve productivity.”
However, an employer isn’t legally obliged to help get you walking, unless there’s a relevant medical condition or disability to consider, says Rhodes, but if you are keen to walk at work, it’s worth asking what your boss may offer.
Some organisations provide exercise classes during lunchtimes, others encourage everyone to stand up at staff meetings and there are some imaginative break-out options to encourage health, says Christopher Braganza, a partner in the employment and business immigration group at Sheridans. He says: “It doesn’t have to be the giant see-saws or similar ridiculed in shows like W1A. We know one large online business that buys new employees Fitbits to encourage activity during the working day, for example.”
Other employers kit out the offices with treadmill desks, where you can walk at your work station. “I walk at a comfortable rate of around 3.5km per hour and spend between 60-90 minutes a day on here,” says Rosie Barrack, a finance and office manager at Waddington Brown. “I aim for either 10,000 steps or 5km in distance and I can easily make calls. There is no background noise and the pace is such that the person on the end of the phone can’t tell that you’re walking.”
The walking meeting
Going for a brisk walk instead of sitting down for meetings not only improves health but can also make you more productive. Walking “opens up the free flow of ideas”, and is a simple and robust solution to increasing creativity and physical activity according to research.
And the walk doesn’t have to be far or fast: a study by Tufts University, Boston, reveals that adults who walk at a pace faster than 3mph have a lower risk of developing heart failure compared with those who walk at a pace of less than 2mph. There are some great ideas on WalkingLawyer.com about how to have a successful walking meeting, including setting an agenda and inviting an optimum number of people (useful tips if you want to persuade your boss that walking meetings are a good idea).
Many companies are finding that staff really like getting out for a change of scene. For example, Ashley Carr, managing director of Neo PR, says: “As we’re based in the Buckinghamshire countryside, meetings are often taken outside around the field which we affectionately call walkie talkies.”
The active commute
If you’re too time squeezed during the day, you could embrace the “active commute” on your way into and home from work. Commuting by walking has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Again, you don’t have to do a daily marathon to gain the benefits, just getting off the bus or tube a stop earlier can help. An Australian study (in 2015), for example, found that people who went from 1,000 to 3,000 steps for five days a week reduced their risk of premature death by 12%.
This piece was originally published in the Guardian on 1 May 2017.