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Should we all be doing walking meetings?

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Getty
Break the norm: walking meetings could boost creativity. (Getty)

We’ve all heard the phrase “let’s walk and talk” – used most commonly in films and TV shows involving advertising execs. But research suggests we should actually consider conducting all of our meetings on the hoof.

The rise of the “desk job” over the last few decades has coincided with a more general rise in sedentary lifestyles, as technological advances have allowed more of our daily tasks to be completed without leaving our desks, sofas or even beds.

But the negative health effects associated with being seated for prolonged portions of the day are well documented. In 2017, a US study suggested that sitting for prolonged periods of time is a risk factor for early death – even if you exercise.

After studying nearly 8,000 adults, the study found a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of early mortality of any cause. The greatest risk was found in people who spent more than 12.5 hours a day being sedentary and also when people sat for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

To help reduce our risk of ill health, the study recommended getting up and moving around every half an hour, but this is often easier said than done. With so many people’s jobs requiring constant screen-time or long meetings, how can we find time in our busy schedules to get those legs moving?

Read more: How to cope with stress at work

One possible solution many businesses are encouraging is the walking meeting.

This could be as simple as brainstorming options on the way to the coffee shop, or take the form of a fully-fledged trek around the local area while discussing the day’s issues, if the weather allows.

Whatever the distance, Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England stressed that there are multiple health benefits associated with breaking up your working day with any form of movement. “Move more. Get up and walk about. And I don’t just mean in the office,” he said at the group’s annual conference in 2017.

Research conducted at Indiana University suggests that even short periods of very moderate exercise have the potential to offset the detrimental health effects of hours of seated working.

Indeed – participants who walked for just five minutes for each hour of sitting completely reversed the significant reduction in blood flow this can cause in the legs.

But employers will be glad to know that the up-sides of walking meetings stretch beyond individual health benefits. Walking has been shown to increase creativity, reduce stress and increase general happiness, all of which are associated with increased productivity at work.

A study conducted at Stanford University showed that walking led to an increase in “divergent thinking” – the ability to think creatively to solve a problem – with a whopping 81% of participants showing an average 60% increase in creative ability. “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” the researchers concluded.

Read more: Four ways you can reduce stress when working from home

Moreover, it seems there are opportunities to fine-tune your stroll to maximise the creative boost.

Walking outside rather than indoors aided the process, and while it’s useful to have an end goal or destination in mind, research from the National Taiwan University strongly suggests that allowing attendees to meander as they chat, rather than sticking to a pre-prescribed route, will yield the best results.

Conversely, however, the Stanford study cautions that walking meetings might not be helpful for productivity in every instance. Depending on the aim of the meeting in question, they could even be a hindrance.

Specifically, while test subjects’ creativity flourished while walking, the opposite was true of their “convergent thinking,” or the ability to decide on the single “best” answer to a problem.

In short, walking meetings might be a great idea for brainstorming sessions and for times when the whole team is suffering a group-wide mental block. But for situations that require decision-making and compromise, the good old meeting room might still be the best solution, from a productivity point of view.

Despite this, the enormous potential of walking meetings has not escaped the attention of some of the largest and most forward-thinking employers worldwide. Silicon valley luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs have been well-documented walk’n’talk-ers.

In light of a Walking for Health report which found that walking could save up to 37,000 lives a year, walking meetings could provide a solution to the busy schedule of modern working life, while boosting productivity and keeping employees healthy.