Walking on the Job

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Aristotle and Steve Jobs both did it. Did what exactly? Walking at work.

Walking is a great form of exercise, and a surprisingly good fit at work. Healthy employees save an organization both time and money. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 60 percent of Americans do not get adequate minimum exercise. Yet walking only 35 minutes a day, even broken into three segments around 10-minute each, can bring multiple health benefits and fit any schedule. The trick is to establish new routines and change up sedentary office culture. Why not try a walking meeting, which will enhance problem-solving skills, efficiency, and camaraderie as blood flow to the brain is increased.

The majority of the 140 million men and women employed in the United States spend a large amount of time each week at their work site, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) Creating Healthy Work Sites initiative. What better place to institute regular exercise?

Why to Start Work Walking
Physical inactivity combined with poor eating habits and overconsumption has led the U.S. to declare an “obesity epidemic.” Nearly three-quarters of Americans are overweight or obese, which puts most of us at high risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, high blood pressure, asthma, and other conditions, and at risk for premature death from preventable conditions. A new study by the American Cancer Society found that men who spent more than six hours sitting per day had an 18 percent higher risk of death than men who sat for fewer than three hours. Women had a 37 percent higher risk.

Instituting a walking program, or encouraging an informal walking club, is about the easiest way to encourage employees to exercise more for better health. Leadership and incentives can convince workers to leave cars behind and walk to work. Walks can take place during lunchtime, replace coffee breaks, or even become part of the formal workday in the form of walking meetings. During a walk, participants feel more relaxed yet alert, and after the walk better prepared to return to a desk and be productive. Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson, has stories of Jobs having numerous walking meetings with clients, colleagues, and CEOs.

Moderate exercise, such as 35 minutes of walking a day:

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely.
  • Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Helps control weight.
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
  • Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling.
  • Promotes psychological wellbeing.

According to the Surgeon General’s 1996 report, “Physical Activity and Health.”

Walking at work benefits employers because:

  • Physical activity energizes people and makes them more alert.
  • Changes in environment can inspire new ideas and stimulate creativity.
  • Walking and talking side-by-side cuts through hierarchical work distinctions and sets people at ease, which enhances a positive working environment.
  • Walking burns calories, stimulates oxygen flow, and increases brain function facilitating problem solving.
  • While walking, interruptions are minimized and confidentiality is usually increased.
  • Walking and moving allow the mind to become more flexible and can help stimulate the right side of the brain.

How to Start Walking On Your Own
Establishing a routine is always the hardest step. They say it takes ten days of repetition for your body to adjust to a new exercise routine. There are many online resources for starting a walking program, including The Walking Site. Here’s some ways to introduce more walking in your life:

  • Get a decent pedometer that counts your steps. 2,000 steps=1 mile.
  • Walk out the door and walk for 5 minutes, turn around and come back. Do that 10 days in a row. Increase your time to 10 minutes out.
  • Walk to work, even if it is several miles from your home.
  • Having a walking lunch, or at least walk with your lunch to a location outside the office.
  • Take the stairs inside your office building instead of the elevator.
  • If you commute, park a few blocks away and walk in.
  • Encourage colleagues to leave the water cooler and go for a walk or climb some stairs. These activity breaks may turn out to not be breaks at all, but brainstorming sessions.

How to Start a Walking Club at Work
Office walking clubs can be employee initiated or be formal programs set up and paid for by the company. There are wellness consultants and walking club companies that can be hired to set up formal programs. Here we will discuss how an individual at an organization can take the lead to create change and introduce walking to their workplace.

  • Getting Started: Talk to your supervisor about the health and productivity benefits of walking on the job. You want their support and participation, if possible. Beyond the exercise, walking together is an ideal time for employees to communicate and build camaraderie. Start with one or two other people and ask them to invite others. Use a pedometer to count steps in your regular workday, then add a small walk or a few stair climbs and see how many steps you add.
  • Organization: become a “walking group leader.” Someone has to organize and schedule the walks, communicate with members, set group goals, and create “buzz.” This shouldn’t be a big time investment, but rather focus on building interest through demonstration and encouragement. Make sure everyone gets a pedometer, which cost from $10-$40. There are also pedometer apps for mobile phones.
  • Schedule: What is an ideal walking schedule for your group? Early morning, lunchtime, or another break time? Once, twice, or three times a week? Try replacing one seated meeting with a walking one, and see how it goes. Set a weekly schedule and communicate it to coworkers.
  • Communication: Ask your management team to email staff and participate in the group’s first walk. Send out calendar or email reminders, or just walk by desks if your office is small. Post schedules in the office break room and bathroom.
  • Goal Setting: Why not walk the coast of California? Or walk to Alaska. One mile generally equates to about 2,000 steps. Use mapping apps such as mapmywalk.com or Everybody Walk! to plan a destination goal. Or set a goal for 100,000 or even a million steps.
  • Competition: Create competition between groups or offices to inspire participation. Invite your sister offices across the company to form walking clubs.
  • Incentives: Ask your company to support the walking group with reward incentives, as healthy employees lower the company’s health care costs. There can be individual and/or group rewards. You could give a water bottle to each participant, for example, or order fruit for the office when they make their goal or have a drawing for a bigger gift or comp time.

Overcoming Obstacles

Unless you already have a walking club in your office, you might hear the following excuses as to why someone can’t possibly join. Here’s how to overcome some reluctance:

  • I don’t have enough time. I’m too busy. Schedule time for a team walk or meeting. Even 15 minutes a day can make a big difference. Put it on your calendar. Schedule the time like a standing appointment.
  • I’m too tired to exercise. Regular exercise makes you feel more energetic and is healthier than coffee or sweets. It even helps you sleep better!
  • Management thinks that it takes away from work time. Studies have shown that increased exercise and better health make people more productive in the workplace.
  • I can’t get to 10,000 steps (roughly five miles) a day! It is important to set obtainable goals. Start small. Use a pedometer to see how many steps you take each day. Walk 5 minutes out and back and count the steps it adds.  
  • I’ll never get healthy just taking small walks. Achieving better health is a series of small and consistent steps, not one huge leap.

Steve Jobs is not the only innovator to walk on the job: Aristotle did as well while teaching. Why not try it yourself?


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