Try a Walking Meeting!

Written by Elaine Bowen, EdD, West Virginia University Extension Specialist-Health Promotion

At the end of the day, do you think, “Oh my, I’ve been sitting too long!”? Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking, a big risk to your health. It is true that too much sitting increases your risk of serious chronic diseases. The good news is you can add movement to your day. How? Walking meetings!

Walking meetings are just that…meetings held while walking instead of sitting. Walking meetings are flexible and can be used in these ways: 1) a one-on-one meeting; 2) a break-out session of a larger meeting; 3) as part of a larger meeting with part of it walking and the other part sitting; 4) as its own entire meeting; and 5) a conference call.

We all know that walking is one of the best ways to stay healthy. While working, the average person spends 9.3 hours sitting every day. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity, type II diabetes, breast and colon cancers, and heart disease.  An easy way to combat this sedentary lifestyle problem in the workplace is by introducing walking meetings.  This is a simple and free way to improve your health while also accomplishing the same amount of work that you need to do. There is no need to give up work for health or health for work – you can have both!

But wait, there are some extra benefits of walking meetings:

  • Better listening skills
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased productivity
  • Relationship building
  • More honest communication among people at different “levels” in an organization
  • A decreased risk of certain diseases, such as those listed above
  • A decrease in the number of work time missed due to illness
  • A potential increase in lifespan

How do you get started with walking meetings?

Walking meetings are relatively simple to put together and participate in, but there is a right and a wrong way to create them.  These tips will work for you and your participants.

  • Plan ahead—create an agenda and a route for the walking meeting. Make it a treat and fit in a fun destination at the end, a point of interest along the route, or a healthy snack or drink option.
  • Give notice—always let meeting participants know in advance that it is a walking meeting so they prepare. Send a short list of what to bring (comfortable shoes, water, etc.) and an agenda so that they will all be prepared to get the meeting going quickly.
  • Plan for notes—if notes need to be taken during the meeting, bring a recording device or ask for a volunteer to take notes.
  • Meeting size—ideally, the meeting size should be small, 2-5 people. If the meeting involves more participants, then carefully plan ways to handle that by either splitting into small groups or having periods of sitting and discussing followed by a walk.
  • Pace of the walk—the walking pace should be set to the pace of the slowest walker. Everybody should be comfortable, enjoy the walk, and be able to easily focus and get things accomplished.
  • Be clear and honest—because of the work culture, walking meetings could be seen as a break from work with a loss of productivity. Be sure to clear walking meetings with supervisors and communicate to everyone that walking meetings are for working and not for relaxing, gossiping, etc. Walking meetings are a healthy alternative to traditional sit-down meetings, but the same amount of work (if not more!) is accomplished.
  • Stay motivated—choose a leader to keep the group motivated. Encourage each other to stick with walking meetings. Pick a time when everyone can regularly commit to, such as weekly staff meetings. Plan ahead for bad weather conditions—will you walk inside or will you reschedule? Mix things up in order to not get bored—pick different routes or different fun destinations at the end or along the route. Use this website as a resource for planning routes. 
  • Enjoy yourself!

Always keep safety in mind. Difficulty breathing, dizziness, pain, nausea, or other unusual symptoms while walking is not normal. If you or others experience any of these symptoms, stop and rest.  If symptom(s) persists, see a physician. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring appropriate clothing for weather conditions. Face oncoming traffic. Watch out for dogs, cars, and bicycles.

Get inspired…watch TED Talk:  Got a Meeting? Take a Walk 

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