Walking meetings 'well accepted' by office workers in pilot study

Office workers who swapped one seated meeting a week for a walking meeting clocked an extra 10 minutes of physical activity, according to a small study.

Walking meetings considered easy to implement and feasible by occupational health scientists

Office workers who swapped one seated meeting a week for a walking meeting clocked an extra 10 minutes of physical activity, according to small study. 

Public health experts and researchers are exploring standing desks and walking meetings as way to break up sedentary time and boost physical activity at work.

To that end, investigators at the University of Miami had 17 employees take a hike, of sorts, for their weekly meeting that lasted 30 to 60 minutes.

Participants were encouraged to follow best practices for meetings, such as creating an agenda and assigning roles such as time checker and note taker.

Walk-specific tips included:

  • Bring water, sunglasses and sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes. 
  • Follow the campus walking path. 
  • Walk for at least 30 minutes. 
  • Sit and conclude to wrap up and take care of paperwork that couldn't be accomplished on the walk.

On average, they increased their work time moderate-to-vigorous physical activity from 107 minutes up to 117 minutes at week three, based on accelerometer measurements.

"The data collected from this pilot study suggest that walking meetings … were not only well accepted by our sample of white-collar workers but were easy to implement and feasible to conduct," Alberto Caban-Martinez and his team wrote in Wednesday's online issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Shift office culture

Despite limitations such as the small number of participants, short duration and the possibility that participants moved more because they knew they were being monitored, the researchers said their findings add information to a field where little published information exists. 

Some Canadian university campuses, occupational therapists and wellness programs also encourage walking meetings. 

Allana LeBlanc is a knowledge manager and exercise physiologist at Participaction in Toronto who has blogged about the productivity and creative benefits of walking meetings.

"It's starting to shift a little bit now but we what we think of productive is you have to be tied to your desk," LeBlanc said. "We're learning more and more how bad this is for many different areas of health. You're not getting enough activity. You're really sedentary. You almost get in this unproductive state."

Taking a 10-minute stroll may not be heart pumping physical activity but breaking up sedentary time has other benefits, such as improved mood.

"If you can pair that up with a meeting or at least a touch base or something like that with someone then I think that's very beneficial and should be very attractive for employers," LeBlanc said. 

Most adults spend 9½ hours a day sitting or in a reclined position, which is associated with high blood pressure and poorer heart health, she said.

To increase physical activity and break up sedentary time requires a shift in our social norms at work, LeBlanc said. 

For example, LeBlanc suggested office culture could encourage people to:

  • Leave sneakers at work.
  • Keep a change of clothes at your desk.
  • Have wellness champions or an HR person map out walking meeting routes of different durations.

Like participating in sports teams, walking meetings can also foster camaraderie at work, she said. 

Canada's physical activity guidelines for adults encourage people to be active at least 2.5 hours a week to achieve health benefits. Focus on moderate to vigorous aerobic activity such as walking quickly, bike riding, running and basketball that can be broken into sessions of 10 minutes or more. 

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar


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