Last year, when I got may annual physical, my cholesterol numbers were not good. My doctor’s advice was to start eating a heart healthy diet and get more exercise. A lot of my work consists of sitting — working on a computer, talking on the phone, or attending meetings or conferences. As Nilofer Merchant points out in this Ted.com talk, people are sitting 9.3 hours a day, which is more than we’re sleeping, at 7.7 hours. And, all that sitting is not good for your health.
I made a commitment to change. I started using a fitbit and apps like Fi.it to monitor and motivate me. I also changed my eating habits. Six months later, I’m happy to report that my numbers are in the normal range. I’m also noticing that many of my colleagues are trying to become healthy, including my friend and homeless advocate, Mark Horvath, who is also raising money for a good cause while getting healthy.
I try to walk between 15K steps a day using my fitbit to measure it. When I mentioned this to a colleague, he asked me “How the heck do you make the time to do this? What have you cut from your schedule.?” I have cut out non-productive work time where I sit at my desk and can’t concentrate! I have incorporated mini-breaks to walk in the middle of the day help me think and digest when I am writing or thinking through a problem for a client. Also, if I’m on calls I do them while walking around. I have gotten good at taking notes while I walk. I’ve also replaced networking requests for “coffee” for “walking meetings.” It isn’t about making the time or thinking about physical activity or movement as a separate exercise time, but something that is integrated into your life – including work time.
The problem is that walking is perceived as a “break activity” not part of work as explained in this Harvard Business Review blog post, “Take a Walk, Sure, but Don’t Call It A Break.” It describes the benefits of walking as part of work – creativity, leadership development, and relationship building. Walking is not just for the fitness. “So, when you really need to get something done, get away from your computer and your conference room, and go for a long walk. It’s not a luxury. It’s work.”
Senior Leaders Get on Their Walking Shoes
The benefits of walking to “clear your brain” or build relationships is not a new leadership technique. As Louis Sullivan, HHS Secretary in 1989-93 and famous for walking meetings, notes in an HBR blog post “For me, walking has proved to be a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle, while facilitating my communications skills and leadership efforts.” In Silicon Valley,Steve Jobs was famous for it. And perhaps because of that, walking meetings are common in Silicon Valley as this article points out. The walking at work trend is being more broadly adopted by senior managers, in part because leaders want to get some distance from their always on work styles, with all of the demands of smartphones and laptops. It’s also boosted by the increasing number of open-space offices, which give even top executives little privacy to speak candidly or have any alone time.
Even in the nonprofit sector. Yesterday, I gave a breakfast keynote at the National Head Start Association Conference and as I walking into the convention center. There was an aerobics class going on outside with conference participants. I was told that encouraging more movement in work was an ongoing initiative. I chatted with NHSA staff who wear fitbits and we compared our step numbers!
Walking is the Killer Work App for Creativity
Henry David Thoreau said famously, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” As a trainer, I have incorporated movement breaks and moving around into instruction because this helps wake up peoples’ brains. But incorporating walking into your work has many advantages too. Research shows that walking boosts creativity and cognitive function. It can also help to build relationships.
Does your nonprofit encourage movement in the workplace? Walking meetings? Standing desks? Stepping challenges?