Walking While Working | Beth's Blog

Walking While Working


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?


24 Responses

  1. Steph Routh says:

    Thanks for the great post, Beth! I work with NTEN now, but until late last years I was executive director of Oregon Walks (formerly the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition), the state’s nonprofit walking advocacy organization.

    Health organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, have been promoting building walking into workdays and commutes for the reasons you identified. They even teamed up with the West Wing cast on Funny or Die to highlight the awesomeness of walking (and the walk and talk): http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/3dc51a407a/walk-and-talk-the-west-wing-reunion

    The national Everybody Walk! collaborative has some pointers on how to create successful walking meetings: http://everybodywalk.org/collaborative/1130-hosting-walking-meetings.html

    In 2012, I organized Portland’s Walk to Work Day, and we had a number of organizations’ staff join in the fun that ended at Portland City Hall: https://www.keenfootwear.com/blog/2012/04/07/a-successful-first-walk-to-work-day-in-portland/

    This was a long comment, but I was just so geeked to see your post! Thank you for making my week.


  2. Denise Osso says:

    Dear Beth,

    Glad your numbers are good. You set a great example in so many ways.
    I think on my feet and am always glad to hear that I am not alone. One of my favoirte books on the importance of walking the walk is “If You Want to Write,” in which Brenda Ueland, then in her 90s, shares how walking is at the heart of her writing.

    Strolling forward,



  3. Beth says:

    Steph: What awesome resources – thanks for sharing!! Great to discover other passionate walkers!! What about walking session on walking technology at #15ntC?

  4. Beth says:

    Denise, thanks for sharing that book, I’m going to check it out.

  5. Steph Routh says:

    Beth, that would be fabulous. Let’s make that happen!

  6. Clarissa Garcia says:

    Loved the idea of changing up networking breaks to walking breaks. As a longtime staff at American Heart thanks for spreading the message and sharing your tips.

  7. Lisa says:

    Beth you rock! Thanks for putting another important issue and solution out there. I have been trying to get people to take walking meetings with me for years—with very mixed response. Hoping that by an influencer of your scope getting on board, more folks will open their minds to the multiple benefits of walking while working!

  8. Beth says:

    Lisa, do you work with nonprofits?

  9. Lisa says:

    Hi Beth, Yes, have for many years—including time at Ashoka and in South Africa, Latin America, Armenia, etc. It always surprised me that folks weren’t more willing to meet in unconventional ways. I feel like sometimes too much energy is spent monitoring colleagues and too little giving folks the freedom to work in ways that make them most effective!

  10. Gretchen says:

    Great post! I do some of my most focused and creative thinking when I run or take a brisk walk. It’s good for my head, my heart and my career!

  11. […] Plus 8 more… […]

  12. […] Great post! I do some of my most focused and creative thinking … by Gretchen […]

  13. […] Hi Beth, Yes, have for many years—including time at Ashoka … by Lisa […]

  14. […] Plus 12 more… […]

  15. […] Plus 13 more… […]

  16. The young people in the youth employment program my nonprofit runs (we work with traumatized and very disadvantaged youth in our schools, group homes, and community programs) built me a standing desk out of an old door when I injured my back a few years ago. True, it’s not a fancy adjustable one, but my back has healed, and with all the research showing sitting takes years off the end of your life, I’m not going back to sitting! Thanks for this piece.

  17. Beth says:

    Garland, thanks for sharing that story! Love it!

  18. Lilla says:

    I think what you wrote was very logical. But, consider this,
    suppose you composed a catchier title? I am not
    suggesting your content is not good., however what if
    you added something that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean Walking
    While Working | Beth’s Blog is kinda plain. You shuld
    peek at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post headlines to get viewers interested.
    You might add a vjdeo or a pic or two to get readers
    excited about everything’ve written. Juust my opinion, it would make your website a
    little livelier.

  19. Beth says:

    Lilla, what would you suggest?

  20. […] for a walk as a break and instead thinking of it as an essential part of her work day – or “Walking While Working” as she puts it. Walking meetings or walking phone calls can pull you out of the confines of your […]

  21. […] Levitin also says that if you give up multitasking and immerse yourself in a single task for sustained periods of a half hour or hour, you’ll get more creative.  Several studies have shown that a walk in nature  acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.  Which one of my favorite attention focusing techniques is to shut off the screen and take a walk. […]

  22. […] 20 pounds. I also started living the fitbit life, especially around finding ways to incorporate walking into my work – at client meetings, trainings, and […]

  23. […] 20 pounds. I also started living the fitbit life, especially around finding ways to incorporate walking into my work – at client meetings, trainings, and […]

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