Walk and Talk: Promoting Walking Meetings

Kirkland Walk & Talk37

Today’s post comes from Afekwo Mbonu.  You can find more on Afekwo at the bottom of this post.

Occupational sitting and health risks

As with sitting more generally, occupational sitting is also associated with increased health risk.  For example, a recent systematic review by Jannique van Uffelen and colleagues in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the majority of prospective studies suggest that occupational sitting is associated with increased risk of both diabetes and mortality (the data for body weight, cardiovascular disease, and cancer was less conclusive).

The good news is that simply sitting less may have measurable health benefits.  As discussed previously on Obesity Panacea, research from David Dunstan’s lab in Australia suggests that frequent light-intensity walk-breaks can greatly reduce the metabolic impact of prolonged sitting.  Pronk and colleagues have also reported that the use of a sit-stand device which reduced overall sedentary time by 16.1% per day, significantly improved participants’ moods (i.e., fatigue, confusion, depression and total mood disturbance) and related health outcomes (i.e., upper back and neck pain) compared to baseline, or periods where the sit-stand devices were not available.

While research in this area is still in the early stages, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that disrupting sedentary time may be beneficial to health.

The way forward: Walking Meeting Rooms

With modern technologies forcing employees into sedentary occupations, workplace pressures to maintain long hours, and social norms to “stay connected”, advising individuals to reduce their sedentary time during the workday can be challenging and in some cases, unrealistic.

Incorporating walking meetings into the work environment may be a feasible solution. Walking meeting rooms are mapped routes that are used to replace conventional meetings rooms where participants are seated.

Walking meetings can be an effective way of breaking-up prolonged sitting without disrupting workplace productivity. Evidence suggests that reducing sitting bouts during the work day is achievable and such changes do not necessarily disrupt workplace performance.

The HALO group at CHEO’s Research Institute began incorporating walking meetings into their routine in 2012 and have continued to use them whenever possible. This is an effective way of breaking up a sedentary work day. In response to increasing popularity, a series of “walking meeting rooms” were added to the CHEO meeting booking system.

A total of 12 mapped out routes were created as walking meeting rooms ranging in time from 15-60 minutes in duration (1-5 km). These were organized through Microsoft Outlook public folders and set up so that all hospital and research institute staff are able to book a walking meeting room– importantly the walking meeting rooms are never unavailable or “booked” as they can hold multiple simultaneous meetings. In a work setting where booking meeting rooms is always a challenge, the use of walking meeting rooms at CHEO has also reduced the pressure to the find adequate space for all scheduled meetings.

One of the CHEO walk meeting routes.

The CHEO 60 minute walk meeting route (click to enlarge)

Although many may cite a multitude of problems with walking meeting rooms, most can be overcome with some foresight and planning. Such concerns may be the inability to take notes, or access the Internet; however, with the advent of smartphones and tablets, many programs can record conversations, search the Internet, and capture the ideas of any creative mind while in motion.

Efforts are underway to promote the walking meeting rooms as a healthy active living alternative to sitting meetings, when the size of the group (ideally 6 or less) and the objectives of the meeting can be accommodated.

The goal of this project to track the use of walking meeting rooms in order to provide a metric of ‘usability’, and ultimately to transform habitual sedentary behaviours to those that optimize employee health and wellness. Alex Munter, Chief Executive Officer of CHEO, boasts that “the walking meeting rooms have provoked a rethink of contemporary meeting habits at the hospital and have initiated a movement to get staff moving!”

Concluding Remarks

If you’ve been reading this post while seated, this is probably a good time to break-up your sitting time; and this shouldn’t be restricted to the workplace. If you’ve scheduled your next meet-up with a friend at a coffee shop and anywhere that would keep you seated for a while, you might want to consider taking your friend on a refreshing walk after you get your latte or crème brûlée and enjoy your delicacies while you walk and talk.

head shotAbout the author: Afekwo Mbonu is a Master of Public Health (MPH) Candidate at Lakehead University. Her research work is focused on school health and the contextual factors within the school environment associated with the adoption of comprehensive school health programs. She holds a BSc in Biomedical Sciences and a graduate certificate in Population Health Risk Assessment from the University of Ottawa.


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3 Responses to Walk and Talk: Promoting Walking Meetings

  1. steve says:

    Walking meetings are fairly common in my field (physics). Many institutions are situated on campuses ideally suited and a culture for discussion matters on walks was well established years ago.

    There are a lot of learnings – institutional knowledge- and practices vary. Some groups even have blackboards strategically located along common routes, but generally communication is talking and gesturing. There can be issues with noise and traffic. I consult these days and walks in Manhattan, outside of Central Park, can be dangerous if you are concentrating on the conversation and noisy.

    A point on group size – most of the time groups had three or four members. Five or six is about as much as you can handle even in a quiet area as being able to see someone else’s hands and face is often very important.

    My experience has been to not take notes or use recording devices along the way. Note taking is too difficult while walking and there are serious issues with recording quality and transcription. What does work is taking about 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the walk to create a summary. Also carry paper and pencil and agree to stop if something profound happens.

    Weather can be an issue. Two of the groups I was associated with had well defined minimum walking weather requirements. The effect was to make walks on days with good weather even more desirable.

    There were few complaints, but it is important to poll the walkers and adjust. Walking speed can be an issue. Generally leisurely strolls work out much better than fast walks for most people (this is much easier if only two people are involved). Also big differences in height can be an issue – particularly if people brave rainy days with umbrellas.

    So a bottom line is to just go out and try many things and see what works. Not only are there likely health benefits, but the change of scenery and relaxed nature seem to free the mind. I’ve witnessed many dramatically creative moments.

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