Walking meetings: a step in the right direction?

Image by Sangy23.

Image by Sangy23

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

Right next to coconut water, and standing desks, “walking meetings” are the newest buzzwords for the ever trendy workplace.  A quick Google search will show pages of magazine articles and news stories touting the benefits of taking your work to the streets.  Travis has mentioned them a couple times here, and a summer student with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group gave a compelling overview of why they are beneficial to health.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I want to share with you the results of a recent article on the benefits of walking meetings. But rather than the health benefits of walking meetings, I want to talk about the benefits for creativity.  Because in a series of 4 experiments, Oppezzo and Schwartz show that walk is your first step to a creative day (full text available here).

To test creativity, they used a couple different tests, but basically, during the sitting, or walking conditions, participants were audio recorded while they completed different word association tasks.  After the test was over, they were scored according to novelty and appropriateness of their responses

Experiment 1

Two conditions:

  1. sitting + test
  2. walking on a treadmill + test

Results: Walking on a treadmill produced an average creative output of 60% higher than sitting.

Experiment 2

Three conditions:

  1. sitting + test, followed by treadmill walking + test
  2. treadmill walking + test,  followed by sitting + test
  3. sitting + test,  followed by more sitting + test

Results: The walking condition, was associated with the highest test scores.  Order of the conditions also mattered so it wasn’t just that people were getting better at the tests.  Walking had a carryover effect such that the walking + sitting condition produced higher scores than the sitting + walking condition. The sitting + sitting condition produced the lowest scores for creativity.

Experiment 3

Four conditions:

  1. sitting + test, followed by sitting + test, changing rooms between conditions
  2. sitting + test, followed by outdoor walking + test
  3. outdoor walking + test  followed by sitting + test
  4. outdoor walking + test, followed by outdoor walking + test

Results: All walking conditions lead to improved scores for creativity and did not attenuate during the walking + walking condition.  Walking outdoors increased the number of references to outdoor/nature responses as well as overall talkativeness.  Walking left a residue such that sitting after walking gave higher performances than sitting + sitting, or sitting + walking.

Experiment 4

Four conditions

  1. getting pushed around outdoors while sitting in a wheelchair getting pushed outdoors + test
  2. outdoor walking + test
  3. treadmill walking + test
  4. sitting indoors + test

Results: Walking had a stronger effect on creativity than sitting, both indoors and outdoors.  Walking also increased general talkativeness, especially when outdoors.  Sitting outdoors produced higher results for creativity than sitting indoors, but results were still lower than either walking condition.

Overall conclusions:

Across the 4 experiments, 81%, 88%, 100%, and 100% of participants were more creative when walking.  Walking was beneficial in increasing creativity both indoors and outdoors.  Even after returning to sitting, people who walked were more creative than those who stayed seated.

The take home message? Walking while working increases creativity, especially when done outdoors.  So stop reading this and go rejoice in the summer sun! (then get back to work…)


P.S. My favorite line in the paper is – “walking on a treadmill facing a blank wall improved creativity” –  just for those times when you think all is lost, it may be really easy to get your writing mojo back!

Allana Leblanc, MSc, CEP

About the Author: Allana LeBlanc is a Certified Exercise Physiologist, PhD Student and semi-regular contributor to Obesity Panacea.  You can find a list of all her guest posts here.

Reference: Oppezzo, M., Schwartz, D.L. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 2014, epub ahead of print

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4 Responses to Walking meetings: a step in the right direction?

  1. Nicole says:

    Did you pick the photo for this post?

    Those ladies don’t look ready for walking meetings in those shoes! I think this issue can often be overlooked when we ask someone else to go for a walking meeting.

    I know myself that heels will make me head for the elevator – sigh.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. Travis Saunders, Phd, MSc, CEP says:

    I will take credit/blame for the picture. I did a search for creative commons licence pictures on Flickr using the terms “walking meeting”, and this was the best thing that came up. Your point is well taken!

  3. Just the idea of a “walking meeting” raises my anxiety levels. I’ve had FAR too many asthma attacks from exercise, air pollution, and so on to make me comfortable walking with coworkers. One disaster was when I was walking from one building to another for lunch during a job interview. The change in air (warm/dry to cold/wet outside) and clutch of smokers huddled outside the door left me coughing, wheezing, and gasping for air. I ended up using my inhaler in front of the interviewer!

    Basically, realize not everyone may want to join you.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I think the idea of a walking meeting is brilliant. I am going to suggest it to my boss! The idea of being able to be outside but still working, takes me back to when I was in primary school and it felt like you weren’t working at all. The results are quite astounding though, who would have though. Not just good for your health, but good for your business.