What are you doing right now?
I bet my butt that you’re sitting. You might think I’ve gone bonkers, thinking ‘how is my sitting any of her business’. It’s not my business.
It’s your problem.
We sit for about 9.3 hours per day — that’s more than the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping. Sitting has also been found to increase the likelihood of developing some diseases like cancer and diabetes. Horrific, really.
In the words of Nilofer Merchant (from her TED talk):
Sitting is the smoking of our generation.
This is why people all over the world have been thinking of solutions like the standing desk — remember when that was trending? Another simple enough solution is: just stand up and walk about a bit. It’s a common practice at Wellness & Prevention, where employees are required to do so for one or two minutes every half hour. It was found to increase productivity.
Nilofer herself adopted the practice of walking in her busy schedule: by turning one-on-one coffee meetings into “walking meetings”, which were also popular with tech giants like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
So let’s see why you should add walking to your busy schedule.
A change of scenery
Context shapes behavior. You’re like a walking reflection of your surroundings, and the more you stay inside the stuffy office or board room, the more you’ll feel stuffy and closed up.
If you’re looking for a re-charge or new ideas, walking outside can literally boost your cognitive function and even your memory. Furthermore, changing the scenery makes you snap out of your “work stupor”.
But beware, if you walk out into a busy street, you’ll probably start to feel stressed, so it’s better if you find a park. Stepping into Nature provides immediate relief, acting as a “reset” button. And because we spend our lives in artificial environments, our brains become even more eager to reconnect with Nature. This is why some people surround themselves with green — to trick the brain into believing it’s there, but the real thing is better.
A blast of fresh air
How many times have you taken a deep breath today?
Your brain needs tons of oxygen to operate properly. While breathing is mostly an unconscious process, you must remember that you CAN control it.
Like, for example, when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed your heart rate goes up, pumping blood like there’s no tomorrow, making you take shallow breaths. If you want to de-stress, you need to take deep breaths. Then the heart goes back to its normal rate, the adrenaline subsides, and the brain calms down, ready for the rest of the work day.
Obviously, the quality of air you inhale is also important — the stale, recycled air of the office is not good enough — so I suggest taking a walk in the park (don’t forget the sandwich on your desk). And breathe deep.
A dash of creativity
Research shows that walking enhances creativity. In a study of students completing tasks, those who walked showed greater creativity than those who sat. When you walk, your mind naturally wanders and comes up with new ideas. Perhaps this is why so many famous creators of the past took long walks in Nature — to get their creative juices flowing.
It’s an amazing discovery, especially now that the bulk of our working lives is sedentary, both for office workers and remote workers. Also, this changes the game for brainstorming sessions. They shouldn’t take place inside the office, after hours and hours of work, they should follow a power walk!
Granted, I’m not impartial on this subject — I am an avid walker. Which is why this article — Why Walking Helps Us Think in The New Yorker — sparked the idea for my own. Give it a read if you’ve got the time.
A bit of perspective
This is where things get interesting.
Your brain makes powerful associations. For example, your desk screams work and your bed screams rest, right? Right.
What happens when you walk side-by-side to someone?
They become your equal. The brain automatically throws away the hierarchy, the prejudice, and just assumes that the person sweating and puffing next to you is someone who is working with you.
Perhaps this is why Mark Zuckerberg likes to walk new hires around Facebook Headquarters. Maybe this is his way of bonding with them. Whatever the reason, if you want to meet with someone face-to-face and drop the corporate mumbo-jumbo, try a walking meeting.
Just remember, walking too fast or too slow might not produce the best results. The perfect pace is your natural pace. Hopefully, your walking buddy will have one that’s similar to yours.
A few considerations
First of all, if you’re considering to pick up walking meetings, you know that they’re most effective when it’s just you and somebody else. A whole group of people walking together will never reach any consensus because they’ll have to out-scream one another and make a scene on the street.
Secondly, I have found that if you’re considering to taking these walks alone, the process itself is not only beneficial for creativity, but it can also act as an incubation period when you’re solving a problem or making a decision.
Finally, you need to stop making excuses — I’m not fit enough, I don’t have enough time, people won’t like that — and start taking care of your health. You don’t have to compromise your health for the sake of your job.
So start today. Set an example. And stay healthy. 🙂