Walking meetings: A step in the right direction for office worker health
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
People with desk jobs may feel there is little opportunity to increase physical activity levels during the working day. However, changing just one meeting per week from a seated to a walking meeting can increase physical activity level of office workers by 10 minutes. So concludes a study of white-collar workers invited to implement a simple, seven-point walking meeting protocol.
Across the United States, millions of office workers spend most of their working day sitting.
The study, from the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami in Florida, is published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Principal investigator Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, assistant professor of public health sciences, says:
“This walking meeting pilot study provides early evidence that white-collar workers find it feasible and acceptable to convert a traditional seated meeting into a walking meeting.”
Abundant research shows that physical activity helps improve overall health and fitness, and reduces people’s risk for many chronic diseases.
There is even evidence that doing as little as 15 minutes per day of brisk walking or other moderate intensity exercise can add up to 3 years of life expectancy.
Yet despite this, only half of all American adults report meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity.
Also, across the United States, millions of office workers spend most of their working day sitting.
Bringing these points together with the fact that working people spend on average 7.6 hours a day at work, it is clear that the workplace provides a unique setting to promote practices that could significantly increase physical activity and, consequently, health.
Walking meeting protocol
In the new study, researchers explored the effectiveness of a simple, seven-point Walking Meeting (WaM) protocol, summarized as follows:
- Set a time and place to meet before the WaM
- Prepare an agenda and bring it with you
- To make the walk more comfortable, bring items such as water, sunscreen, sunglasses, and wear comfortable shoes
- Assign roles: for example, one person keeps an eye on time, another takes notes, another leads walk route
- Follow the prescribed walk route
- Walk for a minimum of 30 minutes
- After the WaM, sit to wrap up meeting and do any final tasks such as paperwork that cannot be done while walking.
The study took place from January-August 2015 at the University of Miami, where 18 office workers who conducted weekly meetings in groups of two or three were invited to wear accelerometers to measure physical activity levels over 3 consecutive weeks.
During the first week (the baseline) the participants carried on as normal, while during the second and third week, they implemented the WaM.
Physical activity levels raised by 10 minutes per week
The researchers collected data from the accelerometers over the 3-week study, and also from focus-group sessions during the third week, where the participants discussed how they got along with the WaM approach.
Of the 18 participants, 17 (four men and 13 women of average age 40 years) completed the study. They were in eight groups, each with a team leader. All groups completed the first week of WaM, and all but one completed the second week.
The results showed that changing just one seated meeting per week into a walking meeting increased workplace physical activity levels by 10 minutes.
The average combined moderate/vigorous physical activity recorded increased from 107 minutes in the first week to 114 minutes in the second week and to 117 minutes in the third week.
When the researchers asked the participants in the focus group sessions about the extent to which they followed the WaM method, they found: seven groups took a printed agenda on the walk; three groups took written notes; and one group had a sit-down wrap up session at the end of their WaM.
Also, all the groups used their established meeting times and places for their WaMs, and all felt they had the right attire and items to make their walk comfortable.
Six groups followed five of the seven prescribed points of the WaM protocol. The two points that were least followed were the sit and conclude session and preparing an agenda.
The authors note that their findings add “information on walking meetings to the scientific literature, where little research exists,” and they conclude:
“The data collected from this pilot study suggest that walking meetings, a simple modification of traditional seated meetings, were not only well accepted by our sample of white-collar workers but were easy to implement and feasible to conduct during regular working hours.”
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References as sited by Medical News Today:
Opportunities for Increased Physical Activity in the Workplace: the Walking Meeting (WaM) Pilot Study, Miami, 2015, Hannah E. Kling et al., Preventing Chronic Disease, doi:10.5888/pcd13.160111, published 23 June 2016.
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine news release, accessed 3 July 2016 via EurekAlert.