walkingBy Mary Jane Williams and José F. Massó

Our last couple Heart Month blogs has focused on the importance of proper nutrition to support health (here and here). While eating right is one of the keys to a healthy heart, we also need to make sure that we are getting the right amount of exercise, too.

Much of our days are spent behind a desk or sitting where are not being as active as we should be. With that in mind, the Boston Public Health Commission is looking for ways to encourage people be healthier and more active in the place we are the most – at work.

Healthier employees not only lower their risk for chronic disease, but they are also more productive. We believe that finding small ways to sneak physical activity in the workday can help do the trick. One way to do that is through walking meetings.

Work conversations don’t have to take place within the confines of four walls. Walking meetings help to boost your energy, get some fresh air and burn a few calories too. Discussions dealing with big ideas (such as brainstorming and updates) are good walking meetings. Here are some tips:

  • Identify the walking meeting group: Walking meeting groups should be limited to no more than six people. This allows for everyone to hear and participate. Large groups should be broken into smaller groups. It is recommended that people who are new to walking meeting format start with one-on-one or small group (three or four people) meetings.
  • Determine the time and length of the meeting: A walking meeting can be as long or short as needed. When deciding how long the meeting is going to be, make sure to take into consideration the fitness levels for all of the participants. Consider holding the meeting in the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day and/or in the afternoon when colleagues need to re-energize after lunch.
  • Develop a meeting process: The meeting outcome and process should be clear and efficient, and be communicated to all participants. A meeting leader should be assigned and be responsible for ensuring the agenda tasks are completed, as well as a note taker. A facilitator may be useful for larger groups.  Also make sure that all meeting materials – such as an agenda and cell phone for safety – are prepared and easily accessible.
  • Select a meeting route: The walking route (starting location, course, and finishing point) should be determined prior to the meeting, especially for larger groups. Smaller groups can be more spontaneous. The walking route should be pedestrian friendly and include a sitting area so participants can sit, recap and recover when needed. A route that returns walkers to their original starting point is easiest. It also important to avoid high traffic roads and noisy places, in order to minimize distraction and enhance safety.
  • Clothing: Give advance notice for walking meetings so that participants know to wear comfortable work attire and appropriate shoes/sneakers. It also helpful to send email reminders to participants. Walking meeting buttons for participants are a way to alert others that you are working and do not wish to be disturbed.
  • Prepare for the weather (or try!): Check the weather and provide participants with weather updates if needed.  Winter/cold months present some challenges, but it does help to advise participants to being weather-appropriate gear, such as umbrellas or snow gear. If outside conditions are not conducive for walking, then reroute the meeting to be in your office building or at a nearby indoor mall.
  • Have a backup plan: In the event that you cannot have a walking meeting (if there is bad weather or participants are not prepared to walk), have a backup meeting space reserved.

If you would like to learn more about how to have a healthier, more active workplace, please check out our Workplace Wellness Toolkit.

Mary Jane is BPHC’s wellness coordinator and José is the Boston Moves for Health program manager.