Turning one meeting a week into a “walk-and-talk” could transform the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees, a US study has suggested. But will this very American form of meeting ever catch on here in the UK?

Employee health and wellbeing – could US-style ‘walk-and-talk’ meetings catch on here?

Changing just one seated meeting per week into a “walk-and-talk” meeting can increase the work-related physical activity levels of white-collar workers by 10 minutes, according to a US study.

The study, published by public health researchers with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, argued that such an approach could be a practical, and proactive, way to encourage otherwise sedentary office workers to become more active and mobile.

Participants in the study, who were white-collar workers recruited from the university, wore accelerometers to measure their physical activity levels during the working day over a three-week period.

They also followed a “walking meeting protocol” that included guidance for leading meetings and taking notes while walking.

Increased activity

The average combined moderate/vigorous physical activity reported by participants increased from 107 minutes in the first week, to 114 minutes in the second week, and then to 117 minutes in week three of the study.

Professor Alberto J Caban-Martinez, assistant professor of public health sciences at the university, said: “Physical activity interventions such as the walking meeting protocol that encourage walking and raise levels of physical activity in the workplace are needed to counter the negative health effects of sedentary behaviour.”

“Having sedentary, white-collar workers consider walking meetings feasible suggests that this intervention has the potential to positively influence the health of many individuals,” agreed lead author Hannah Kling, the study’s project director and a graduate of university’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

What, then, should employers make of this?

Certainly, at one level, it makes complete sense. The benefits of regular walking are well-documented.

Weekly physical activity

Indeed, a recent French study has suggested a 15-minute walk every day can cut the risk of early death by as much as 22% in older adults.

The study, from the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne, looked at 1,011 French people aged 65 in 2001 and followed this up over a period of 12 years.

Those with low, medium and high activity levels had a 22%, 28% and 35% lower risk of death respectively, it concluded.

Were employers to combine an emphasis on more active commuting, with an emphasis on encouraging employees to get up and about more frequently during the working day, and then on top of that encouraging initiatives such as walk-and-talk meetings, that could a long way towards helping individuals meet the NHS’s recommended weekly physical activity guidelines.

Of course, there is still the “horse to water” argument to overcome – that employers can only do so much to encourage healthier lifestyle behaviours among employees and, ultimately, it is up to individuals to take some responsibility for making these changes themselves.

With walk-and-talk meetings there may also be a cultural barrier, in that this sort of meeting is often perceived as very “American” and, at least initially, people may feel uncomfortable with the concept or the practicalities, such as note-taking.

But, given that, as well as the health benefits, walk-and-talk meetings have the advantage (probably) of making meetings shorter, and therefore can potentially make workplaces more productive, there is a compelling argument for managers to at least be giving this serious consideration as an idea.

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Posted in Occupational health by OH Assist on the 30th September 2016

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