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Why walking in the workplace should be championed

Archie Robertson
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2017 saw promising progress in bringing power to the pedestrian by making our cities more walking-friendly. In 2018, business leaders can act on their responsibility, making a proactive change and encouraging staff to get involved with walking schemes. Contributor Archie Robertson, Chair – Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking.

Our cities are changing. With the landmark pedestrianisation of Oxford Street scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018, and Manchester appointing a Cycling and Walking Commissioner last year, it is evident that our nation’s cities are responding to the urgent need for more walking-friendly roads and communities.

This signals a huge shift in public demand for a more walking-friendly nation and comes at a crucial time when our sedentary lifestyles are having an alarming impact on our health. A lack of exercise is known to contribute to one in six premature deaths in the UK every year.

Business leaders increasingly have a role to play in improving the health of their staff and it’s imperative that they position themselves at the forefront of this change. Many adults in the UK spend up to 60 percent of their waking hours at work and struggle to walk five times a week. It’s no surprise then, that adults in the UK are sitting for almost nine hours a day and are struggling to maintain an active lifestyle.

Adapting workplace culture to encourage walking as a natural part of an everyday routine benefits both the employer and the employee. With research showing that regular exercise causes an overall boost in work performance of around 15 percent, forward-thinking business leaders will recognise that proactively encouraging everyday walking not only boosts wellbeing but also helps fuel future business successes.Businesses can encourage their employees to embrace walking in a number of ways:

The walking meeting
Simple and flexible walking initiatives can help tackle the fact that the average Briton only manages to walk for half a mile a day. The walking meeting should be championed as an effective way to fit walking into the working day.

Beyond the physical exercise benefits, by stepping outside for fresh air and a change of scenery, you tend to feel unconstrained compared to a more artificial office environment; you’re more creative, liberated and relaxed.

Outdoor meetings also foster a culture of teamwork and motivation that helps colleagues make decisions in a timely and more enjoyable manner.

If the suggestion of a walking meeting initially raises a few eyebrows, remember a culture shift is a collaborative movement, so business leaders need to put their best foot forward and make a personal pledge to participate in walking meetings too.

The walking commute
Research shows that active commuting can help prevent heart disease and reduce body fat percentage. Many employees may not be able to walk the whole way to or from the office, but encouraging small changes to the daily commute can make a big difference.

Employees who travel by public transport would benefit by getting off one stop early and walking the final leg of their journey to work. For those who drive, parking their car 20 minutes from the office and walking to work will arrive feeling more refreshed, energised and motivated to start the working day.

Offering some flexibility in what time employees start or end the day, whether it’s 10 or 30 minutes, will be worthwhile to see staff invigorated and motivated.

As a business leader, being personally invested in this change will help encourage employees to get involved – it’s no good instilling the benefits of walking if you’re not personally committed to change.

 The walking contemplation
Around 11.8 million women and 8.3 million men across the UK are not active enough, so it’s important to make walking an accessible option throughout the working day. As part of this, walking should be encouraged as a way to handle a hectic day or week at work. A walking contemplation will encourage employees to zone out, remove negative thoughts and reduce stress before returning to the office.

 The walking lunch
56 percent of British employees don’t take their full lunch break, and struggle to leave their desk during the working day for even a short break. With 3.2 million deaths each year attributable to physical inactivity, employers urgently need to encourage staff to step away from their desks at lunch time, and replace the aldesko lunch with a walk.

If employees walked for 20 minutes before buying their lunch, they would experience the double benefit of staying active and enjoying their ‘office neighbourhood’. When walking around and you’re not in a rush, you see and discover more about your local streets and it’s much more interesting.

Why it works
Programmes that encourage activity in the workplace – whether that’s netball team or a walking group – have proven results for both the employee and the employer. Initiatives can reduce absenteeism by up to 20 percent, with physically active workers taking 27 percent fewer sick days. For initiatives to be successful, it’s crucial to consider a range of flexible ideas so employees can benefit from what best suits their needs.