Walking in the Workplace
Walking. It’s something most of us take for granted, yet the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can reduce our risk for many serious health conditions.
You already know it burns calories. But here are just some other ways walking more has been shown to work wonders.
- Cuts risk of many cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
- Improves life expectancy
- Lowers the risk of age-related memory loss and decline
- Helps lower blood pressure
- Improves bone density
- Improves mood
- Eases insomnia
As more workplaces join the crusade to improve their employees’ health, walking programs are becoming a popular addition to wellness programs offered by employers both large and small. (According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 97 percent of large employers offer some form of wellness program, reflecting both the pressure of rising health care costs and evidence that well-designed wellness programs can generate an ROI.)
Walking Programs on the March
Workplace walking programs can be found across the country. On April 4, for example – recognized as National Walk to Work Day -- employees at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore laced up their sneakers to celebrate the start of Sinai’s walk at work program, sponsored by the hospital’s Employee Activities Committee.
The impetus behind the program was to give health care employees the opportunity to care for themselves as much as they care for others. The program gives staffers a block of time where they can walk through any of the four “trails” on Sinai’s campus.
Interviewed for the LifeBridge Health blog, Sinai President Neil Meltzer made it clear that the program has the full support of organization management. “Walking is good for your health, it’s great for stress relief, and it’s fun,” he said.
In Boston, leading athletic company New Balance recently conducted an Organizations in MOTION™ program with Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a business of Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Jack Groppel developed Organizations in MOTION™ to help combat the health and organizational challenges today’s corporate leaders are facing.
The program studied the impact of small and frequent amounts of physical activity on energy levels, cognition, and engagement throughout the day.
After completing the initial pilot program, New Balance broadened the program to approximately 750 associates from their Product Management, Marketing, Design, and Human Resources teams in their corporate offices in Boston and Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Of those who responded to surveys, 53 percent said they increased their level of physical activity and movement at work, and 89 percent said they are likely to continue with the changes they made.
Three Steps to Get Started
Wellness & Prevention, Inc. has three recommendations for kicking off a walking program in your workplace:
- Encourage leadership from the top down: Put leadership in place to support initiatives. For example, appoint “champions” at various levels to encourage participation.
- Encourage frequency: Employees should never go more than 30 minutes without moving. Ask employees to set half-hour alarms at their desks and rally colleagues to participate.
- Eliminate “permission” to move: When in meetings, encourage employees to get up, stretch and move around the room while staying connected to the meeting at hand.
More Ideas for Moving and Motivation
At the UCLA School of Public Health, Dr. Antionette Yancey has developed a program known as Instant Recess® to get people moving for 5-10 minutes throughout the day, whether that means scheduling a walking meeting or an impromptu dance session. “Breaks should be fun,” says Yancey, while at the same time being scientifically designed to maximize both enjoyment and energy expenditure.
In Arlington County, Virginia, even the local government has gotten behind the movement to move. WalkArlington, a program of Arlington County Commuter Services, partners with citizens, businesses, and County departments to “get more people walking more of the time.”
On the WalkArlington website, information is available on walks and events for employees to participate in, contacts for walking groups for lunchtime or after work strolls, walking-related articles and resources, and suggestions for interesting walking routes around Arlington.
“Workplace walking programs can help with a wide range of common workforce issues, from health care costs to morale, turnover rates to productivity, absenteeism to team-building. All you need to do is take that first step,” according to the website.
Arlington County is part of a larger movement of national workplace walking programs that also offer resources that can help your organization become a “Walking Workplace.” Among them are:
- Walking Works created by the BlueCrossBlueShield Association in conjunction with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
- Start!Walking Worksite Wellness Walking Program sponsored by the American Heart Association.
- Every Body Walk an online educational campaign with news and resources, walking maps, directory of walking groups, and more.
Whether you have one employee or thousands, getting them out of their chairs and onto their feet will pay off for everyone.