Walking Meetings for Happiness and Health

Nov. 1, 2016
conference room

The other night, my wife Cindi and I attended a lecture in downtown Tucson, as part of the UA Downtown lecture series, on the links between exercise and happiness by Professor David Raichlen of the UA School of Anthropology. He presented really interesting evidence to demonstrate that not only is moderate exercise associated with elevated mood, but there might actually be an evolutionary basis for this association. Before early humans had projectile weapons, they had to chase their next meal until the animal dropped from heat exhaustion. Endurance was the key to adaptability and elevated mood provided the immediate reinforcement for this exercise.

Our bodies are still at that stage of evolution and yet our sedentary jobs have us spending most of our time at our desks and computers. As leaders, it seems were are either in meetings or responding to emails. I try to compensate for this by running and hitting the gym regularly. But it does strike me as completely disconnected. I get up an hour early in the morning (often depriving myself of sleep) to go for a run or lift weights. Then I go into the office where I sit at my computer or in meetings for the rest of the day. Can’t there by a better way?

I recently learned about “walking meeting.” Just as it sounds, instead of sitting in your office to meet, you stretch your legs and get out of the building. Most of my meetings seem to last 30-45 minutes, which is a perfect for a walk. But can you focus on the issues at hand while walking? Often, but it does depend on the nature of the meeting and the pace of the walk. In his book, Thinking fast and slow, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman suggests that there is a tradeoff – if either the walking is too fast or the mental work too heavy, it can be difficult to do both. However, with a moderate pace, typical meetings are fairly easy to balance with walking. In his lecture, Professor Raichlen suggested that the optimal pace for generating positive mood from exercise is when you can carry on a conversation easily, but not sing. If you can sing you are walking too slowly. Interesting, right?

As I write this, I reflect on the fact that I don’t do walking meetings. Ironically, the only time I can remember doing a walking meeting is when I was in hospital recovering from surgery and my boss came to visit me. I was under instructions to walk frequently, so I asked my boss to walk with me. It was a slow pace, but it was a much better way to talk than with me lying in a hospital bed. And wouldn’t one or two walking meetings each day be better than sitting in a chair all day? Let’s see, the benefits of this would be: 1) increased health and fitness, 2) elevated mood, 3) role modeling and signaling for others the importance of healthy lifestyles, and 4) integrating leadership with healthy living. Sounds like a clear win-win-win to me.

So, how about it? Instead of sitting in chairs, why not take one of your meetings for a walk this week? It’s a step toward reclaiming our active ancestry without having to chase down our meal.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay