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Free, healthy and a boost to creativity: companies must get staff walking

By: Susan Claris, Associate Director at Arup

18 October 2017/Categories: PTRC News

Friedrich Nietzsche once declared that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” This is backed up by studies by Stanford University which have shown that a person’s creative output increases by an average of 60% when walking.

Yet while employers have become increasingly cycle friendly over the years – providing cycle parking, lockers and showers, cycle training, loans to buy bikes and cycle maintenance sessions – what are they doing to promote walking?

Encouraging walking, both within the workplace, as well as for travelling to and from work, brings significant benefits for staff and for employers. These range from creativity to physical and mental health, including a reduced risk of depression.

Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally. The results of a recent survey of more than 14,000 people in Scotland indicate that for adults in work, time spent being inactive during weekdays is greater than people aged 75 and above.

Long periods spent sitting at work have public health implications, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple made a habit of the walking meeting. Anecdotal evidence suggests that walking meetings lead to more honest exchanges with employees and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.

This is recognised by some companies which are designing their offices to encourage walking. Samsung’s US headquarters in San Jose, California has been designed around a walking layout so that employees are never more than a floor away from stepping outside for a walk.

Google’s plans for its ‘landscraper’ London headquarters at Kings Cross in London includes a 200-metre-long “trim trail” which runs on the roof.

Other companies are incorporating a “daily mile” route to encourage employees to get out for a walk. Saga’s Group Headquarters at Sandgate near Folkestone, for example, has a marked out a mile in its grounds that staff can use for a meeting or a stroll at lunchtime.

We can design physical activity back into our everyday lives by incentivising and facilitating walking as regular daily transport, creating environments that encourage healthier choices. Businesses can play a key role in this and as a result will have healthier and happier staff.

Getting more people walking at work would make for a healthier workforce, and not just by reducing the risk of diseases linked to physical inactivity. Research also shows that absenteeism rates are lower among staff who walk and that active commuters are better able to concentrate and under less strain than those who travel by car.

Actions that businesses can take include promoting walking meetings, having a “daily mile” route (this could just be a convenient mile route marked on a map on local streets around a business), promoting walking initiatives (such as Living Streets’ walk to work month), or even having a clinic to advise on walking and gait and posture, offering incentives to buy good quality walking trainers or activity trackers.

Walking is the lowest-carbon, least polluting form of transport. It’s a great social leveller and having people walking through urban spaces makes them safer for others. And best of all – it is free, it is reliable and it makes people happy.

Who wouldn’t want that for their staff?


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