Walking is a simple, accessible, and cost-effective solution available to counteract sedentarism that is easy to include in your workplace culture. Let’s explore the transformative benefits of walking and how it can positively impact the lives of those who spend most of their day at a desk.
Sedentarism requires intervention
In our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, office workers spend a significant portion of their day seated at a desk, often leading to various health issues. It is in the interest of business owners and managers to promote healthy habits at work as part of their greater responsibility to employee health and wellness.
Actions taken to encourage activity in the workplace have proven results for employees and employers such as reducing absenteeism and increasing creativity and productivity. For initiatives to be successful, they must consider offering a range of flexible ideas so employees can benefit from what best suits their needs.
However, there is a simple, accessible, and cost-effective solution available to counteract sedentarism that is easy to include in your workplace culture. Regular walking can bring about a plethora of benefits for office workers, both physically and mentally.
Let’s explore the transformative benefits of walking and how it can positively impact the lives of those who spend most of their day at a desk.
The physical health benefits of walking
According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for noncommunicable disease mortality.
The stats are disturbing. More than a quarter of the world’s adult population (1.4 billion adults) are insufficiently active, with 1 in 4 adults not meeting the global recommended levels of physical activity. Insufficient physical activity has furthermore been linked to a 20% to 30% increase in the risk of death compared to sufficiently active people.
Walking is a low-impact aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping and blood flowing. Engaging in regular walking can help improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, and strengthening the heart muscle.
For office workers who often struggle with weight management due to prolonged periods of sitting, walking can, moreover, play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy weight. Walking burns calories and helps boost metabolism, contributing to weight loss and weight maintenance. However, beyond just calories burned, regular physical activity has been proven to have positive outcomes in areas of cellular, metabolic (i.e., fuel utilisation), systemic (i.e., cardiovascular), and brain health.
Sitting for prolonged periods can lead to muscle imbalances, poor posture, and musculoskeletal issues. Walking furthermore helps to combat these problems by engaging various muscles and promoting flexibility and strength. It can alleviate back pain, reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders, and improve overall posture.
While walking may not be a high-intensity workout, it comes with clear physical health benefits. It is great for heart health, maintaining a healthy weight, improving circulation, and keeping your muscles and joints strong and healthy. When you have healthy and strong muscles and joints, you are less susceptible to injury and reduce your risk of osteoporosis or other bone-density-related conditions.
A sedentary lifestyle does not only wreak havoc on the body but is proven detrimental to the mind. On the flip side, did you know that moderate aerobic exercise, like walking, is also beneficial for your mental health and performance?
The mental health benefits of walking
When you are not in a good mental space, exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do. Mental fatigue can make you lazy and crave stimulants that contribute to further feelings of fatigue and dissolution. Getting motivated may not be easy, but it is essential.
According to Ashish, Madaan, and Petty, exercise helps to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It does so by reducing levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, on the one hand, and stimulating the release of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine on the other.
Endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are different chemicals in your body that make you happy, but they function in different ways:
- Serotonin helps stabilise your mood and well-being and plays an important role in your sleep/wake cycle.
- Endorphins are focused on pain and stress relief, which are important in reducing inflammation.
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain, which improves feelings of pleasure and happiness.
The mental benefits of walking however go beyond just improving your mood and reducing anxiety. The positive neurochemical effects of moderate aerobic exercise also help to boost cognitive function, productivity, and creativity.
The better regulation of stress and mood stabilisation hormones, as well as the stimulation of blood flow through the body and to the brain, helps to:
- Increase energy levels
- Promote better sleep
- Reduce brain fatigue
- Increase mental stamina
Moreover, walking promises to give you an edge by promoting creative thinking and problem-solving. A 2014 Stanford study shows creative thinking improves during and shortly after walking. In four different experiments, researchers had participants walk outdoors, walk on treadmills, remain seated inside, or be taken for a walk outside in a wheelchair. Levels of creativity were tested via a series of tests of divergent thinking and creative analogy generation. The results identified a clear link between walking and higher performance. Astonishingly, walking proved to increase participants’ creative output by around 60%. Importantly, the environment didn’t appear to be a prerequisite for this higher performance. Walking – both outdoors and indoors – consistently outperformed the seated conditions inside and outside in a wheelchair.
So now that we understand the transformative benefits of walking for office workers, how can we start to incorporate walking into our office routines?
Incorporate walking into office routines
Building new habits takes effort, time, planning, and a bit of perseverance. One has to actively pursue positive change. So how can you promote walking at your place of work?
A culture of walking: The first step towards developing a new habit is to create an environment wherein it can grow. Actively pursue walking as part of your workplace culture. Educate your workforce or colleagues about the benefits of walking and think of creative ways in which to champion throughout the organisation.
Active meetings: Instead of conducting meetings in a traditional seated setting, try walking meetings. Walking while discussing ideas and projects promotes physical activity and enhances creativity and collaboration.
Set reminders: Encourage regular breaks throughout the workday and set step goals for office workers. Encouraging short walks during breaks or using fitness trackers to track daily steps can help ensure people keep to their goals.