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Walking Meetings Affect Worker Mood, Productivity and Physical Activity, New Study Finds

A new analysis of data collected as part of a pilot study led by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has found that walking meetings affect worker mood and productivity while increasing physical activity levels.

In the era of COVID-19, walking meetings lasting 30 to 60 minutes are considered a healthy alternative to face-to-face meetings that take place indoors. They generally include the same information covered during traditional seated meetings but are slightly modified for walking.

“Our pilot study found that moderate occupational physical activity was correlated with decreased work time missed due to health reasons and decreased impairment while working due to health reasons, once again exhibiting how important moving is for maintaining good mental and physical health,” said study lead author Hannah E. Kling, M.P.H., a Ph.D. candidate in the Prevention Science and Community Health Program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends engaging in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week, and engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of the two each week for maintaining good health.

Risks from sedentary work environments

White-collar workers, whose work environment often requires prolonged periods in static work posture are at greater risk for the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, including chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A potential solution, as shown the study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is holding walking meetings.

“Although based on a relatively small sample, the walking meeting pilot study data support the notion that regular walking can support improved mood and worker productivity,” said study senior author Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of public health sciences at the Miller School.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 18 white-collar workers from a university in Florida. Participants wore an accelerometer for three consecutive weeks, during which they continued their normal seated meetings. In weeks two and three, participants conducted one walking meeting in groups of two or three people.

Although walking meetings increased physical activity, different degrees of increase produced different results. A light increase in physical activity was significantly correlated with lower productivity, while a moderate increase was significantly correlated with higher productivity.

“This simple workplace intervention showed that walking outside on a safe, clear path while taking an audio/video work conference call can increase physical activity and affect mood and productivity,” Dr. Caban-Martinez said.

All activity is not the same

Nonetheless, different levels of activity can have different impacts. In week three, for example, vigorous physical activity was also significantly correlated with negative mood among the workers.

The researchers suggest that further longitudinal studies with larger sample sizes are necessary to help determine the potential for walking meetings in increasing physical activity among white-collar workers. Future research should explore the relationship between the health benefits and sub-levels of light and moderate physical activities across longer observational periods and varying frequencies of walking meetings.

“Although this pilot study suggests walking meetings are correlated with improved productivity and mood, additional research is needed to determine the associations between participating in varying amounts and lengths of walking meetings while at work and the resulting physical and mental health benefits,” Kling said.

Co-authors of this study were Kevin J. Moore, M.D., M.P.H., from Harvard Medical School, and Debi Brannan, Ph.D., from Western Oregon University.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on January 27, 2021