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We are so lucky to live in the era we do, with unprecedented access to technology and solutions to keep us healthy at work. Once-dangerous factory jobs and construction and labor positions have become regulated for worker safety, and we continue to develop tools to make jobs faster, easier, and safer. In general, the development and spread of new technology should be increasing our comfort and convenience and keeping us healthy at work.
For office jobs, though, technology has been a double-edged sword. It’s making us more productive, but keeping us longer at our desks. The compromise is making us sick. We’re beginning to collectively recognize the need to change our workplace lifestyles, but the path to doing so is fraught with disagreement. What exactly should we change about our workdays to keep us healthy?
One proposed solution that is growing in popularity is a switch to walking meetings instead of sit-down meetings. Walking meetings are a simple and easy suggestion, easy to implement in most office spaces. They represent a direct, one-to-one swap from sitting time to standing time. There’s no need to invest in any new equipment, and the time slots are already penciled into your schedule, just with a different, active location.
A popular article by Jill Margo references the numerous benefits of walking meetings. Citing reports and studies conducted by the University of Miami, Stanford, and the Harvard Business Review, Margo claims that walking meetings increased workplace physical activity by an average of 10 minutes. Participants also reported increased energy, creativity, and efficiency.
Why Settle For Less?
While walking meetings do have a range of physical and psychological benefits, they can’t single-handedly keep you healthy. The article proposes implementing walking meetings instead of standing desks, but this is a misleading suggestion. It implies that walking meetings and standing desks serve the same purpose, to the same degree, and that the health benefits of either are interchangeable. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the function of standing desks—and the hazards of long-term sitting—and this misunderstanding can have real consequences on our health.
Participants in the studies Margo cites reported a 5 percent increase in workplace creativity and an 8.5 percent likelihood of increased engagement. In addition, the studies suggest thirty minute walks with no more than three people for best results. Margo acknowledges that these results are small, but pitches them as a success because, after all, something is better than nothing. But why settle for less, when it’s so easy to do more?
Switching to walking meetings while remaining the rest of the day at a desk is a little bit like trying to lose weight by foregoing a candy bar in between McDonald’s meals. It’s a good start in the right direction, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. Once we start thinking about our workplace health holistically, it becomes clearer that standing desks and walking meetings aren’t interchangeable. They’re two different tools in a utility belt, like a hammer and a saw. Why throw away one when you can use both?
Understanding Standing Desks
Standing desks exist to reduce the amount of time we spend stationary at work. Though walking meetings serve this end to an extent, even employees who hold four meetings a day are still at risk of “sitting disease” if they spend the rest of the workday at a desk. Studies show that the benefits of physical activity, though important, don’t cancel out the harm done by time spent sedentary. Spending more than thirty minutes at a time sitting motionless at a desk is harmful, whether or not you’ve switched to walking meetings.
There are so many ways to promote health in the workplace, and walking meetings are absolutely one of them. But it would be foolish to ignore the benefits of standing desks when there are so many, and the results can be so profound. In fact, studies show that employees who have incorporated standing up into their workplace routines report the same or better results than the ones Margo cites for walking meetings!
One Latvian study showed a ten percent increase in productivity from employees that worked from a standing desk. Other studies point to the powerful links between movement and cognitive function, suggesting that standing desks boost creativity and brainpower. So even beyond the physical benefits of simultaneously reducing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, standing desks promote creativity and productivity as well or better than walking meetings, and the benefits extend throughout the workday, instead of being contained to half-hour blocks of time.
As if that weren’t good enough, some studies show that people who stand while they work are more likely to move around in general, whether doing periodic stretches or walking to a coworker’s cubicle to talk to them instead of sending an email. This trend indicates that standing desks can be a gateway for making healthier choices, even away from the desk.
Your Workplace Utility Belt
Standing desks are an immensely useful way to achieve healthier workdays, and there isn’t really a comparable alternative. No matter how you spend your breaks or how you host your meetings, it’s important not to spend long stretches of the day sitting down.
Don’t compromise your health by throwing away one of your most valuable tools. Instead, combine your resources to build the comprehensive workplace utility belt that you deserve. Take walking meetings, and then take a break later in the day to go for a jog. Walk to your lunch spot instead of ordering delivery food. Take regular breaks to breathe and stretch. And while you’re doing all this, incorporate a sit-stand routine to keep working efficiently, and maximize your productivity, while ensuring that you’re not sitting down for more than 30-minute stretches.
Whether you work from home or in a corporate office, buying a standing desk is a valuable means towards a healthier lifestyle. You don’t have to choose between walking meetings and standing desks—just do both!