"Peripatetic Meetings" Promote Health and Creative Thinking

Walking during a meeting can boost creative output and physical well-being.

Posted Jul 02, 2016

Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

The ancient Greeks understood the link between walking, well-being, and optimizing brain function. Hippocrates wisely noted, “Walking is the best medicine.” In keeping with the principle of mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body), Aristotle (384–322 BC) founded the legendary Peripatetic School in Athens, where teaching took place while strolling on pathways around the Lyceum campus. 

“Peripatetic” comes from the Greek word peripatetikos and refers to the act of walking. Peripatetic is often used to mean ‘traveling on foot from place to place, wandering, meandering, or walking about.’

Steve Jobs was notorious for holding innovative business meetings while walking. Jobs learned from life experience that he and his colleagues at Apple did their best thinking and problem solving whilst walking. This is true for all of us. If you can arrange for you and your co-workers to have walking meetings—as opposed to sitting around a conference table—it will improve physical health, boost cognitive performance, and creative output.

Walking Meetings Increase Daily Physical Activity

A new study was published this week which found that changing just one seated work-related meeting per week into a "walking meeting" significantly increased the physical activity levels of white-collar office workers. (I found the term “walking meeting” kind of pedestrian, in an uninspiring way, and came up with the term “peripatetic meeting” to add some pizzazz.)

The June 2016 study, "Opportunities for Increased Physical Activity in the Workplace: the Walking Meeting,” was published by public health researchers with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

These findings offer new empirical evidence, along with a health initiative, that could improve the well-being of millions of white-collar workers who spend most of their workdays sitting. Sedentarism has become a 21st century epidemic which threatens the health of our bodies and minds.

The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity for adults, which adds up to about 30 minutes most days of the week. Previous studies have found that engaging in moderate exercise, which includes brisk walking, for as little as 15 minutes per day, can add up to three years of life expectancy.

In a statement, the current study's principal investigator, Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, assistant professor of public health sciences at University of Miami, said,

"There are limited opportunities for physical activity at work. This walking meeting pilot study provides early evidence that white-collar workers find it feasible and acceptable to convert a traditional seated meeting into a walking meeting.

Physical activity interventions such as the walking meeting protocol that encourage walking and raise levels of physical activity in the workplace are needed to counter the negative health effects of sedentary behavior."

For this study, office workers who participated in the walking meeting study wore accelerometers to measure physical activity levels during the workday over a three-week period. They also followed a "walking meeting protocol" that included guidance for leading meetings and taking notes while walking.

Peripatetic Meetings Can Boost Creative Thinking

In 2014, I wrote a Psychology Today blog post, “Why Does Walking Stimulate Creative Thinking?” based on research from Stanford University which found that walking increases creative capacity.

The Stanford study, by Marily Oppezzo  and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking,” appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

In a statement, Oppezzo said, “Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why.”

The researchers found that when the task at hand required imagination, taking a walk stimulated more creative thinking than sitting. In fact, the researchers found that those who walked instead of sitting consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking—such as thinking of alternate uses for common objects and coming up with original analogies to capture complex ideas.

To confirm if walking was actually the source of creative inspiration, Oppezzo compared responses of students who walked outside or inside on a treadmill with the responses of students who were pushed around in a wheelchair both outside and indoors. Across the board, the students who walked, whether indoors on a treadmill or outside, came up with more creative responses than those who sat inside or traversed terrain in a wheelchair outdoors.

“While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity,” Oppezzo concluded. “Incorporating physical activity into our lives is not only beneficial for our hearts but our brains as well. This research suggests an easy and productive way to weave it into certain work activities.”

Conclusion: "Sitting Is the New Smoking"

Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock
Source: Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock

James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, invented the treadmill desk. From a public health perspective, Levine believes, "Sitting is the new smoking." 

Luckily, there are easy remedies for sedentarism. One of the easiest is to go for a walk. Hopefully, the new research on the benefits of holding meetings while walking will lead more managers and business leaders to turn sedentary office meetings into peripatetic opportunities. 

To read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts, 

© 2016 Christopher Bergland. All rights reserved.

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