Walk to Work Month: Encouraging employees to walk to work can boost physical and mental health
There are significant physical and mental health benefits associated with encouraging employees to walk to work, even if they work from home.
New research from the University of Cambridge reveals that a daily walk could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths, by reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Researchers found that just 11 minutes of exercise a day – less than half of the 150 minutes a week recommended by the NHS – could dramatically improve life expectancy. Other benefits include improved mental health, fitness, sleep and productivity.
Unfortunately increased remote working has caused many employees to give up walking and become even more sedentary. So for #WalktoWork month this May, here are some tips to get everyone walking. Even if they work from home or think they don’t have time for this.
How to encourage employees to walk to work
1. Count those steps
Help employees to take stock of how active they are by getting them to look at how many steps they’re doing. Most smart phones come with built-in health apps, such as Apple’s Health App, that automatically count your steps throughout the day. Encourage employees to take a look to see how close they are to the recommended 10,000 steps a day.
How does the number of steps that they are doing fluctuate during the week? Especially on the days when they are working from home? If their step count is low, what goals would they like to set to build more activity into their day? Could they consider incorporating walking some, or all of the way, to work as part of their daily routine?
2. Eliminate barriers
Lots of people who want to be more active in theory aren’t doing this in practice. The biggest perceived barrier is that they don’t have enough time. They say they don’t have time to walk to work ‘because of the school run’ or ‘the distance they have to travel’. In reality, most of these ‘barriers’ are just ‘excuses’ because there are usually ways around them.
Help employees to overcome perceived barriers by encouraging them to think more creatively. Could they incorporate walking into their school run, park further away from work or get off the bus two stops earlier? If there are still some genuine barriers, could you as their employer help by allowing them to start work 10 minutes later? If they have a team catch-up every morning, perhaps the team could do this as a walking meeting instead?
3. Enourage homeworkers to commute
Most people don’t realise how much more sedentary working from home has made them. People who used to do a brisk walk to the train station every day are now sitting indoors all day. Fortunately, there’s no reason they can’t still ‘walk to work’ by going for a brisk walk before their day starts. It just hasn’t occurred to them that they can still ‘commute’.
A blast of fresh air and getting the heart pumping not only boosts physical health, including musculoskeletal health, but also mental health and concentration.So encourage everyone, including those working from home to ‘walk to work’ this May, to see how this makes them feel. Encourage them to take part and ask if they feel more energised and productive? If so, is this something they might like to make a regular habit?
4. Get people to buddy up
It’s easy for the motivation to walk to work to slip on a cold, wet day. Encouraging employees to think about what they can wear to keep warm and dry in advance of bad weather can help. As can getting them to buddy up. If they know they’ll be walking with a friend or colleague for some of the way, this will encourage them to honour that commitment.
Having someone to talk to will also give them something else to look forward to and make the walk go faster. For homeworkers, having a regular walking buddy will also give them an opportunity to replace some of their lost social interaction and ‘watercooler conversation’. Just be sure to encourage those walking together to keep the pace up, so their walk remains a good form of exercise and doesn’t turn into an amble.
5. Keep the challenge going
As people gain fitness through walking to work, you might also want to encourage them to think about what else they can do. Maybe they can walk even further or faster. Or perhaps they would like to start cycling, jogging or running some of the way to boost their fitness even more.
Maybe they would like to start doing a secondary activity, such as yoga or an organised sport, to exercise other muscle groups as well. Make sure they set realistic stretch goals and don’t try to do too much too soon. If they overexert themselves, this could cause them to injure themselves and give up. Instead, they should be challenging themselves to do just a little bit more to keep stretching themselves – and their muscles – in healthy ways.
Six reasons to work to walk to work
Download our flyer on how to take part in this month’s walk to work challenge. It’s packed with motivational tips and insights to get everyone moving.
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