Last year, at the end of a busy workday, I heaved myself out of my home office chair, my whole body creaking. Pain shot down my legs and arms as blood flowed back into my limbs. I winced as I stretched for the first time after sitting for hours hunched over a keyboard and screen.
It was another typical workday during the pandemic—one that saw several hours of back-to-back video meetings. My mind had been productive, but my body had moved barely at all. I paid for it with physical pain and a terrible night’s sleep. This experience taught me a very important lesson: My body is not made to sit for long periods of time. Ever since that day, when I take phone calls, I try to at least stand at my desk or take my phone with me on a walk.
I’m not alone in discovering the dangers of sedentary work.
A Sitting Epidemic
You’ve heard of “couch potatoes,” but what about “desk spuds”? Most of us are spending 71 percent of our workday sitting, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health, productivity, and lives. Remote work has most of us glued to our screens and working longer hours than ever.
A sedentary lifestyle may smell a whole lot better, but there is ample evidence that it’s just as deadly as smoking, contributing to type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, other diseases, and premature death. If you need more motivation to lace up your walking shoes, the National Cancer Institute has reported that active individuals have a lower risk of many types of cancer.
You don’t need a ton of activity to get healthy. The World Health Organization released guidelines in 2020, recommending that adults get a minimum of 150–300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75–150 minutes of intense activity, or a combination of the two per week.
We’ll leave recommendations about exercise to your doctor; we’re not here to lecture. But what if we suggested a few ways to take good care of your health while still maintaining, or even boosting, top-notch remote work performance? It is possible, and meetings can be the key to adding a healthy dose of movement into your workday. After all, you spend much of your time syncronous and asyncronous activities on the job and you’re already exercising your brain and creativity in your high-paying remote job. It just makes sense to add some physical exercise to the mix to pump up everything.
Why Are Meetings Ideal for Hitting Pause on Sitting?
Many in-person meetings require us to at least get up and walk to a meeting room, so we’re already on the right path. But with remote meetings, research shows we actually move less.
It’s not all grim news, though. When we’re remote, we have the opportunity to hop up in our bunny slippers and move.
It’s pretty easy to talk while also doing light to moderate activity. In fact, a meeting can be a great way to measure how we’re doing. If we can still carry on a conversation and present our notes, we’re probably getting a great workout. If we’re puffing like a water buffalo, we’re overdoing it.
A meeting is a great option for exercise because it becomes a group activity. Group motivation is a powerful tool. And working out during meetings can even improve morale, productivity, and creativity. One 2020 study found that walking meetings felt less formal and helped participants walk their way to innovative ideas, so getting your team moving can help boost performance as well as contribute to healthier activity patterns.
These Meetings Are Made for Walkin’ and That’s Just What They’ll Do
Some workplaces have already introduced walking meetings, with workers taking their phones with them for a stroll during video conferences. Some organizations are even providing tracks so teams can walk and work right in the office.
If you’d like to introduce more activity into your meetings, the first step is to change perspectives about what your meetings look like. Set an example by being active yourself and consider letting your teams turn video and audio off so they can work out without feeling self-conscious about their movements, ’80s headbands, or sweat.
Before you begin your new meeting routine, think about the physical abilities, health, and preferences of your employees. You don’t want to ask someone who hasn’t exercised in six years to do 20 jumping jacks. Ideally, your team members should go at their own pace and consult a doctor before starting any new workout routine.
Also prior to implementing any move-it meetings, have an honest conversation at work about why movement is important and what team members feel comfortable with when it comes to fitness. Talking about it first can help make sure your move-it meetings are inclusive, too. The CDC has compiled a guide for workplaces interested in getting people out of their chairs, offering lots of good ideas for joint activities.
A Few Move-It Meeting Tips
Whether you’re working remotely or in the office, there are many ways to incorporate exercise beyond just walking during work time:
- Stand up for meetings:
Occasionally ask your team to stand. Standing meetings get everyone on their feet and let you work up to more active meeting styles.
- Start with physical activity:
Starting a meeting with a few stretches gets the blood flowing. You can also build in breaks for more stretches and movement midway through.
- Set meeting challenges:
A fun way to get your team moving is to tap into the competitive spirit. Brainstorm challenges you can set up to encourage one another to get active at meetings. Maybe you can wear fitness trackers—with one in five major employers offering them, you may already be wearing one at work—and see who walks the farthest during the day or the meeting. Perhaps you can vote on who chooses the most creative exercise for your meeting and offer small rewards every few weeks to keep everyone motivated.
- Bounce into productivity:
Rebounders offer a full-body, low-impact workout. Ask your team members to bounce on mini-trampolines during the meeting, going at their own pace as they hop into fitness.
- Lift it:
Try some iron pumping with your number crunching as you seek a healthier lifestyle at work. Ask your team to show up with weights or even water bottles or soup cans and do some reps during the meeting. Helping your employees improve their physical health, will result in higher energy and better clarity.
- Lead your team in a few desk exercises:
During the meeting, depending on mobility, you can do arm circles, stretches, or leg lifts as a group. This is an inclusive and low-exertion way to move together while still allowing a focus on work.
- Meet in remote locations:
If you’re having video conference meetings, you’re probably used to seeing your team members’ living rooms, kitchens, and home offices. How about encouraging them to take the meeting to their favorite workout spot instead? Whether it’s the local fitness center, home gym, pool, or hiking trail, it can spark some fun conversations about workout preferences and lets everyone pick their own place to exercise.
Stand Up for Activity
Ever notice that “sit” sounds a whole lot like something else? Don’t let your teams sit all over themselves. Just as you cheer one another on to do your best work, impress clients, and meet deadlines, your employees can encourage one another to get moving. Who knows? You may find yourself actually looking forward to meetings once you add movement and activity to your daily routine.
Desk spuds no more! Creak-free bones and painless bodies after a long workday await.