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Walk the Talk and Break the Desk-bound Habit

Wood-bridgeChocolate is actually good for us? A glass of red wine per the doctor’s orders? These are just a few examples of seemingly incompatible matches that come together to deliver the most unexpected benefits. Balancing work commitments and a lifestyle that builds a healthy mind and body can be surprisingly symbiotic.  

There’s no shortage of research reports and studies advising us of the need to exercise regularly.  On the other hand, job responsibilities continue to broaden due to higher performance standards and greater unpredictability in the marketplace.

The result is a time-management predicament that can pit one goal against the other. Yet, with just a little effort and the right mindset, we can not only make impressive strides in reaching our job and fitness goals, but also apply the benefits of improved health to our organization’s top and bottom lines.

Nilofer Merchant, a business innovator specializing in workplace issues, addresses the subject head-on by pointing out that each day we sit an average of 9.3 hours – and sleep an average of 7.7 hours. She refers to our sedentary work day as “the smoking of our generation” because since everyone else is inactive, it’s not considered a problem, despite heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other health risks. What is Merchant doing about it? She’s replaced meetings in conference rooms and coffee shops, (approximately four per week) with walking meetings that bring her and her colleagues to the nearest park or other outdoor space, and she’s noticed some interesting side benefits.

Walking while talking side by side allows Merchant to listen more closely, share ideas more easily and confidentially, and think more creatively in a setting where hierarchical differences are more relaxed. And most of us remember Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum’s hike in Silicon Valley before agreeing on their $19 billion deal earlier this year. Zuckerberg and Koum are now among the many business leaders who are walking through business decisions.

I recently followed their lead and took my first walking meeting in New York with some colleagues from the AICPA and CIMA, as we discussed the upcoming CGMA strategic case study examination, and I can vouch for the benefits Merchant describes. And Merchant isn’t a lone voice in championing the compatibility of exercise and the workplace. Research performed by organizations ranging from the National Institutes of Health to Stanford University recognize the benefits of a pro-exercise work culture to the organization:

  • Stronger morale, camaraderie and team spirit
  • More positive, energized and confident employees
  • Higher productivity levels
  • Renewed inspiration for fresh ideas, creativity and innovation
  • Reduced absenteeism and health care costs
  • Increased employee loyalty and decreased turnover

This year the AICPA, along with CIMA, joined thousands of organizations from around the world competing in the Global Corporate Challenge, an employee health and performance program created by Get the World Moving. As a participant, we’ve created 60 seven-person employee teams, with each person equipped with an accelerometer and driven by a goal to log at least 10,000 steps daily.    

Organizations take many different paths to a healthier work force and stronger organizational performance. However, there’s one thought to keep in mind along the journey – the most impressive results are achieved not by making extreme leaps and bounds but by taking it just one step at a time.

Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, Senior Vice President, Management Accounting & Global Markets, American Institute of CPAs.

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