Walking the talk

Walking the talk 

by Billy McLean Associate AHP Director NHS Ayrshire and Arran

Follow on Twitter @billyahpd

Positive contagion

Leadership is often about walking the talk and leading by example.  This isn’t just about work but could include lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, leisure and making time for family and friends.  Leaders can act as a positive contagion, infecting those around them with positive habits.  This in turn can lead others to become a positive contagion infecting their colleagues, friends and family who in turn spreading health promoting habits.  The ultimate health promoting health service.

Even worse than Smokadiabesity!


Humans evolved to be hunter gatherers and more recently farmers, all of which required a high level of physical activity.  In very recent times with the development of the motor car and computers we have become increasingly sedentary with many of us finding it difficult to meet even the minimum recommendations for physical activity (1).  Low physical fitness is now seen as a major predictor of early death with more serious consequences for your health than smoking, diabetes and obesity combined, or Smokadiabesity (2).

Making the change

When I made the transition from clinical physiotherapist to desk based manager I certainly felt the negative effects of a more sedentary lifestyle.  Moving from a job which allowed me to remain relatively active throughout the day to one where I could spend 8 to 9hours per day sitting in meetings, at my computer or in my car.  I quickly put on weight and developed low back pain when sitting.  The birth of my first daughter also disrupted my physical activity at home so I began to feel the psychological impact of inactivity.  I had to do something, so I looked at how I could build physical activity into things I was already doing.  I decided to try literally walking the talk.  Rather than meeting people in an office or for a coffee, I suggested that we walked whilst we talked.  This gave me (and them) 30-45min moderate exercise whilst still getting through the work.  There have been a few hiccups along the way, and I haven’t done a formal evaluation, but in general I have found that we covered more business, felt more energised and took less time than during the office based equivalent.  Here are my 5 top tips for a successful walking one to ones.

Give them notice

Ask the person you intend to walk with at the time you are arranging the meeting rather than when they arrive for the meeting.  This gives them the time to prepare and consider how they might make the format work for them.

Plan for the route and the weather

It sounds obvious but you don’t want to take someone on their first walk and talk in the pouring rain or through fields of mud and brambles, or you might put them off for life.



Again seems obvious but in the early days I wouldn’t pre-warn  people that we might be walking until they turned up at my office.  This meant that some people (mentioning no names @DebbieProvanRD) would feel obliged to join me despite wearing four inch heals.  Blisters are not good for a focussed meeting.

Portable devices

b3One of the barriers some people have to walking meetings is if they in the habit of making preparatory notes or taking notes during meetings.  I get around this by using portable devices such as smart phones and others I have walked with use a small note book

Summarise understanding and actions back at the office

This is something I tend to do at the end of meetings anyway but it is particularly good when walking and talking to ensure that those involved have a shared understanding of the outcome and any actions.  This allows time for jotting down key points and action notes.

I’ll leave you with a few questions:

Are you a positive contagion?

How are you limiting your sedentary activities to 23.5hrs per day? (3)

How might walking and talking work for you and those you work with?

How else could you build physical activity into your working day?


  1. Scottish Government, 2011. UK Physical Activity Guidelines, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213740/dh_128145.pdf
  2. Murray, A, 2013.  The Couch is the Killer.  You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKvd-yPFuKM
  3. Evans, M 2013.  23 and a half hours.  You Tube.

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