Take a walk every day on your lunch break and watch how your career transforms
If I offered you a pill that would make you feel happier, and healthier, improve your ability to concentrate on your work, improve your relationship with your colleagues, and had no negative side effects, would you jump at the chance?
Walking can offer all these benefits and more and doesn’t cost you a penny!
Yet, a recent study showed that 62% of American workers eat lunch at their desks. So, not only are we not eating mindfully, but we are also forgoing our lunch breaks in favour of work.
Since May is National Walking Month, there is no better time to get outside than now.
Read on to find out how a short daily walk can help boost your wellbeing AND your career.
Will a walk on my lunch break help improve my wellbeing?
Taking regular breaks from work is essential for our wellbeing. As a society, we used to know this, which is why many countries around the world have laws in place to mandate the maximum number of hours an employee can work before they must take a break.
But as a society, it seems we no longer value breaks, especially for those who are working desk-based jobs.
But the studies on walking in your lunch break are astounding.
A study in 2015 found that workers who talk a 30-minute walk at lunchtime had “increased enthusiasm, felt more relaxed, and were less nervous after walking at lunchtime. They also improved their physical fitness and other measures of health.”
Another recent study of 51 office workers found 100% of participants (yes, you read that right, that is ALL of the participants) enjoyed their work more in the afternoon if they used their lunch break to go for a walk in the park.
Why is a walk on my lunch break so beneficial?
Technology is fighting for our attention more and more, so taking time to disconnect from devices is increasingly important. When you use your lunch break to go for a walk, you are taking time away from your computer, phone and other screens.
Plus, unlike other activities you could do on your lunch break, by going outside your notifications are less visible.
It can be hard to resist the urge to relax by diving into a scroll hole on social media. But it can be even harder to relax on our lunch break if you are still sat in front of your laptop screen, when your boss or colleague may ping you at any second with an urgent request. (Urgency culture sound familiar?)
By doing physical activity in an outdoor space, it is much easier to take a screen break and have a mini ‘digi-detox’ in the middle of your working day.
Break the ‘Groundhog day’ feeling
Have you noticed that working from home also feels like ‘Groundhog Day’, where every day feels the same? You get up, get dressed, empty the dishwasher, work, eat, work, eat, load the dishwasher, walk the dog, watch Netflix, sleep… repeat?
Time seems to move more slowly but the days seem to be flying by?
When we don’t have variation in our routine, it can feel like we are stuck in a time loop and we aren’t making the most out of our lives.
Going for a walk can help break our habitual patterns.
I can hear you asking: but what if I do the same walk every day? Won’t that become part of my routine too?
Well firstly, unlike inside our homes, the outside world is constantly changing. Even walking the same route each day will not be the same experience.
At the very least, the weather changes, the plants and foliage change according to the seasons, and you will see familiar neighbours and new faces on your walk.
But of course, I would also recommend varying your routes each day!
Changing your patterns can push you out of your comfort zone, and by walking to new areas you might discover something new about your neighbourhood – a coffee shop you didn’t know had opened, a shortcut to your nearest train station, or perhaps you will get to know your neighbours better.
The bonus benefits of walking in nature
Not all of us have the luxury of green space near our workplace, but if you can access a dose of nature on your walk, there are bonus benefits to be had.
A study in 2019 found that spending just 2 hours per week in direct contact with nature gave positive improvements to the well-being of the study’s participants.
And the good news is that you can hit that 2 hour mark on your Monday-Friday lunch break alone!
A 24 minute walk, 5 days a week would be exactly 2 hours.
There is also research showing that being nature can help improve your body image. A study in 2022 made the link between going for walks and improved body image.
The researchers theorised that it was due to “removing some of the triggers of body image anxiety, such as the focus on social media, and strengthening coping mechanisms to keep negative feelings in perspective.”
Spending time in nature is one of the few ways that we can practice just being human beings!
We are not doing, we are not analysing, comparing to others on Instagram, we are not watching our own reflection in a Zoom camera, we can just be.
(Plus, it’s for this same reason that getting onto our yoga mat can be so powerful too.)
How to make lunch break walks work for you
But what if you don’t feel you can step away from your computer, in case an urgent request comes in? What if you don’t feel you have time to take 20 minutes out of your day?
Well, unless you work in an emergency-based job like a paramedic on call, for most people in corporate roles, I suspect there is no work crisis that cannot wait 20 minutes.
That being said, we ALL can struggle at times to find an extra 20 minutes in our day.
Here are 5 ways to help find time to go for a walk on your lunch break:
1. Block out your walk time in your calendar and then protect that time like a mumma bear guards her cubs
Don’t accept invites for meetings during this time.
If you have a shared calendar that your colleagues can view, don’t let colleagues put meetings in at this time.
If you want to go a step further, tell your boss and your team that you will not be available for 20 minutes each lunch time as you will be taking your lunch break and going for a walk.
If you find this scary, remember that you can create a positive ripple effect for change in your organisation just by being the first person to take a step.
2. Make notifications work for you
Use notifications to your advantage. It can be a great way to remind you to stop what you’re doing and log out.
Your calendar might create an alert automatically if you have blocked the time, or you can set a recurring alarm on your phone to remind you.
3. Minimise the effort it takes you to get out the door
Leave your shoes and coat ready to go (and make sure they’re comfy ones!), put your keys on the side table, and so on.
The goal here is to reduce the number of steps you need to take between finishing your work and getting out the door.
4. Aim only to get out your front door
This is one I’ve stolen from habit change specialist Gretchen Rubin.
When she was trying to run more, she told herself her only goal was to step out her front door.
If she stepped out and still didn’t want to run, she could go back in. You can apply this to walking too!
Free up the time in your calendar, and then make it your goal to step out your front door (ideally with your keys in your pocket, and your shoes on!).
Sometimes the biggest barriers are in your mind, and it just takes on step out your door to make a difference.
5. Pair your walk with something you enjoy doing
Pair your walk with an activity you enjoy. You could:
- Listen to a new audio book, podcast, or radio show as you walk.
- Listen to a foreign language learning audio book (you can finally start learning Spanish?!)
- Call a friend whilst you walk.
- Reach out to a friend, neighbour or someone near to your workplace and ask them to join you each day.
There is a huge benefit to being mindful and present in nature, but I also recognize that spending a mindful 20 minutes with no distractions can be a challenge!
The power of making this a habit
By going for a walk on your lunch break, you are also tying your new habit to a trigger, which in this case is a specific time of day.
Imagine setting the goal “I want to walk more each week” – every single day, you have to make a decision on if you will walk and if so, when you will take your walk.
Going for a walk on your lunch break removes that decision making process, and with time your habit becomes more automatic.
Now, big disclaimer: I’m not actually the biggest fan of a lot of habit-change books since I think they often don’t consider the cyclical nature of our bodies.
For people who menstruate, there are obvious hormonal changes throughout each cycle. For everyone, energy levels fluctuate each day, and it’s important to work with our bodies, not against them.
However, in this case, a walk can be done in alignment with our bodies – our hormones and our energy levels!
You can absolutely go for a more challenging walk on some days, and a lighter stroll on others.
And by using your lunch break as a trigger, over time the habit will become more automatic.
In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he shares this graph, which shows how a daily walk becomes more automated over time.
But what about...?
I want to address some of the barriers you might have to walking on your lunch break.
There are always challenges and barriers that we face when implementing a new activity, so here are a few of the common reasons you might not want to go for a walk, and my suggestions for overcoming the challenges.
(Feel free to skip over if they don’t apply to you!)
I have BEEN there and I know, it can be so tempting to stay inside when hayfever strikes.
My number 1 tip for hayfever sufferers is to shower when you get back inside and change your clothes.
In particular, wash your eyebrows and eyelashes, and brush out your hair if it’s long.
Pollen can collect in those areas and continue to irritate you.
When you have de-pollinated, if you’re still struggling, then you can take an antihistamine medication if you take these for hayfever.
If walking or walking for a long time is not possible for you, remember you still get the benefits of nature by just being outside.
I love to take a hot drink to sit in the garden in the morning.
3. Lack of green space near you
If your office or home office is in a built-up area, you might struggle to find a place to get your nature dose. But you can still benefit from a walk!
Physical activity can be energising, you can take some time away from screens and devices (mini digi-detox!), give your mind some time to switch off and change up your routine.
The time to start is now!
As I write, I am just starting to see the weather improving – with the sun coming out more and more, there’s no better time to start taking a daily walk on your lunch break!
Implementing any new routine can be a challenge but I recommend that you try to stick with it for a longer period so you can start to see the benefits.
I suspect that you will soon find that not only will you benefit from daily walks, but you will also look forward to them as a highlight in your day.