“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.” -Charles Dickens

During a huge life change, which was causing stress, which was in turn causing insomnia, which was in turn causing depression, I confessed to my doctor that I was getting desperate and was willing to try anything to get some sleep. My doctor very pragmatically, somewhat drily, recommended that I start taking a 45 minute walk every day. So easy-peasy I thought he must be pulling my leg. But he insisted that a brisk and, in his words, “mindful” walk would reset my brain. He didn’t get into all the sciencey business about increasing the brain’s production of endorphins and its analgesic effect on pain or that odd sense of well-being in the mind serotonin can provoke. He just said “Walk. And pay attention while you’re walking.”

Boy, was that sound advice. I’ve noticed since, that while every walk is a little different, when I walk at work a three stage pattern has emerged. First, my brain natters on nervously about a million small things: emails I need to answer, scheduling changes, follow-up conversations I need to have, the prioritization of every task before me, my calendar.  Next, I shift into longer thoughts and untangle larger problems.  I’m able to have what sounds more and more like a productive conversation with myself. I feel a little more confident and much less worried. And finally, and this is why I walk on my lunch hour, I stop fretting about work all together, my head clears and I return, dare I say it, happier.

As it turns out, a happy brain is a creative and productive thing. There is so much out there on positive psychology and the effects it has on a company’s success that I was overwhelmed when I started looking into it. Happy people collaborate better, stay calmer in a crisis, are more creative, more motivated, less inclined to make errors that are the end result of worrying about making errors.  And the end results are quantifiable not just anecdotal. In an article for the Harvard Business Review blog, Shawn Anchor cited a 2008 study by Gallup Healthways that shows that employees who score low in “life satisfaction,” stay home an average of 1.25 more days a month than those employees who score high. That’s 15 days of lost productivity! Other research at gallup indicates retail companies with a high “employee life satisfaction” are able to increase revenue by up to $21 PER SQUARE FEET. This is all important bottom line stuff for managers and leaders to address. But the most relevant bottom line for the individual is that we do better when we feel better. And we feel better when we get out and walk.

Anchor, S. “Positive Intelligence.” Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence/ar/1

(by guest blogger/newsletterist Allisa Cherry)

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