Barbara Shelly

May 22, 2014

The feats of footsteps just keep getting better

I was a believer in the powers of walking long before I learned that Steve Jobs and President Lyndon B. Johnson were into it. Walking is fun. I’ll trade a stroll for a lunch or coffee date any day.

For an activity that started fairly early in the evolutionary process, walking is getting a lot of attention.

Rarely does a week go by without another study touting the benefits of putting one foot in front of another for a sustained interval. Walking, we are told, wards off diseases like diabetes, helps you sleep better and reduces cravings for cigarettes and chocolate — not that an urge for chocolate is necessarily a problem.

Now comes a study from researchers at Stanford University putting a fresh spin on what walkers already know. Walking boosts creativity. It’s like nutrition for brainstormers. The surprise in the study is that the environment in which one walks doesn’t make a difference. You can be on a treadmill in a windowless room or meandering through a forest glen and get the same burst of inspiration.

Right on the heels of the Stanford study, Bloomberg news came out with a story extolling the walking meeting. “A full-fledged fad among executives,” it reported.

Steve Jobs, the Apple genius, was famous for inviting people out for rambles to drum up ideas or seal deals. Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg does business on the walk, and so do top executives of LinkedIn and Twitter, according to Bloomberg. It rather sounds as though the entire hierarchy of Silicon Valley is conducting top-level transactions in sneakers, and sometimes bringing along their dogs.

Presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson were prolific walkers and Barack Obama closes out many work days with a stroll along with his chief of staff.

Though not mentioned in the Bloomberg story, Aristotle, Beethoven and the poet William Wordsworth also were enthusiastic walkers.

Stories like these got me thinking about the possibilities of walking meetings. I would highly recommend them for:

Gov. Sam Brownback. Let’s just say things have become muddled for the Kansas governor lately, what with bad economic news, irate teachers following him around and the FBI reportedly asking questions about some of his associates.

I can say from personal experience that it’s good to take a stroll when you’re in a jam. Maybe some walking meetings out on the beautiful Kansas prairie will provide ideas for balancing the budget when the reserve fund runs dry. Or, more likely, how to spin the budget crisis to voters as the re-election campaign heats up.

All members of the Missouri legislature. Instead of sitting in an elevated posture and hearing testimony when they’ve already made up their minds, they should take committee hearings on the road, inviting interested citizens to join them. It would present an entirely different perspective.

As an added plus, walking meetings would separate legislators from the inevitable buffet, usually provided by an interest group. That alone would do wonders for waistlines and ethical appearances.

Mayor Sly James. The mayor of Kansas City has made no secret of his great love of the local cuisine. He’s a busy guy and walking meetings would provide exercise and, with luck, a flash of inspiration about a better way to pay for an extension of the streetcar line.

Me. I spend enough time in front of a computer to be seriously alarmed by recent studies on the health hazards of that other previously overlooked activity, sitting. (Organ damage, foggy brain, back problems, the list goes on.) If anybody is game for a walking interview, let me know.

I was a believer in the powers of walking long before I learned that Steve Jobs and President Johnson were into it. Walking is fun. I’ll trade a stroll for a lunch or coffee date any day. You see things. Conversations are more spontaneous. You finish up feeling better than when you started.

So how about walking book clubs, walking church services and walking Rotary Club lunches? Walking wakes, even. I know I would smile from the other side at the thought of my surviving family and friends taking a ramble in my memory.

Call it a meeting of the minds — and feet.

Reach Barbara Shelly at 816-234-4594 or Twitter: @bshelly.

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