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Nilofer Merchant: What's The One Workplace Hack That Can Improve Your Health?

Aug 2, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 9:11 am

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode How To Be Better.

About Nilofer Merchant's TED Talk

During a normal workday, most of us sit for hours on end ... and it's hurting our health. Nilofer Merchant has a simple solution: next time you have an important meeting, take a walk.

About Nilofer Merchant

Nilofer Merchant is an author and corporate director. She has worked with companies like Apple, Autodesk, and Adobe, helping them develop new product strategies, enter new markets, defend against competitors and optimize revenue.

Her books include 11 Rules for Creating Value In TheSocial Era, and The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World.

She holds an MBA from Santa Clara University and a BA in Applied Economics from the University of San Francisco.

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It's the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, ideas about how to be better - more confident, more calm, more intentional, even more healthy.


NILOFER MERCHANT: What you're doing right now at this very moment is killing you.


RAZ: This is writer Nilofer Merchant on the TED stage. And the thing she says that's killing you? Sitting down. (Laughter) Here's more from Nilofer Merchant on the TED stage.


MERCHANT: Nowadays, people are sitting 9.3 hours a day which is more than we're sleeping at 7.7 hours. Sitting is so incredibly prevalent, we don't even question how much we're doing it. And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't even occur to us that it's not OK. In that way, sitting has become the smoking of our generation.

And, of course, there's health consequences to this, scary ones, besides the waist. Things like breast cancer and colon cancer are directly tied to our lack of physical inactivity - 10% in fact, on both of those, 6% for heart disease, 7% for Type 2 diabetes, which is what my father died of. Now, any of those stats should convince each of us to get our duff more. But if you're anything like me, it won't.

What did get me moving was a social interaction. Someone invited me to a meeting but couldn't manage to fit me into a regular sort of conference room meeting and said, I have to walk my dogs tomorrow. Could you come then? Seemed kind of odd to do. And actually, that first meeting, I remember thinking, I have to be the one to ask the next question because I knew I was going to huff and puff during this conversation.

And yet, I've taken that idea and made it my own. So instead of going to coffee meetings or fluorescent-lit conference room meetings, I ask people to go on a walking meeting to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week. It's changed my life. But before that, what actually happened was I used to think about it as you could take care of your health, or you could take care of obligations, and one always came at the cost of the other. So now, several hundred of these walking meetings later, I've learned a few things.

First, there's this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking. Whether it's nature or the exercise itself, it certainly works. And second and probably the more reflective one is just about how much each of us can hold problems in opposition when they're really not that way. And if we're going to solve problems and look at the world really differently, whether it's in governance or business or environmental issues, job creation, maybe we can think about how to reframe those problems as having both things be true because it was when that happened with this walk-and-talk idea that things became doable and sustainable and viable.

So I started this talk talking about the tush. I'll end with the bottom line, (laughter) which is walk and talk. Walk the talk. You'll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking and the way that you do - you'll bring into your life an entirely new set of ideas. Thank you.


RAZ: That's writer Nilofer Merchant. You can find her full talk at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.