05/23/2017 11:08 EDT | Updated 05/30/2017 04:13 EDT

What Do Empathy, Walking, And Advocacy Have In Common?

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Glass globe and phonendoscope on the white surface

Last week, Montreal was host to the Regional World Health Summit (WHS). Over the course of these two days, it became clear to me and many present that Health had become more comprehensive in scope.

"It takes healthy humans to make society function and it takes a healthy society to make individuals want to stay."

I attended a panel discussion on the transformation of built environments and social norms in large cities, featuring Basile Chaix researcher at the French National Health Institute of Health and Medical Research, and Gordon Price, former Vancouver city councillor and director of City program. These researchers agreed that in order to lead a healthy life, "cities should be a combination of transit and walking."

On transport planning, Dr Chaix's research reveals that public transport in metropolitan areas is a major contributor to physical activity (walking) and that the probability of walking the trip increases with the density of green spaces and surrounding services. Mr Price reinforces these findings through his own observations: tearing down "neighbourhood silos" and sharing of common (green) spaces are contributing to greater physical activity. Making these spaces more shareable allows people to spend more time outdoors!

Mr. Chaix warns however that this study is not an end in itself. Two other variables - air pollution and noise exposure in urban areas - need further study. These may be taking a toll on our health, particularly here in Montreal. With more research, we will eventually be able to measure the impact of concentrated construction sites and noise pollution and how it is damaging to our health. Two studies on the topic speak for themselves: Quieting Down Could Save Billions in Heart Disease Costs and Science Confirms Traffic Jams are Bad for Your Health.

On a more positive note, two very special guests underscored fundamental issues: the importance of caring without discrimination and engaging with the audience in a common reflection.

Quebec-born Dr. Joann Liu, International President of Doctors without Borders, invited us into her world of caring without discriminating.

Dr Liu kept us on the edge of our seats as she brought us into her world of war-stricken zones and heart-breaking decisions. Of all the important lessons she shared, one stood out: let your concerns be known if you believe they warrant immediate attention, let them be known louder if no one's listening, and even louder until the right person or organisation can help you. In other words, step out of your comfort zone and be relentless as if your life depended on it. In this case, Dr Liu was referring to the Ebola epidemic.

Dr. Brian Hodges had two important messages which everyone can take home and apply in their own lives. By everyone, I mean, business owners, employees, entrepreneurs, government officials, parents, teachers.

First, we must advocate for the humane organisation: "Don't look the other way when you witness dysfunction." If you are aware that a colleague is suffering from a physical or mental illness and you fail to do help, someone else down the line, another colleague, a patient, a client will suffer as a consequence. It is our moral duty to care and to take responsibility.

Second, let's make "compassion" part of the public agenda. Projects that aim to help young doctors develop their compassion are being integrated into medical schools in the US. How about developing this approach in businesses? "Compassionate" workshops or simulations.

Some have it naturally, others need to put in some work. Regardless, it's a commendable idea. I think Dr Hodges was also aiming a more political goal: to have the government prioritize compassion as you would investments in technology, where hospitals or businesses would be assessed on their compassion level. I don't see this as idealist. Remember how empathy was mocked some ten years ago and today is commonly found in literature?.

Today, these may be seen as tall orders but I am convinced that if we take small steps toward more humanity, we will be contributing to each other's health.

As a business blogger, I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of integrating health factors in our professional environments. This is why I was looking forward to report to my readers some highlights of this event. I will be advocating more frequently good healthy practices that can be implemented in the workplace because we can all contribute to making our society healthier.

Warm thanks to the fabulous organizing committee at Université de Montréal for having me as a guest.

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