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Sitting Considered Deadly: Introduce Movement in Our Workdays

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Prolonged sitting wreaks havoc on our bodies and our minds. A first step to introduce more movement throughout your workday is to organize a sit-stand workstation, claimed Marek Stój in his talk "Sitting Considered Deadly" at Codemotion Amsterdam 2019. He suggested alternating between the two and trying out various ways in which one can sit or stand.

Many of the so-called civilization disease cases can actually be traced back to sedentariness, said Stój, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.

There is also a whole slew of problems related to the geometry of our bodies, he said. We as humans are great when it comes to adapting to an environment and to our ways of living, but adapting is by no means always beneficial or healthy. Lack of core muscle activation, shortening of the iliopsoas muscle, tension around shoulders and neck - all of these lead to sub-optimal biomechanics of our bodies during non-sitting activities, like simple walking, which in turn eventually causes pain and injuries.

Stój also mentioned that prolonged sitting also negatively affects our brains - it can make us anxious, angry, even depressed, and by raising cortisol levels makes us stressed out.

We need to introduce more movement throughout the entire workday to prevent health problems, said Stój. Of course, this is easier said than done, he mentioned, but a very good first step towards that goal is to organize a sit-stand workstation. The idea is not to just replace sitting still with standing still; you should alternate between the two and there are also many ways in which one can sit or stand, he said.

Once you stand up, you will quickly realize that it is kind of a gateway to movement. You will tend to fidget more, which is a good start, but add to that some occasional stretching, squats, spine twists and other movements, said Stój, which are easier to do when you are already standing, rather than when you are sitting. His bonus tip is to self-massage your feet with a Lacrosse ball.

Stój mentioned standitup.org, a not-for-profit initiative for spreading knowledge about the dangers of sedentariness among fellow IT geeks. The three main goals it aims to achieve are:

  1. Inform, educate, inspire.
  2. Catalyze the cultural change that is needed for mainstream adoption of new ways of working.
  3. Unite the industry and provide a platform for exchanging experiences and ideas related to bringing more physical activity to our workplaces.

Standitup.org was always thought of as just the very first step in the right direction, which is more movement in general, said Stój. It is now a part of a greater initiative, named wakeitup.io. He invites everyone to check out the website and become involved in the change we need in our world.

InfoQ spoke with Marek Stój after his talk at Codemotion Amsterdam 2019 about leading a healthier life and how employees can convince their managers.

InfoQ: How can we change our behavior to live a healthier life?

Marek Stój: That question is a tough one But I am glad you asked it. I will not give you specific tips, rather I will suggest to work on something fundamental that most likely will lead to answering this question for yourself in ways that will be most relevant to you, namely: self-awareness.

Most of us live our lives on auto-pilot, without slowing down even if just for a moment, to really think and reflect on things. I now know that I did, for the greater part of my life.

There are many paths you can take in order to become more self-aware, but I think the common theme, or a keyword, might be "meditation". It does not matter whether it is formal meditation practices like mindfulness, or informal ones like taking long walks, contemplating nature or religious devotion. Even in small doses, as long as it is habitual, it can bring you a lot of insight into yourself.

One of the easiest paths to your mind is through your body. That is why I can not recommend enough practices like Yoga, Tai-Chi or Qigong, by no means approached as ego-boosting, competition-like exercises or sport, but as a form of meditation in movement. This is crucial and something that I realized only after almost a year of "practicing" Yoga myself.

To summarize - open your mind and suspend your disbelief on some spirituality and you will soon see how answers to questions like the one I am trying to answer here, come naturally because you will start listening to your body’s, mind´s and heart’s needs. But be warned - it can drastically change your outlook on life, and your life itself for that matter. In other words - you might inadvertently escape the Matrix

InfoQ: What’s your suggestion for employees who want to convince their managers or company leaders?

Stój: I would suggest a bottom-up approach.

Step 1. Believe it yourself, educate and inform yourself so that you are truly motivated.

Step 2. Set an example, be proactive, find workarounds, go with DIY solutions if your work environment permits. Be bold and do not let your peers discourage you, because you know that what you are doing is right (see Step 1).

Step 3. People around you will eventually become curious and will stop looking at you funny. Help them out, spread the knowledge, gain their support.

Step 4. Once it is not only about you, then bring it to your managers, leaders - they too have to see it and believe it because they are office workers too. Then you can point them to various articles, studies and videos to convince them it is also worth it from a purely economic perspective.

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