My first job major after graduation from university was as a photographer at a TV station. I was up and around, carrying a camera, sometimes backdrops. I crawled under things, stood on chairs, held flash mechanisms while shooting, distorted my posture for just the right angle. In the darkroom (pre-digital age) I stood by a sink of chemical baths. As I progressed into education I stood while facilitating classes. This began to demand more sitting as well: planning and resource preparation. Computers then became more common in offices. My next move was running computer skills training and while I stood in sessions, preparing for them was done on computer. There was a dramatic increase in sitting.

The progress from ape to geek

Based on the 1970 picture of human evolution called The March of Progress, Rudolph Zallinger

Based on the 1970 picture of human evolution called The March of Progress, Rudolph Zallinger

The modern office culture doesn’t provide much scope for moving.  Workstations are technologies themselves, often bolted in place with limited scope for arrangement.  The computer is the new centrepiece.  And office etiquette is such that workmates may find it embarrassing when a colleague stands and stretches, lowering their heads with a creak.

I’d like to see the office culture change to one where it is uncommon for colleagues not to join in the occasional stretching rather than lowering their heads.  A culture where we promote standing, stretching, moving rather than making the stretcher feeling like a misfit.

I’m personally motivated because sitting at a computer nearly cripples me and certainly diminishes the amount I can do during the day.  And often it’s my personal time that loses out.  My walk up the hill in the morning and back home again in the evening is just not enough.  I need to get up and move every 30 minutes or so.  If I do, I extend my capability.

How often do you think you SHOULD stretch?  Just in the morning or before you go to bed?  How about every hour at the most, every 30 minutes or less if you already have symptoms of strain?   Can you imagine how unhealthy we would be if we had to go out of the office every time we needed to stretch or move?  If you feel like a dope stretching in your office chair, just enjoy being different.

Often we wait to have programmes offered, like the Rec Centre’s Step it Up, or the VUW month of well-being.  Extrinsic motivation.  What about your responsibility to yourself?  Your health is one of the most important assets you have and you are the best caretaker of your needs.  The employer has some responsibility for providing a safe and healthy workplace with a sane workload but only you can ensure that the break times you have a right to are used.  And how they are used.

You work better when you’re healthy. And you have more energy after-work time, too.

Following is a short look at the research, VUW health-specific people and self-help programmes, several online exercise sites if you prefer to do things at your desk and some interesting animated videos about posture while using laptops and phones.

Sitting at work – research

Research shows we should join the movers, the stretchers.  Moving may save your life.  Or at least make it less painful.
After I began working on this I found an article on the front page of the Dom Post on Monday 4 August about new research on this topic.  Auckland University of Technology (AUT) researcher Grant Schofield says that ‘the modern workplace is clearly broken’.  A recent article published in the Medical Journal of Australia points out that we sit for more than 75 per cent of our office workday.  Researchers say these long periods of sitting still are connected with shorter life spans, obesity, cancers, diabetes and heart disease.  Even if you exercise in the morning, lunchtimes or evenings, the long stretches (pun intended) of sitting still cause a risk of these problems.
In this article the local company Xero is credited for providing standing desks for their staff.  I also know Te Tumu Paeroa does the same, although they weren’t included in the Dom Post article.
Source:  Dom Post, Take a stand for more activity in the office, Monday 4 August 2014.
The article is on

Steps and sitting in a working population (R Miller, W Brown, International journal of behavioral medicine, 2004, Springer) “Average time spent sitting on weekdays was 9.4 (SD = 2.40) hr, with about half spent sitting at work. Although these reported sitting times would have included time spent sitting at work, they also include time spent sitting during transport and in leisure time. The findings suggest those whose daily work involves long hours of sitting should be the focus of efforts to promote physical activity both within and outside the workplace.”

How much time do you spend sitting each day? Australia study (Chiropractors’ Association of Australia)

What’s available at VUW?

We have people at VUW whose job it is to support our health and fitness needs (the extrinsic motivators). Here are a few people and activities to be aware of.

Marlene Thomson is our Occupational Health nurse in Health and Wellness (HR). She can help you with your workstation adjustments: chairs, desks, etc. She also has contacts for services provided around campus for exercise courses and health services.

Marlene provided some insights for this blog.  ‘Some points that I emphasis

  • Regular stretches are very important and there is no reason why they can’t be done at your desk or in your office.
  • Get up from your desk at least hourly. If possible organise your work so that keyboard time is interspersed with other activities.
  • People should drop their hands down by their sides and give them a good shake every 15 minutes or so to help reduce tension in muscles (micropause).
  • Sleep well and keep fit.

I frequently use this on line product  as it describes how to set up a workstation as well as solutions for any discomfort that is being experienced:

Guidelines for the use of Computers  (ACC/DoL) is also useful and available on the Worksafe NZ website.’

Jack Clarke of the Recreation Centre is keen for university staff and students to get and stay healthy. He says that the Rec Centre constantly runs new programmes. These are advertised through various media, e.g. Facebook, recreation services website, etc. The Rec Centre recently ran a Step it up campaign for staff (June/July). I’m proud to say that the Careers group was right up there in the pool of prize-winners. One of the outcomes of this activity is we had people stepping around the offices and hallways more than normal to get their step count up. There was a good lot of stair-climbing going on…bring it on!

Feldenkrais lessons at VUW are like self-massage. Notices for these are in the Vic News bulletins. ‘What will the lessons do for you? Help you release movement habits that may be creating pain, tension, or other difficulties; improve your posture, breathing and co-ordination; enable you to reduce stress; enhance your self-awareness and give you more choices over how you perform or act.’ (Theresa Sawicka, blurb from the notice of lessons).


Clandestine exercise is not the way I’d like to see things go, but in the meantime:
10 office exercises you can do secretly

Fun animated videos about posture with laptops and smartphones with reminders to move/stretch.
Gentle exercises for your right arm/hand (from a series by desk trainer).

Fun animated posture tips on the posture RECOMMENDED
Laptops (Pt 1)
Laptops (Pt 2)
Mobile phone ergonomics

Cool office gear

Fun ideas for the modern age  from CIO mag

Should the employer provide stationery bikes for the office? (Google image search)

Standing desks (Google image search)

Rule of thumb:

If you need to stretch, stretch.

If you don’t think you need to stretch, stretch.

Don’t wait for a Doctor to tell you that you need to stretch.

Do it now.

Important to note: this is an opinion piece.  I don’t assume to be a health professional.  Web links should be viewed and weighed carefully for their usefulness for you.  If you have pain or medical problems, visit Health Services, Marlene at the Health and Safety Unit or your own Doctor.

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Advice, Interest, Miscellaneous, Opinion, Personal development


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