Using Pilates, yoga and movement therapies to improve well-being at work.

This is a case study about my work with a large accountancy firm in Sheffield and how we’ve used movement therapies to improve fitness, health and well-being amongst staff, creating added value for the employer through happier, healthier employees.

From accountancy to Pilates

I have taught a regular weekly lunchtime movement class at a large accountancy firm for about six years.  The company clearly sees the value in encouraging its staff to both move and have the opportunity to de-stress, and the regulars love it so much that one member who recently retired comes back in to work just for the class.  I love teaching them and over the years they have stuck with me through my many forms of training, which has developed from clinical and classical Pilates to myofascial trigger points to biomechanics and neurology based natural movement patterns.

Well-being improves productivity

Before my movement career I worked in offices myself.  At that time none of the places I worked at would have dreamt of paying for a movement class and perhaps many still wouldn’t now, but I feel the tide is changing slowly as the correlation between staff well-being and productivity is being scientifically acknowledged.

The current guidance from one of the leading ergonomics research centres at UCLA is to stop every 20 mins for a 1-2 min stretch break, and every 50 minutes stop for 5-10 minutes and execute a completely different task.  Whilst this advice may seem counterintuitive and unproductive, the truth is that sitting for long periods of time prevents blood flow and slows metabolic waste products from being drained from the muscles.

This isn’t only detrimental to chronic back pain or inflammation, it affects energy levels and concentration capacity.  My suggestion is that we might actually be more productive if we got up to have a stretch and looked out of a window at something further away than our screens or the four walls that surround us.  Once we’ve incorporated that habit we can refine it and think about how we’re stretching or which bits of us are moving, but the first step is just to start – the biggest improvement is seen in those who go from doing nothing to something.  If you feel that taking your eyes away from the screen and changing your position for 60 seconds every 20 minutes is unachievable right now then would every hour seem more achievable, with a view to increasing the regularity once you’ve acclimatised to that level?

How NEAT are you?

The acronym NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis (the production of heat by metabolic processes (i.e. movement)).  I recommend considering how much ‘NEAT’ you are getting, even if you are someone who exercises.  Things that you can easily add to your day might be to stand up regularly to break up periods of sitting, place things a little bit out of reach in your kitchen so that you have to crouch down or reach high to get them; walk to the shops with a rucksack, or park your car in the furthest possible parking spot; carry awkward things sometimes; sweep your floor with a dustpan and brush instead of only vacuuming; grind your own coffee beans (not with an electric grinder!); place things around the house within sight that will encourage you to stretch such a tennis ball for your feet or a rolled up towel to stretch your calves on; take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator.

Small changes make a big difference

In terms of more office-based NEAT opportunities: could you take standing phone calls and stretch your calves or feet whilst talking?  Could you take walking meetings and go outdoors (weather permitting here in the UK of course)?  Do you wear footwear that allows your feet to move naturally and clothing that would allow you to reach your arms overhead?  Does your chair allow your pelvis to sit in a neutral position to best protect your spine?  If you have a standing desk are you aware that you’ve potentially swapped one form of sedenterism for another? Is it culturally acceptable in your office to take these steps or would you be a social outlier?

My wish is to continue to offer lunchtime or perhaps after-work classes for those companies whose staff would value the feel-good factor of moving bits of them that haven’t moved all day, but eventually, what I really want, is to start to take this concept further and offer workshops about how small changes can make a big difference.

Join in and move more

Should you find this topic of interest please feel free to contact me on georgina@move-free.co.uk.

Further reading

In the meantime, for those of you interested in a little further reading I attach below links to the UCLA information, a Washington Post article about the benefits of NEAT, and a link from Harvard Medical School about the benefits of stretching.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/if-you-build-more-activity-into-your-day-you-might-be-able-to-skip-the-workout/2019/04/29/8755dd2a-61f1-11e9-bfad-36a7eb36cb60_story.html

https://www.uclahealth.org/safety/rest-breaks

https://www.uclahealth.org/safety/Workfiles/Stretches.pdf

https://www.health.harvard.edu/promotions/harvard-health-publications/stretching-aug2014-test1

This link to a BBC programme about back health is the second of a 3 part series regarding how our environment is changing our bodies: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz4bf.  The narrator, Vybar Creggan-Reid, has recently written a book called Primate Change, which goes further into the details of how our health might be affected by the way our environment is changing us.