An Academic Paradox

Post: around 500+ words, estimated reading time: 2-3 min.
Ebook: Around 5.600 words, estimated reading time: 28-30 min.

Last September (2017) the Department of Philosophy of the University of Lund hired us to help address the consequences of sitting.

Most academic careers are devoid of physical labor, and yet academics often suffer from serious conditions usually associated with it. The cause of this apparent paradox is however not hard to find: most of an academic career is spent sitting.

Chronic neck, shoulders, and lower back pain are common early in academic careers and fused or herniated spinal disks and sciatica are not uncommon later. And yet, all these consequences of sitting can easily be addressed with easy-to-follow movement protocols.

On the practical side, we recommended implementing ‘movement breaks’ based on Pavel Tsatsouline’s Grease the Groove protocol (already discussed in this post). The movements were selected among those recommended by Dr. Stuart McGill, namely loaded carries with kettlebells, to be adapted to the relative levels of participant.

Before we started, the general opinion in the faculty was that health concerns could be fully addressed by a combination of ergonomy, massage therapy, and physical exercise. Our proposal was therefore unlikely to be accepted right away and it soon appeared that we should first explain why bringing kettlebells to the workplace was a good idea and why what we proposed was different from traditional exercise routines.

Why bringing kettlebells to the workplace?

Ergonomy, massage therapy, and physical exercise cannot alone counteract the consequences of sitting and sedentary behavior. Ergonomy lowers the impact of sitting but does not nullify it, while massage therapy only addresses symptoms. And there is mounting evidence that sedentary behavior can negate the benefit of regular exercise.

The potential consequences of this realization are such that the World Health Organization has recently altered its policy and adopted a two-pronged approach (promoting physical activity and preventing sedentary behavior) after years of focusing exclusively on recommending exercise.

The longer answer lies in human evolution and the biomechanics and neurology of sitting. We evolved to stand and walk but this evolution also made us prone to develop adaptations to sitting. These adaptations are pathological: they create dysfunctions in our daily life.

Given how often we sit, these adaptations can only be counteracted by performing frequent movements that restore normal function, hence the idea of ‘movement breaks’. And we adapt faster to movements when we must overcome resistance to perform them, hence the recommendation of using kettlebells that take little room in an office space.

A longer answer

We presented the scientific basis and the practical details of our approach to the department’s staff during a half-day information seminar. Thanks to the quality of the attendance, the discussion was exceptional and covered more ground than we had initially expected. In order not to let the information be lost, we prepared an ebook for the perusal of the participants to the program.

Dr. Tomas Persson, Head of the Department of Philosophy, kindly let us share this ebook with a wider public. The structure and content of the ebook follow the structure and content of the seminar (minus some demonstrations of movements and exercises). As a tribute to this generous gesture, we release it under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and with a title suggested by Dr. Tomas Persson himself.


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