Did you know that the percentage of Finnish workers reporting that their work affect their health is higher than the EU average? And that the percentage of Finnish workers affected by back pain as well as different kinds of muscular pain is also higher than the EU average? (EU-OSHA, 2019)
Wellbeing at work in Finland: the risks of repetitive hand/arm movements and prolonged sitting
At the European level, a survey conducted in 2019 identified important risk factors in different work environments across Europe. While one might initially think that the most important factors entail dangerous or hazardous activities, actually two of the most prevailing factors are repetitive hand or arm movements and prolonged sitting (ESENER 3). Without adequate management, these factors lead to injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs (musculoskeletal disorders).
In Finland, the kinds of work that involve these risk factors is high, hence the higher prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders: 72 % of employees work in jobs that involve working in sitting positions, whereas 69 % work in jobs that involve working in standing positions, repetitive hand/arm movements and working with computers/laptops . As a result, in Finland, back-related problems are the most common cause of pain, affecting more than 50 % of the population, followed by shoulder and neck pain (EU-OSHA, 2019).
Promoting physical wellbeing at work: The value of short breaks
In these conditions, it is of upmost importance to promote movement that improves mobility and body awareness. Movement, stretching and body awareness can help counter the negative effects of static positions and repetitive movements in the body. While the optimal frequency, duration and intensity of movement needed to reduce the risks related to prolonged sitting are not yet clear, there is abundant evidence that points to the fact that microbreaks that interrupt the static positions by way of introducing some form of movement are better than passive breaks (Vitoulas, et al., 2022).
Short movement breaks can be an important way to prevent injuries that arise as a result of prolonged sitting, while not significantly interrupting the focus on work. A study conducted in 2013 researched the benefits of short movement breaks, finding, for instance, that small breaks can have important effects at reducing stress and promote enjoyment of work, as well as achieving a greater health awareness and promote changes in behaviour regarding exercise (Taylor, et al., 2013).
Physical and mental wellbeing at work: The GYROKINESIS® Method
While small movement breaks can be of different types, the Gyrokinesis method, created by the Romanian dancer Juliu Hovarth, provides important benefits as it stands in the crossroads of yoga and dance. Gyrokinesis exercises help improve muscle strength and flexibility by using three dimensional movements that start at the spine and extend to different parts of the body. The method, builds spinal support, and it has been studied to have excellent results in patients with back pain (Kook-Eun and Tae-Jin, 2016).
An important element of the Gyrokinesis exercises is that they require simple materials: they can be practiced in a chair or stool, in a mat or standing. The exercises can be adapted to different bodies and they can be practiced by different people: from sporty people to those who are often in more static positions. The method differentiates itself from other movement practices in that it promotes a fluid movement - instead of static positions - with multidimentional patterns - as opposed to linear movements.
A short Gyrokinesis method break can last from 15 minutes to half an hour. More importantly, through the short break one begins to develop a movement vocabulary that allows each participant to extend the practice through the workday in at least 2 ways:
- The movements can use throughout the day in even shorter breaks (e.g. 3-5 minutes), where the participant can perform a couple of releasing movements sitting or standing.
- The seating technique of the Gyrokinesis method can be brought to the working posture to counter the effects of prolonged sitting. The Gyrokinesis method is partly practiced in chairs, but the way in which we sit is active and conscious. Promoting a good support for the spine by taking care of the posture while actively using the legs instead of resting in the seating position.
Finally, it is important to note that the method is not only addressing the physical aspect of well-being but also mental health. While movement is an important factor that reduces stress, the method also focuses on breath practices that use the diaphragm and that have an important role in reducing anxiety (see for instance: Caldwell et al., 2010)
*GYROKINESIS® is a registered trademark of GYROTONIC® Sales Corp. and is used with their permission.