Beyond the Covid: health is found (also) in the office

You will work by the sweat of your brow because you disobeyed me, said God to the first man, driving him out of Eden forever. The work in anthropological terms is this: a biblical curse. For millennia, working has meant working, and working, you know, nobody likes it and it’s bad for everybody’s health. But it’s also bad for your health to work while sitting for hours, as office work is universally considered to be one of the main causes of a sedentary lifestyle. And the sedentary lifestyle promotes obesity with consequent endocrinological and oncological pathologies, harms the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems and much more. Not surprisingly, the WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of the two, to maintain good health.

The UP150 project

But a workspace that denies the office=sedentary paradigm is possible, it seems. Pietro Luigi Invernizzi he is associate professor of Methods and didactics of sports activities at the Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health of the State University of Milan, and he is also the first author of a study published onInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Research by Invernizzi and his colleagues tested the effects in terms of psycho-physical health of a renovation project called UP 150, where UP stands for Proactive Office and 150 for the minimum minutes of physical activity for health according to the WHO. “The idea – Invernizzi tells us – was to understand what happens when motor activity is inserted into the normal workflow. Taking care of the psycho-physical well-being of employees also has a productivity advantage: there is studies that indicate this can increase up to 30%”.

The proactive office

The Proactive Office 150 created the Design & Build project for the headquarters of the new offices of the multinational consultancy Gruppo Bip Consulting spa inside the Liberty Tower in Milan. “With the UP150 we have experimentally demonstrated that the 150 minutes of moderate activity per week recommended by the WHO is compatible with office life and can be integrated into the working day, and that not only the office does not not take away health, but can even give health – He says Massimiliano Notarbartologeneral manager of Progetto Design & Build – the project was launched 3 years ago and initially envisaged the stable presence of people in the workplace, but the pandemic forced us to remodel everything: our design team therefore developed the first and true post Covid-19 office”.

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What is unconscious movement

The idea behind the UP150 is to put people in a state of unconscious movement, meaning movement that doesn’t take place in the office gym (but then those who have the sport in the office, apart from the American series?) but an activity that takes place precisely in the workplace, even while working, using micro-breaks and ad hoc aerobic machines distributed in the rooms where the working day. “The challenge – explains Notarbartolo – was to include motor activity in the workflow: which is clearly an advantage for everyone, but above all we thought of women who find it more difficult than their male colleagues to spare time”.

Eat, drink, dance, pedal

Integrating movement into the workflow means, for example, that the classic electric fan that dries hands is operated by a stepper (a machine that simulates the movement of climbing stairs). That the water tap opens thanks to a bicycle ergometer, an instrument which simulates a pedal stroke (with the arms in this case). Or that to unlock a food dispenser you have to improvise a movement, a sort of dance on an interactive carpet, a machine that has been baptized in effect a dancing machine.

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Call and meet? Pedal

But not only. The pandemic has forced everyone to make calls remotely, but in UP150 they’ve also made it on the go, i.e. riding a digitized exercise bike that allows you to be on video and to take notes, even pedaling for 40 to 50 minutes at moderate speed (above a certain amount of pedaling it’s not okay). And finally, even meetings, if desired, can be done on the move in a proactive office: employees have at their disposal a meeting room without tables or chairs but equipped with rubber bands. The project was designed for large spaces, but it can be reproduced – guarantees those who created it – even in 100 square meters.

The perception of effort

Invernizzi and his colleagues involved 40 men and women, aged 35 on average, in the experiment. With a machine, called the fitness test cube, they assessed the initial level of health and fitness of all participants and what their perceived exertion was. “What is different – says Invernizzi – the WHO actually speaks of moderate activity, but moderate is a concept that changes depending on the person and the situation: a walk at 5 km per hour is different if it is done in a state of psychophysical stress or in a situation of tranquility and well-being and in a good state of nutrition Here, our protocol and the technical supports that we have used have allowed us to ensure that the participants of the UP150 experience always perceive their effort as moderate, which increases the awareness of one’s possibilities and which makes it possible to avoid mistreating one’s body, to exceed it while the level of motor activity increases”. The 40 employees were randomly divided into an experimental group or a control group. For 8 weeks the experimental group worked in the UP150 offices of BIP Consulting while the control group worked in the so-called traditional offices.

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A coach in your pocket

Each employee in the experimental group was equipped with a pocket trainer, a program usable via an app which, based on the initial diagnostic result obtained in the fitness test cube, assigns a weekly score to be achieved. And he monitors it, in the office but also outside the office, on remote work days. Each time the machines are used, points are scored, which are more or less depending on the type of machine and the duration of the exercise. “These are tools that have micro-timings, even 2-3 minutes, and the micropause can be managed very well in the office, depending on one’s motivation and physical condition”, argues Invernizzi.

Study results

How did things go? The study showed that indeed 150 minutes of moderate activity per week is compatible with office life and can be integrated into the working day. Indeed, all the participants in the experiment reached their target score obtained with the cube-fitness test. The average of the participants in the experimental group did more than 350 minutes of physical activity per week, adding together that at the office and the activity outside the office. And about 75% of the target score was achieved during office hours.

What if it becomes a habit?

“We also obtained important data regarding the mental sphere. Thanks to validated questionnaires, we were able to check how things were going in terms of motivation, satisfaction, mental well-being in the proactive office. Find out – continues Invernizzi and concludes – that concentration is increased and stress management is improved in people inserted into the UP 150. This means that motor activity that fits into the normal workflow can help better manage stress as well only to maintain the essential levels of health and that a physical space designed with tools and machines developed ad hoc, and actions that improve the perception of effort, this can represent an effective prevention strategy. physics in the office can become a habit”.


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