18/07/2023 • 4 min read

The 3 Layers of Movement

Rethink workplace design and culture for well-being

by Haworth, Inc.

Technologies that enable flexible work locations and schedules have been critical to helping companies, schools, and communities transition to hybrid arrangements. We rely on technology to enable the connections and collaboration we need to learn, think creatively, and accomplish our work.

Yet, regardless of where or when we're working, our reliance on technology has created a more sedentary work experience. Today's office workers have the tendency to be more inactive than ever before. We're tethered to our workspaces in a time when we're also seeking opportunities to live well.

So, how do we create a work experience that nurtures well-being—an experience that allows each of us to take actions for a healthier life?

First, consider the entire system that encompasses a person's well-being:

  • Cognitive Performance - Doing your mind's best work
  • Emotional Comfort - Nurturing your psychological state
  • Physical Wellness - Supporting your physiological needs

Our research and understanding of workplace affordances tells us that a person’s well-being functions as an interconnected system. When a person feels strong emotionally, they tend to manage the stressors of everyday life and recover more quickly—oftentimes leading to an ability to cognitively process information better. Additionally, physical activity has been shown to reduce depression, boost the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention.

People who care for themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally can achieve sharper memory and lower stress; they can learn faster and be more creative.

A simple step that both employees and employers can focus on to enhance an individual's well-being is to move. Movement is key to unlocking the potential in our well-being. Movement can help boost well-being, and, in turn, lead to a boost in performance.

Layers of Movement
Various forms of movement lead to various levels of benefit. To understand more, we are partnering with Michigan State University to study three layers of movement:

  1. Posture
  2. Position
  3. Location

Posture involves training your body to sit, stand, walk, and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments. Good posture helps to apply the appropriate amounts of pressure on our joints and ligaments by maintaining correct amounts of muscle tension.

Posture is not limited to the muscles in your back. Everything, from your neck to your abdominal muscles—and even your hamstrings, plays a key role in maintaining correct postural alignment of the body. For example, the ideal position of your head is always upright. In this neutral, upright position, it weighs between 4.5 and 5.5 kg. As the head tilts forward even 15 degrees, the forces on the neck change, as if the head now weighs 13.5kg. At 45 degrees, it’s as if the head weighs 22.5kg. 

Research has found that when we sit in slouched postures, our brains have to work harder to evoke positive thoughts or perform cognitive tasks, as compared to when we are upright. 

Position change involves moving from seated to standing or vice versa. It’s a significant shift in the body’s weight distribution. Position change helps improve blood circulation, reduces swelling, and enhances musculoskeletal comfort.

Location involves walking (or skipping or jogging or whatever suits you) to a different place. Changing location stimulates cognition, creates opportunity for connection with others, and reduces the potential for musculoskeletal disorders associated with long-term static postures. 

The key to each layer of movement is to change. Many of us are familiar with challenges of long-term sitting. However, long periods of standing place additional load on the circulatory system, can cause joint compression, increase risk of varicose veins, and lead to foot or leg swelling.

Each of the three layers of movement adds value to a person’s overall well-being. Every movement matters. There is increasing recognition that even low-intensity physical activity plays an important role in well-being. Some people refer to posture change in your chair as fidgeting. But fidgeting is actually good for us! It expends 35% more energy than simply sitting and 28% more energy than simply standing alone.

Putting the three layers of movement into a 7½-hour workday looks like this:

  •  5 hours of sitting in neutral posture, changing postures/fidgeting
  • 2 hours of standing
  • 16 sit-to-stand position changes
  • ½ hour of moving, changing location

Here's how that breaks down every 30 minutes:

  • 20 minutes of sitting
  • 8 minutes of standing
  • 2 minutes of movement or location change

Made to Move
Ultimately, the best posture, position, or location is the next one. As human beings, we're made to move, and our well-being benefits when we fuel it with movement.

Organizations benefit when people move too. According to the American Heart Association, organizations that create a culture of movement can increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, and reduce healthcare costs.

Use the three layers of movement to enhance your overall work experience and as a simple measure to take positive action for your well-being. 

Work from Anywhere

When we think about what the future of work looks like, it is at the centre of an integrated ecosystem that balances work among three primary physical locations: office, home, and third places.


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