Charity Magazine

Softstar Elves Stay Active in the Workplace

By Softstar @Soft_Star_Shoes


It’s no secret anymore: sitting is bad for you.

Sorry, it just is. Prolonged sitting has been linked to many health issues, including muscle degeneration, neck and back pain, high cholesterol, increased fat and obesity, slower brain function, poor circulation, varicose veins, increased risk of disease (including heart disease, diabetes and cancer) and premature death. Yes, death itself is actually listed among the side effects of sitting thanks to a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Studies vary on the severity of sitting, but they all agree that (1) sitting is worse than you think and (2) the less you sit, the better. For that matter, even switching to a standing desk can still retain some of the unwanted effects of sitting if you stand motionless throughout the day. Although standing eliminates some of the risks and is certainly healthier, remaining sedentary in any position for prolonged periods of time can cause problems.

So what’s the solution? Movement!

If you follow our blog then you know we’re big fans of author and biomechanist Katy Bowman, who coined the phrase “You are how you move.” Katy has helped countless people improve their health and quality of life by teaching them to incorporate movement and proper alignment into their daily routines. One common theme throughout her books, blog and podcast is that movement can be as impactful as the food you eat:

"When you eat food, the nutrients in that food communicate with your cells, and cause your cells to behave in a particular way. Movement is similar... Your cells respond to nutritious movement the way they respond to a healthy diet." ~Katy Bowman

Katy is also quick to point out that there are many creative ways to add nutritious movement to almost anything you do... including office work. Her research has been a big inspiration for us at the Softstar workshop.

Moving Elves

Softstar owner Tricia Salcido reminds us constantly that one of Softstar’s prime directives is to help people live healthier, more active lives, and this applies to our staff as well as our customers. We primarily encourage healthy living by creating footwear that strengthens feet through natural barefoot-like movement, but healthy feet are just the starting point of an active life. Many members of our staff work long days at desks or sewing machines, and Tricia—along with Softstar’s managers—like to experiment with creative ideas to incorporate more activity into our workday.

For starters, Softstar employees who ride bicycles to work more than 50% of the time are given a small monthly bonus to offset the cost of bike maintenance. And most of our employees are offered the opportunity to have standing workstations. Some of our sewing machines have even been modified to allow seamsters to work on their feet, if desired (unfortunately, some only work as sitting stations). Our employees are also given an annual wellness benefit, which is a fixed amount that can be used for preventative care or treatment, including massage and acupuncture, gym memberships and even exercise equipment for home. In the near future, Softstar will have a shower installed at the shop for employees who want to commute by running or long bicycle rides.


Standing desks are the norm at the Softstar workshop.

One of the most successful ideas, however, has been the addition of daily movement breaks. Our staff is encouraged to use these breaks to take up some form of physical activity, which could be anything from standing up and stretching to taking a walk around the block to practicing yoga or CrossFit exercises in the shop. These movement breaks are not part of our standard 10-minute work breaks, but extra break times added throughout the day.

At first we had mixed results, mostly because it was easy for people to forget this new break when they’re immersed in their work routine. Eventually, we figured out that a shop-wide alarm does the trick. We now have a friendly music alarm that goes off throughout the day to let all the elves know it’s time to move for a few minutes… usually by playing an inspirational song like Eye of the Tiger or Stayin’ Alive. It’s hard to miss, and who can sit still when hearing the Bee Gees anyway?

After more experimenting, we learned that if we purchase fitness equipment and make it accessible in the workshop then our staff is likely to use it. There are now yoga mats, foam rollers, jump ropes, pull up rings and a variety of massage and stretching tools available for anyone who wants to take up an activity. Staff can also request new equipment, within reason (sorry, the zero-gravity underwater treadmill isn’t happening).

Before you think we’re forcing our staff into unwanted gym work, I should point out that this is entirely voluntary. For that matter, many of our shoemaking elves are spearheading the initiative to get active and encourage each other to take part in morning and afternoon exercises on a daily basis. We now have a growing group of elves who choose to use not only their short fitness breaks, but also their regular break times to pursue monthly fitness goals. They’ve taken on different agendas for every month, such as the following:

  • September: 30 burpees a day.
  • October: 30 squats a day.
  • November: Planksgiving! Build up to 3-minute plank by end of month.
  • December: Mixed workout of 10 burpees, 10 squats, 10 crunches.

Softstar elves doing squats on Halloween, costumes included!

One of the great things about working at Softstar is that our managers understand that these initiatives are a win-win for everyone. While some companies may cringe at the financial expense of offering extra breaks throughout the day or spending money on fitness equipment, we see it as a benefit that pays for itself. Keeping employees healthy and active boosts morale, inspires creative thinking and reduces work-related injuries. For a manufacturing business in particular, breaking routine to stretch or do a new activity every now and then does wonders to prevent repetitive motion injuries.

After all, humans aren’t robots. While cutting corners to create a rigid, physically sedentary and potentially painful work environment may look good on paper, the actual long term costs of low morale and injury can easily exceed the time and money it takes to keep a team happy and healthy.

More Creative Ways to Move at Work

Need more ideas to add movement to your office job? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Intentionally park your car further away to give yourself a walk before and after work.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Instead of sending an email or calling to communicate with someone in your office, walk to their desk to talk in person... like the old days.
  • Standing desks are definitely an improvement over sitting, as are stability balls, but remember to keep finding ways to move to avoid sedentary positions for long periods. If you’re feeling ambitious, there are also cycling desks, elliptical desks and treadmill desks.
  • Store things out of reach in your office, like office supplies or the telephone, so you have to move when you need them.
  • Eating out for lunch? Walk to the restaurant (I keep a skateboard under my desk for restaurants outside of walking distance... but a bicycle works, too).
  • For simple meetings, consider taking a group walk outside so you can talk on the move. If it’s a brainstorming session then the change of atmosphere and increased bloodflow can do wonders to inspire creative thinking!

Want more info about the dangers of sitting and what to do about it? A couple years ago, Katy Bowman teamed up with paleo guru Mark Sisson to develop Don’t Just Sit There, an interactive program of articles, audiobooks and videos designed to teach people who habitually sit for long periods to incorporate nutritious movement into their routine. We purchased this program for members of our shoemaking team and found many of the tips very useful.

If you have any other ideas for adding movement to your workplace or life, then please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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