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When I think of a random weekday from the past year, I often imagine myself sitting in various places: as a student representative in the meetings of administrative bodies or at the Student Union’s office. Besides this, I spend my time on studying, which often translates into sitting in lecture halls or in front of my laptop at home. What all these aspects of student life have in common is an abundant amount of sitting – students spend an average of 9–10 hours per day sitting.
It is no coincidence that students spend a great deal of their time each day sitting. Just imagine a regular lecture hall and teaching situation: students are often sitting for several hours listening to lectures, with only short breaks in between. Besides the fact that, pedagogically, such a teaching situation makes students passive, it does not encourage students to move sufficiently for their wellbeing, either. Lecture halls in universities generally do not have opportunities for standing up, not to mention having exercise breaks. The day continues with lectures that require more sitting, the days turn into weeks and at some point we realise that we cannot study or stand up for university democracy because of aches and pains in the upper back. Who will accumulate the credits for the University or bring student perspectives to negotiation tables when an increasing number of students are suffering from constant pain in their neck, shoulders and back? The situation is not made any easier by the fact that the University staff is facing the same problems day after day – based on empirical observations in meetings, constant sitting is tormenting the staff of the University just as much as it is students.
Because of worries like the ones described above, Sunday 16 September was a pleasant day: I got to think about rolling my feet and the centre of gravity during my step for the first time in a long while when preparing for a run. Running shoes had been fetched from storage and the exact length of the heel-to-toe-drop in millimetres forgotten when the Student Union of the University of Helsinki invited students to participate in the ‘Espoon Rantakymppi’ 10-kilometre run for more versatile study facilities and a study culture that encourages people to sit less. A total of 13 students arrived from different subject backgrounds, and even though the Aalto University sponsored 1,700 members of their university to participate in the run, we did not lose out to them in terms of impact: our campaign garnered attention from university managements all across Finland, and talks of reforming and developing teaching facilities to become more ergonomic rose to the surface once again at the University of Helsinki. In addition to this, the stunt increased the interest of the management of the University of Helsinki in sponsoring members of the University community to participate in running events, which would serve to increase our community spirit besides encouraging people to exercise.
In addition to all of the above, our group of runners were in great spirits throughout the event, and the running went smoothly, too. During the run and the preparations for it, I felt that the audience was encouraging me to exercise and to break the everyday routine of sitting – I would love for every single student and member of the University community to experience this in the future when hanging out at the University or attending meetings and lectures.
Vice Rector Tom Böhling, in charge of campus development and the wellbeing of the University community, has, in a recent interview, taken it upon him to create an environment in which it is as easy as possible for the personnel and students to do their job. This is an ambitious goal, and it has been a pleasure to note how the new rectors have showed a desire to invest in the wellbeing of the members of the University and the construction of communality. The first step towards everyday routines that include more exercise at the University is to decrease sitting, and the solution to this is reforming both the facilities and the culture. The Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) has collected tips for taking breaks from sitting for both teachers and students.
Our running campaign was only the beginning – now we are challenging everyone at the University of Helsinki to a literal uprising from sitting by adding one act that decreases sitting into their weekly routine. Only healthy members of the community will retain the joy of learning and creating new things.
Board Member (Higher Educational Politics, International Affairs, Communications)