Live Long and Master Aging podcast



Move more, live longer

Stefan Zavalin: Physical therapist, Love to Move


Regular exercise is key pillar of healthy longevity. But which activities really make a difference – running, walking, a gym class, yoga, weightlifting? Does it have to involve breaking into a sweat, or ten thousand steps, to do any good?  Some health practitioners have taken to advocating daily movement over traditional exercise. Stefan Zavalin is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the owner of Love to Move, a company that advises employers on workplace design and ways to promote physical and emotional wellness.

In this LLAMA podcast interview, Stefan explains the benefits of a movement mindset and why focusing of vigorous exercise is not always helpful. He says movement is at the core of everything we do, day and night, and should play a bigger role in our lives.  He discusses the benefits of periodic standing over sitting; his commitment to multiple daily walks and a fun approach to keeping the body moving. 

Recorded: Sept 22, 2021 | Read a transcript

Connect with Stefan: Bio | Facebook | Love to Move | Instagram | Twitter

Listening options: Apple PodcastsAudibleStitcherTuneinSpotifyPandora PodcastsGoogle Podcasts

“First thing, it’s always movement. I wake up and I move.”

Stefan Zavalin


Transcribed using AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:00:01] Standing work of one hour is forty six percent more productive than sitting. That doesn’t mean we stand for eight hours, but this movement is actually going to make you more productive and more focused than if you just have people sitting and staring at a computer for hours on end.

Peter Bowes: [00:00:20] Hello again, and welcome to LLAMA, the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity. Now I’ve been using a stand up desk for a period of time, a walking desk too, that’s a desk mounted over a treadmill, using them for almost a decade now. And looking back, it was a little crazy. But I gave a talk at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, a few years ago, while walking on a treadmill desk. And to this day, I am convinced of the benefits of continuous movement, especially while working in the office. You’ve probably seen the headline Sitting Is The New Smoking. Too much sitting is harmful to our health and could shorten our lives. Well, is that really true? Our guest today from Nashville in the US state of Tennessee is Stefan Zavalin. Stefan is a physical therapist, a self-described movement enthusiast and work culture consultant. Stefan, welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:01:21] Thank you. I am beyond excited to be on today.

Is sitting the new smoking?

Peter Bowes: [00:01:24] It’s really good to talk to you. Sitting as the new smoking, that line has been around for a while, hasn’t it? So maybe it isn’t new anymore. Was it ever or is it still true, do you think?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:01:33] Oh, absolutely. And just to give a little bit more background on what that line says, because some people may say, wow, that’s that’s a little bit too extreme. The idea is that prolonged sitting and the effects that it has cumulatively on our health and sort of all the other things that can happen to your body. The obesity epidemics and things like that. It’s that is causing all of these issues. So it’s not thinking of if you sit too long, all of a sudden you have issues with your lungs or anything like that. But the idea is that the amount that it impacts you in the long run is equivalent to that of smoking.

Peter Bowes: [00:02:10] I think it was Dr. James Levine who, he certainly credited with saying that first, and I interviewed him back in 2013, and he said there was evidence, overwhelming evidence that suggested that prolonged sitting is shortening our lives and that computer and gadgets, the use of them was probably to blame for a large section of society. Well, almost a decade later, we’re using more and more gadgets. I’m curious, do you think the impact is even worse now that too much sitting and the use of gadgets that really stop us from moving around? Do you think that’s really making matters worse?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:02:49] Yes, but I definitely feel that gadgets and computers are here to stay. And so a lot of times I feel that you see those kind of articles and statistics paired with, ‘get your kids off the phones’ and ‘stop looking at the TV all the time.’ I don’t know if that’s realistic given to where our society is headed. So maybe we just need to change how we’re using them and what we’re doing while we’re using them, as opposed to that actual stopping the complete use of them. But there’s definitely a portion of it. Another thing to consider is that we used to have a lot more manual intensive work, and now it’s more knowledge and idea based work, which we do on computers and gadgets and all those sorts of things. And so inevitably, we’re just doing less movement as a result of that as well.

Peter Bowes: [00:03:33] And I like to be optimistic about technology and gadgets. I use a tremendous number of them. And of course, a lot of them can actually help us with our movement. They can guide us through the day and give us very valuable feedback.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:03:45] Absolutely. And I like using them, and there are so many different ways that you can use them. A lot of times people think, Oh, I may not have the money to get a Fitbit of Whoop or the Aura Ring. Now it’s going to to that point, your phone. Even some of the most basic smartphones already have features to count your steps and to give you some general ideas about those and also the slew of free apps that you could use. It’s definitely there, but we have to always view this in this sort of objective manner of if you don’t actually get up and move, the app isn’t going to do it for you, unfortunately.

Peter Bowes: [00:04:19] Well, I want to, with you, dig deep into the issue of movement and exercise, but let’s just talk about you for a second. You are in Nashville. Beautiful city of Nashville. You’re originally from Russia. I’m curious about your journey from Russia to the state of Tennessee and what brought you to physical therapy.

From Russia to Tennessee

Stefan Zavalin: [00:04:37] Oh, to make this story short, because it is a rather long one. We initially came over because my dad got a job offer. My dad was a theoretical physicist and he had the choice between Paris, France and Nashville, Tennessee. So there you go. I guess that was the choice. I think it was more of the choice between the United States and France.

Peter Bowes: [00:04:56] What age were you then?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:04:58] I was seven when we came over. And so it was an interesting thing to actually loop everything together is when we came over, we were always very active because in Russia and we were from Moscow, the capital, you have to be very active, you’re always walking to the store and public transportation is almost a must. You don’t have a car, you don’t need it by any means. So there was a lot of movement, and our whole family was really based in this kind of movement. And once we got to the states. Slowly but surely, this kind of other culture almost took over. We were sitting a lot more in school. My mom experienced the same thing when she started working, and she first went to school and then worked. She sat a lot, and it’s sort of progress in that manner to the point where in about fifth grade, I said, I don’t want to do gym anymore. I think it’s boring. Partially me and my gym teacher was to blame, but I decided I was going to join orchestra because if you were an orchestra, you didn’t have to go to gym. And that kind of started me on this path of, all right, I don’t really have to do physical exercise. It’s not that important to me. I’m going to be a musician, and that’s just what I’m going to do.

Peter Bowes: [00:05:59] That’s, just throwing in a personal note. That’s a very familiar story to me as well, and I have lots of friends at school who’ve made exactly the same decision

Learning to love movement

Stefan Zavalin: [00:06:06] In high school. Obviously, you have the whole peer pressure aspect, and my parents were starting to make comments about my weight. And so I said I got to do something about this, but I had no idea what I was doing. So I kind of tried to learn things, but they weren’t really good. I just tried to move more and eat less. But that meant that I was eating nowhere near enough and then I would binge, which was a terrible idea and movement. I just said, I don’t know, I’m going to go run and thought that I was doing the right thing. Slowly, sure, it had some effect. By the time I got into undergrad, I realized, OK, maybe I kind of like the gym. I still don’t know what I’m doing. I want to learn more. So I got into kinesiology effectively exercise science, and at that time I started a CrossFit club at the University of Maryland, and I was running anywhere from three to four workouts a day and I thought, Oh, this is great, I’m doing wonderful and I loved it. I really did with all of that movement. But at the same time, I was sitting for the rest of my classes, for my homework and for all these things. And then finally, when I got into grad school, I picked physical therapy partially because I thought it was incredibly interesting to be able to influence our body through motion and just hands on techniques. But also, I thought, I want to do something that keeps me standing. I don’t want to be sitting the whole time. But even in grad school where you have teachers that are lecturing you and that know all of the physiology and students, we had 60 students in the class that understand that sitting is bad for you. Only two or three really kind of stood up and they were more of the oddballs in the class. It wasn’t your normal kind of population. And so finally, when I got out and I got into the clinical world, I just realized most of us are just going to be sitting a lot of the time. And if I look back at the 20 years that I spent kind of going through school, undergrad, grad school, all of that, I’ve just been trained to sit, sit, sit the entire time.

Peter Bowes: [00:08:03] I’m just curious, you say you were seven years old when you came to the United States and maybe you were a little bit too young to really at least now have good, strong memories of what it was like to live in Moscow. But I’m just curious if you do, whether you noticed or on reflection have noticed cultural differences between the United States and Russia as it applies to physical exercise and movement.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:08:26] Absolutely. And I’ve been back since, so I can definitely speak to that. It’s different in the sense of you can sometimes notice it in much larger cities that have public transit in the United States. It makes a huge difference for how busy people are, how fast paced the people are. In Moscow, especially people just felt a little bit faster paced. Everybody walked much faster than they do, especially down here in the South and Nashville, Tennessee. Things are generally the culture is a little bit slower with all that. If you go to New York, you will notice the same kind of pace. And in general, it seems that that’s the sort of distribution is northern states tend to be a little bit more active, a little bit faster, and they also tend to have some public transit. I will also say that. The vast majority of Russians have the best term for it as a vacation house. It’s nothing lavish by any means, but it’s more of a country home where you usually have a large garden. You usually grow vegetables, fruits and vegetables there. And so that’s just part of it. On your weekends. That’s where you go. You don’t sit around the house, you go and you work on that house and you do those things. And that was very much part of the culture. As long as all the movement was there and things weren’t just easy to get to, you always had to walk and to get to places.

Peter Bowes: [00:09:46] Yeah, interesting. And what about diets? You’re living in the American South now, which isn’t particularly known for its positive, healthy diet. It’s far from the Mediterranean diet. But comparing Russia and the U.S. just more broadly speaking, is there anything that stands out to you?

A wholesome diet

Stefan Zavalin: [00:10:04] Definitely. And what I will say is there is coming more and more of this Western influence into the Russian diet as far as processed foods. If we go back now, I just noticed that quite a bit. But in general, it’s a lot more whole foods. It’s a lot. Ingredients and foods are very, very simple and few. You can usually pronounce all of them, and you don’t have to question if you need a degree in chemistry for it. So and it’s usually very, very simple in terms of just homestyle cooking, it’s nothing very fancy. But what I will say is people eat a lot more in Russia, strangely enough. But I think it’s because there’s so much more movement. Most meals you have courses of, you usually start out with a soup. Then you have your main course with a side salad and then you finish off with a tea after pretty much every meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s tea and tea is usually with some sort of sweet, but not a whole lot of them. And that’s consistent. I remember when I visited back, I just thought, I can’t. I can’t keep eating like this. This is too much. And yet everybody was relatively slim. 

Peter Bowes: [00:11:09] Which perhaps explains why a good combination of exercise and a wholesome diet, a healthy, wholesome diet is is not such a bad thing.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:11:17] Absolutely. And I think you’ve had several people that that have kind of said that this is not the one thing that there’s multiple sort of pillars and other words that they have used that really support it. Absolutely. There’s there’s a balance and all of it.

Peter Bowes: [00:11:30] So let’s talk about movement you’ve mentioned. It’s already you’re a movement enthusiast, and I understand now why that is. I hear these days a lot of doctors increasing number of doctors referring to movement, almost prescribing movement as opposed to exercise. Now we’re maybe just talking about words here replacing the word exercise with movement. I don’t know whether it’s a a kinder sounding word. A little softer, a little easier, a little bit more cuddly than sweaty exercise. But how do you see it is movement what we need to encourage people to do?

Movement is life

Stefan Zavalin: [00:12:02] Absolutely. I have a slide in one of my presentations that I really like, and it may sound a bit extreme, but I usually like to say that movement is life, and to move is to live. And you can really break it down to the point of even just biology. Even when we’re sleeping, there’s still movement going on in our bodies as far as ourselves, recovering our brain lights up and all these different ways. But the more that we’re able to move, the more sort of life that we tend to have. And that’s the key word there is movement. Exercise is a variety of movement, but movement is not just exercise all of the time, and that’s where I think a lot of people misunderstand. Some of the messages that I tend to give is when I say we need to move more. They go, OK, I need to exercise more. And I go, No, no, no, no, no. There’s only so much that you can actually do in terms of exercise. If you were to exercise four or five hours a day, that would be exhausted for you. That’s not the point. And I think that a lot of times exercise is a lot more regimented. Movement is not as perfect. We don’t move with. We don’t lift perfectly balanced boxes. We don’t move in these perfect lines. There’s usually a little bit of a twist, a little bit of a lean. And when people exercise but don’t practice those imperfect movements, we see a lot more injury because they’ve only practiced one very specific pattern. And unfortunately, life is just it’s not a perfect pattern.

Peter Bowes: [00:13:23] So let’s go back to what I see really is the root cause of that lack of movement in people’s lives. And it is the the office lifestyle. And let’s face it, a huge number of people either go to the office or these days have their own home office, and it involves doing exactly what you and I are doing right now and that is sitting in front or standing. I see, I think you’re standing up. I’m actually sitting down at the moment, much as I spend most of my day in my main office standing up. My studio isn’t ergonomically designed yet to stand up. It will be hopefully fairly soon. But the point is most people do sit down and look at that computer screen because they have to, that they’ve got to get the work done. So how do we begin to tackle the problem with those people?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:14:05] Sure. And a lot of companies, when we tackle this, they go, Oh, we have ergonomics. We’ve got a specialist for it, we have a perfect desk setup, and yes, having a good desk setup helps, but that just helps you sit better, if you would. It doesn’t actually help reduce the amount that you’re sitting, and I think where it starts is you have those people that have the internal motivation of, I know I’m going to take the stairs and I’m not going to use the elevator. I’m going to do the standing and I’m going to push it for myself. But really, we need to change this kind of culture of the acceptance around it. Can we make it more of a team thing to? All right. We’re on Zoom. So many people are on Zoom and virtual calls nowadays. First, five minutes of a meeting. Can we stand up or can we have if we’re doing one on one meeting, can we walk while we do that? I have even had some people that do that with Zoom is there just on walks and they’re talking to each other. So if we can slowly incorporate it into more of the culture, then putting it on the employees and saying you as an individual have to do this and kind of create this culture around it to where we’re all doing this so that we can help ourselves. That’s, I think, where we’re going to have the big improvement. Undoubtedly, the question that comes afterwards is, OK, great. So you’re asking people to not do their work and stand up and move? Not exactly. So if we compare sitting and standing work standing work of one hour is forty six percent more productive than sitting. That doesn’t mean withstand for eight hours. We’re not going to be able to tolerate that. That’s going to be quite painful, but it’s understanding that this movement is actually going to make you more productive and more focused than if you just have people sitting and staring at a computer for hours on end.

Study: Boosting productivity at work may be simple: Stand up - Texas A&M University

Peter Bowes: [00:15:44] I think that’s a really fascinating point and just purely from myself, anecdotal evidence there that even before I really started to spend most of my time standing and working, or even walking and working, oftentimes on an important phone call, I would get up out of my chair and pace up and down in the office to have the conversation. It wasn’t because my brain was saying, you need to move around. It was because mentally I was better able to focus and deal with the phone call, especially if it was an important phone call, a difficult phone call, by standing up and moving than actually sitting down. And I think that does go to exactly what you’re saying that we can perform better while we’re moving.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:16:25] Absolutely. And there’s there’s definitely a lot to it, but we can only adapt things so far. I like to bring in a couple of caveats because people go, Oh, I’m just going to stand up for all my work. If you’ve been predominantly sitting, you can’t maybe even jump to 30 minutes of standing. That might be too much for you. There was an interesting study that looked at overweight and obese individuals, and their fine motor controls were reduced when they stood up. That basically means that if you’re doing something like using a mouse or writing something very, very specific, if you stand up and you happen to be overweight or obese, your ability to do that accurately drops a little bit. It wasn’t drastic, but you have to understand that maybe your productivity might suffer a little bit initially, and we kind of have to address that on a case by case basis. So maybe you stand up for just ten minutes. Maybe you just start by taking your phone calls, standing up and walking around, but all your other work you do this way you can’t completely revamp all of your work in one go. It has to be the slow building of habits, kind of how you’re saying, finding the ways that work for you.

Peter Bowes: [00:17:31] Yeah. And I would maybe even go a little further and say that if you are obese, so if you have some underlying health problems, that the first thing you really ought to do is speak to your doctor or your professional health advisor and just discuss it and say, Look, maybe I’m thinking about standing up for part of the day or even walking part of the day while I’m working and just get that medical opinion focused on your very own unique needs because we’re all different.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:17:55] Absolutely. And you frequently make a point on this podcast to say, listen to it and then think about how it applies to you. Don’t just throw it into your life without thinking it and discussing it with other health care professionals. This is just meant to guide you along to think, OK, what’s going to be my next step? Possibly. And it may be standing up. It may be just that walking around, it may be taking the stairs. It could be as simple as that. A lot of us are work from home. One of my favorite things to do is I stand up and I do a chore, so maybe I take out the trash or I sweep the kitchen. That’s still movement. We talked about difference between movement and exercise. Your body doesn’t know the difference to it. It’s it’s moving, so it’s happier.

Listen to your body

Peter Bowes: [00:18:36] I think it’s interesting also to learn about your own body and your own mind and the kind of activities as you imply there that you can do while you’re moving. Some are easier than others. Some activities, some work activities that are very intense are actually quite difficult to perform when you’re moving, especially if you’re used to sitting. And maybe that’s the part of the day that you stay sitting and figure out for yourself those desk activities. There are certain things we all do that are a fairly mundane and mechanical. It could be synchronizing your accounts. It could be, you know, writing a check. It could be. Fairly easy stuff, it has to be done. That’s the kind of stuff that I initially found easier to do standing up because it didn’t involve too much mental effort.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:19:19] Absolutely. And that was and I feel that I may at some points be scrutinized as the guy that if you ever sit down, it’s bad. No, it’s just that we’re probably sitting down too much overall and let’s reduce it. And that’s the other part of where I said, sometimes people misunderstand the message as exercise more or move more. Truly, what I want people to think is sit less. It’s not about getting up and doing more and doing something else. It’s finding those ways you can adapt your home and your work to just sitting less, which yes, you’re doing very much the same things, but it’s almost a mindset shift of I just need to do this activity a little bit less. And inevitably, that’s going to force you to stand up more, to walk around more and maybe do some exercise.

Peter Bowes: [00:20:04] And of course, moving around more doesn’t just apply to the office or the home. It applies to the full 16 hours a day that we are awake. So that involves getting in the car and going somewhere and parking away from the entrance to the building. I like to set challenges to myself and be the person who is the furthest away from the the door of the destination, and it almost becomes fun. It’s it’s a game with yourself, but you know, ultimately you’re trying to do yourself some good.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:20:30] Absolutely. And for for many people gamifying it and making it kind of this fun reward system, it can be really good. This is also where if you can bring in a support system and make it a competition, but it has to be, you have to really watch out what you do in terms of the competition. There was a wonderful study on hand-washing and hospitals where there was a camera that was generally watching how much people wash their hands and hospital employees are supposed to wash their hand when they go into the patient’s room and right before they leave. And it was something along the lines of one out of 10 did it even when the camera was up and they knew they were being watched. Still, only about 10 percent did. And then they put up a scoreboard and they said, All right, this is the shifts, and we’re going to show you how many people actually wash their hands. And immediately the compliance shot up to something like 80 or 90 percent because they were able to be a little bit more competitive. It wasn’t anything more than what they needed to do. So similarly, if it’s something around step counts or anything like that, I really urge people don’t try to go for the high score things. Who gets the most steps because that can be difficult for certain people that may not be at that fitness level as you are. What if we say who gets the most improvement? Because that’s really what we’re looking for is those that aren’t moving a lot, moving a bit more. If you’re already doing 20 thousand steps or something ludicrous, that’s fantastic. But you’re not the one that we’re concerned with.

Peter Bowes: [00:21:52] And that’s why it’s important to be part of a community. If you’re really embarking on this for a first time, doing it by yourself is fine and it works for some people. But if you, as you say, are with other people, whether it’s work colleagues or friends outside of work and you perhaps set targets collectively, it can be so much easier.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:22:10] And that’s largely what I try to end up doing is coming in and helping people figure that part out. Another one I really like that’s great for the pandemic time is take a picture with your mailbox now a picture with your mailbox is right out there. It’s pretty easy. I hope most people would put their shoes on to go. Now that may start the habit for you to walk a little bit further because you’re already out of the house. But if I said go for a five mile walk, far less would be compliant with that and would want to do something as strenuous as that. But finding also those little habits that you can then build up on because a lot of times those challenges, I think people go for something crazy and it doesn’t have to be that we need to start small and then build on that. So it’s sustainable.

Peter Bowes: [00:22:55] Let’s talk about the some of the impacts of just increasing the amount of movement in your day that maybe people initially don’t think about in terms of mental health and anxiety and the benefits, especially getting outside and getting into the sun.

The great outdoors

Stefan Zavalin: [00:23:09] So getting outside and into the sun. That’s a slew of benefits as far as mental health. Absolutely. And I think so many of us, especially in the U.S., when there was the lockdown, people just felt I can’t even go outside necessarily where it’s not entirely true. It’s not as if there’s people on every single corner just waiting to come near you. We can find those places. I will say that it has been a little bit harder. That’s true. But even now, my wife and I, we tend to walk and I usually first thing in the morning, go outside to get the vitamin D. Interesting side note on vitamin D is if you wear sunglasses, actually a lot of the sunlight that goes through our eyes, our body uses to help generate some vitamin D. So as an aside, I don’t expect people to do this, but I go usually shirtless so that I have more surface area. But if you’re wearing sunglasses, that might be another place for you to go. But in terms of sitting and where that helps us, usually in a typical eight hour work. If we sit six or more hours, there was some research from Australia found that that really increases anxiety and depression, so six or more hours is what we’re looking at. Most of us tend to sit more than that. And so given that you’re already at that slight increased risk, going outside and having that amount of exercise is going to be able to reverse a good portion of that.

Peter Bowes: [00:24:34] And you say going shirtless, I suppose we should think about sunscreen, which is important, especially if you live in. I imagine Texas is still pretty sunny this time of year. We’re recording this at the end of September. I’m in California. There are pay offs in other directions as well, aren’t there?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:24:49] Absolutely, yes. And then you also have to just generally know your skin type. And my specialty is definitely not dermatology in that sense. But yes, being safe and thinking about all of it. But a lot of it is just getting out in nature. It may just be going to a park or even just go into your backyard. Walking around in city streets is nice and is absolutely better than nothing. But if you can find the time to actually go to to nature of some sort, it’s going to be that much better for you as well.

Peter Bowes: [00:25:18] And the earlier in life you start doing this, the better. People listen to this podcast and sometimes think maybe because of the title, that it’s focused on older people over 50s, over 60s. And I’m always at pains to point out that actually, it isn’t. And probably the most important audience are the teens, 20s and 30s before people generally begin to think about aging particularly seriously because they haven’t felt it themselves, they haven’t seen the gray hair and maybe at that stage haven’t experienced their parents or their grandparents, even getting very old and suffering some of the consequences of a lack of health and positive behaviors as you grow older. So what I’m saying is I’d love to see more teenagers and early 20s appreciating exactly what you’re talking about.

Adopting a longevity mindset early

Stefan Zavalin: [00:26:08] And that can absolutely that can be difficult to do. I’m currently working on a TED talk, and I have another person that’s going to be giving a different talk is talking about teen athletics and how adults have really taken over a lot of it. And they’ve made it about some kind of success and pursuing excellence and elite status in sports, where a lot of that should just be about the kids having fun to a certain degree, and that it’s it’s alienating a lot of kids in that regard. I recently gave a talk on a mental health summit for students, and I looked at some research that there’s actually a decrease in the amount that kids move, and it really sharply downturns right around fifth or sixth grade, which is where recess no longer becomes required for most schools. There’s a big drop off there, and that’s essentially what happened for me since it was no longer required around fifth or sixth grade that happened as well. So I think there’s definitely some area for there. If you’re listening, you have kids, grandkids. I doubt that you were a child that might be listening to this. But if you’re a teen, yes, move, but also find ways to to sit less because it will benefit you in the long term.

Peter Bowes: [00:27:18] You’ve got a company, it’s called Love to Move, and I know you work with corporate entities to try to to spread that message. What exactly do you do?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:27:26] Primarily, there’s a huge educational component, but I can talk about the general aspects of the exercise, the movement, your desk setup. Let’s formulate this culture. All I want. Inevitably, people are individuals, so usually I go in and I discuss these general ideas so that people can understand and start implementing them. And then there are a lot of one on one sessions because I can tell you how to set up your monitor. But I had one gentleman that has six monitors that’s very specific and very different in that sense. And so what I work on is trying to find that way of what works for that specific team because talking even to a company that has a thousand employees, they’re not going to all be able to use the same thing. We really need to break it down into the smaller teams of, you know, twenty five or less. And what can that team do to support each other, especially now that we’re remote culture plays a huge part into that. And so that’s a lot of what I’m trying to work on. 

Peter Bowes: [00:28:23] And I guess you might be working, especially now in many cases, just one on one with individuals who are working at home and want to have that optimized in terms of the ergonomics of the scenario, their desk and as you mentioned, the computer screens. But what about larger companies? And I’m just curious to know how much responsibility you see from company owners, from CEOs focused on this issue. Is it something that they are thinking about enough? I’ve certainly come across one or two companies, one especially in Santa Monica, here in California, that is very, very focused on the physical well-being of its employees to the point of building a huge gym, you know, basketball, court sized gym and employing during the day facilities and even trainers to“ work and to merge into the daily regime of the workforce, that’s maybe on the extreme end, I think it’s excellent, but what sort of responsibility do you see?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:29:21] That is fantastic to hear and unfortunately that is the extreme of the the the good. There are some companies that don’t much care for it. They may give maybe like a discounted membership as part of a health insurance portion of it just to help reduce the costs. But it really there is a huge spectrum of all of it. The big thing that I see is that a lot of companies and a lot of CEOs, if they care, they will go, I’m going to try to change the physical environment so they may buy a gym, they may buy standing desks, treadmill desks, whatever it may be. But then there won’t be that cultural shift of where people feel that they actually have the time to go in the middle of the workday, or that it’s perfectly fine for them to just break and start stretching in the middle of a meeting. And that may seem quite odd, but at the same time, if people feel so constricted, they’re less likely to be constantly moving. And kind of what we talked about earlier, it’s yes, exercise is fantastic for you. It is good for us, but it’s also having the ability to move throughout the day, and I think that’s where a lot of them are missing the mark is formulating that culture. Now this is not to put all of the blame entirely on CEOs and C suite management. There’s a lot because they feel like, Hey, I bring out all these great ideas and the employees don’t necessarily want to do this. We have to also ask the employees, what is it that they want to do and sort of the top down and bottom up approaches that that work the best in the larger companies. But usually the best is when you take these larger companies and you break them up into the smaller segments.

Peter Bowes: [00:30:57] And I think there is a sense certainly around the world, sadly, that some people think that it’s just a Silicon Valley thing, that it’s a tech company thing to have all these through their eyes, weird and wonderful benefits for their employees. And that it’s not something maybe from a financial perspective that most companies are able to do.

The cost of ignoring healthcare

Stefan Zavalin: [00:31:17] Right. And so this is the part where we’re going back to the productivity marker and truthfully, it’s it’s millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars that companies actually end up paying in health care costs as a result of all of this. So it does cost you in the long run. But this is where I bring it back again to the changing physical environment and changing culture. You do need to do both to have the best result possible. But a lot of times that’s special equipment, all these special desks and the gyms, they tend to cost a whole lot. Changing culture really is more of a time investment than an actual financial investment that ends up paying off. And a lot of people talk about culture in terms of company culture, organizational culture, really what I’m saying culture. I’m talking about the culture around movement and around reducing sitting, but it is interwoven into that organizational piece so that people feel comfortable in doing that. That ends up costing the company less and then saves them more on health care costs down the road.

Peter Bowes: [00:32:19] Exactly. And that was going to be my next point. There is clearly a global fiscal benefit to all of this, and it’s the problem is I think it’s difficult to quantify that sometimes we can see it in in global terms, the amount of money that is spent on later in life diseases that could have been prevented. But as far as an individual entity is concerned, it must be very difficult to if you’re doing the books and working out the cost of the the treadmill and the balance balls or whatever you’re purchasing for the office as opposed to what is being saved for those people’s longer term health. That’s a tough one, isn’t it?

Staying mobile during the day

Stefan Zavalin: [00:32:54] Absolutely. And what I will say because I get these questions, a lot of, Hey, should I use the yoga ball chair or should I get a treadmill desk? Most of the time I say there are little habit changes that you can make that will cost nothing that are going to be far more important because if you can develop that habit of walking frequently throughout the day, OK, if you’re consistent with it, maybe you should think about a treadmill desk because a treadmill desk only works if you actually use it, if it’s just standing there in the corner. There’s not a lot of use to it. I do like to add this as far as treadmill desks standign desks, there is an increase in productivity. Treadmill desks there’s an initial decline in productivity because it’s a lot more movement, and you were saying some tasks at work are harder to figure out. So yes, there is an initial decline, but usually the productivity does go up. Eventually, if people think about that, most of the time, I think treadmill desks are overly expensive compared to standing desks. I frequently right now, I’m using just a pile of books to prop up my monitor in order to have a standing meeting. I didn’t have to buy those books. They were there. It’s not something extra. Finding the habits and so that’s the culture. It just costs a lot less than buying all of that expensive equipment, which can work in the long run. But you need to develop the habits around at first.

Peter Bowes: [00:34:11] Yeah, I’m having as I mentioned earlier, I’ve used a treadmill desk in my own home office and briefly for in a corporate offices as well actually removed it from my home office because first of all, it’s quite it’s big and cumbersome, and it took up space that I actually wanted for something else. And the noise was a little irritating. I think from the early days, they’ve probably got a little quieter, but nevertheless there is a noise. They’re related to the moving of the belt and just its general use, which I didn’t want to have anymore. So I’ve moved that away and I’m not totally convinced that they are the solution in the office environment. There can be a little awkward in the office.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:34:48] Absolutely. And that’s where we have to think what is reasonable. So a lot of times I hear the excuse that I don’t want to go and work out in the middle of the day because then I’m sweaty and I have meetings that I might come to. However, I heard I do not remember the company name, but somebody was telling me that they worked for where it was perfectly fine to come to the afternoon meetings and gym wear because they knew that if people were working out and they would come in, it was acceptable in the culture. And so it was perfectly normal and thus more people would actually be able to work out. Now that can be different for different companies, and it’s hard for me to imagine maybe a C-suite meeting where everybody is just wearing, you know, gym shorts and sitting around. But I think that there’s there’s room to grow, and I think we’re realizing that as I like to, you mentioned at the very beginning, we prescribe exercise and we view this as this prescription and almost like a medicine to cure the problems with inactivity. And that’s fair. Exercise is incredibly potent in that regard, but we have to ask ourselves, could we just do less of this inactivity portion and not necessarily do exercise, but just be slightly more active throughout the day so that we don’t have to be taking exercise over and over and over as this medicine?

Peter Bowes: [00:36:03] So, Stefan, tell me, and this is one of my favorite questions in terms of your own daily life from everything that you have learned and what we’ve been talking about. What do you do to focus on your physical and mental health as well?

Longevity lifestyle

Stefan Zavalin: [00:36:16] Oh boy, have I got an answer for you? I’ve been preparing for this one. So first thing, it’s always movement. I wake up and I move. Not a surprise. It’s usually a walk. I find that a walk is easier for me because I don’t have to think about what the movement is. I’m just walking and I usually listen to a podcast. Definitely has been LLAMA lately that I’ve been listening to, but it really helps me kind of get everything moving. And it’s almost meditative in a way. I kind of get my thoughts in order as I’m walking. And then I usually come home. Inevitably, I usually end up doing some kind of meditation or breath work. Sometimes they’re combined into one because breathing itself could be a little bit of meditative in that sense, and that helps me focus in on the mind. 

Peter Bowes: [00:37:00] Just digging into the detail. How far do you walk? What sort of pace do you walk? Do you walk up hills?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:37:04] Yes. The nice thing about where I live is it’s very hilly, so I don’t really have a choice. I have to walk up hills, which I prefer that can be different for different people, which was it was an interesting encounter in Christmas time. I actually had COVID and I had some complications post-COVID that caused me a lot of heart pain and standing up or walking for 15 minutes. Heart pain had to sit down initially. And so myself training myself back up to being able to do all of this. I didn’t do a lot of hills and I had to take the time and really listen to my body. And so if you’re encouraged and I think I probably walk anywhere from two to three miles in the morning and the pace just sort of depends. Today it was raining, so I was walking a lot faster than I normally do to try to get through it all. But. It does truly depend for different people. If you don’t normally walk five minutes is already a wonderful start, as far as the distances.

Peter Bowes: [00:38:03] So you come home, you do a little meditation?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:38:06] Meditation, yes, breath work. And then what I do is I usually start getting into work. Usually there’s some coffee with this, but I start getting into work. Most of my work is done seated. I take breaks about every 20 to 30 minutes because that is that’s about the best time and the best is to take it for two minutes. Some sort of movement for two minutes. It could be standing up for two minutes, walking for two minutes. I usually end up doing some sorts of stretches for hip flexors or for my back, just because I know that, especially if we’re younger, keeping your spine mobile is so important. And that’s where we really tend to stiffen up with age stenosis, which is sort of the narrowing of the canal. It forces people to stoop over with age, keeping the spine healthy. It’s just very important. So throughout the day, 20 30 minutes, I have a timer. Usually it goes off and I’ll do an exercise. Sometimes I’ll go in the kitchen and I’ll prepare something because remember, that’s still movement because I’m standing up. There’s usually a workout sometime in the afternoon. Most of the time, some sort of strength based workout that I just do at home, which as a physical therapist, I have a lot of fun exercises and it’s always different. I always try to make sure it’s fun because if I’m dreading it, I’m less likely to do it or enjoy it, or I might cut it short. So making sure that it’s fun and making sure that it’s sort of the bigger movements, what people tend to call functional movements something like squats and full body exercises. And if I keep on sitting four and working for the rest of the afternoon. Same thing about every 20 30 minutes getting up. And in the evening, my wife and I usually go for another walk. Now that’s a lot. And most people, for most people, that might be too much. What I will say is if I have a day that’s full of calls, most all of my calls, I would say ninety eight percent of my calls are standing up. It’s very rare, and there’s usually a very specific reason why I might be sitting down for a call or a video call and even a phone call, because like you said, I feel like I think better. I move better and everything is just a little bit more sharper when I’m up on my feet. But that’s that’s the General Day.

Peter Bowes: [00:40:10] Sounds like a good day to me. We focus, as you are well aware, and thanks for listening to the episodes that we’ve done so far. At least some of them. We focus on longevity and living long and aspiring to a great health span as opposed to lifespan lifespans important. That’s how long we live. But healthspan is the number of years that we live and enjoy optimum health. With that in mind, do you think about your own future and the decades ahead? Do you imagine your own longevity? And do you have a goal?

Stefan Zavalin: [00:40:40] I definitely have a goal. One of the things that even when I was in the clinic, actually, even before when I was in grad school, I was working with a lot of older individuals. And usually obviously, if you’re working in the clinic, be it an inpatient clinic or anything like that. There are people that have some sort of impairments or sicknesses or anything like that that they’re coming in with. So you’re not looking at the the healthiest individuals. But inevitably I tried to find, OK, what are the things that the ones that I go, Wow, I want to be like that when I am older, that really they kind of they shared. And one thing that I saw is they were generally very active and they were just they were slender. They were they were very active and agile and slender, and that was just a very interesting thing to me. We have a big culture right now around body building and muscle building and being bigger and stronger, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily healthy for us or at least the way that we’re doing it. So one of my biggest goals is I want to be that that kind of person in my 80s or 90s that’s still willing to run around a little bit and is able to squat without making a cacophony of sounds around all of that, which I will say, I do that even sometimes now. So maybe I need to work a little bit harder towards that goal. But that is definitely part of that is just this constant movement is something I want to keep.

Peter Bowes: [00:42:02] Stefan, this has been a really interesting, very useful insight into your work and your ideas. Thank you very much indeed.

Stefan Zavalin: [00:42:10] Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

Peter Bowes: [00:42:11] My pleasure, too. And if anyone would like to find out a little more about Stefan’s work, his company is Love to Move. I’ll put some details into the show notes for this episode. You’ll find them at the Live Long and Master Aging website,, You’ll also find us at all of the major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pandora, Audible, to name a few. LLAMA is a Healthspan Media production we’ll be back with another episode very soon. Do take care and thanks so much for listening.

The Live Long and Master Aging podcast shares ideas but does not offer medical advice.  If you have health concerns of any kind you should consult your own doctor or professional health adviser. 

Follow us on twitter: @LLAMApodcast