‘Sitting disease’ health trend gains stature

Recent studies have shown that sitting for more than four hours a day can decrease average life expectancy by two years. At CHS, students may spend up to six hours sitting in class each day.

The Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota-based nonprofit medical research group, compiled a list stating that sedentary lifestyles are associated with increased risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and breast and colon cancer.

A relatively recent trend, “sitting disease” has become a topic of interest among schools and offices, especially in a world where, for a significant number of people, the majority of their days is spent immobile in a desk chair. But it is not the act of sitting itself that may lead to health problems, rather the act of being stationary and disengaged for extended periods of time.

Students sit on exercise balls in Suzanne Marden's third period French class.

Students sit on exercise balls in Suzanne Marden’s third period French class.

A CHS school day from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. features 10 minutes shy of six hours in a chair. Knowing the possible adverse health effects, some faculty members are striving to avoid prolonged sedentary time.

French teacher Suzanne Marden has taken steps to encourage moving away from typical seating arrangements in her classroom. In addition to the typical desks and chairs, Marden has four exercise balls in her classroom and a standing desk for students to use at their leisure.

“Sitting too long makes your hips lock up, and it creates poor posture,” Marden remarks. “I want students to have a choice to get some circulation if they want it without bothering anyone else in the class.”

And Marden’s students have noticed the difference.

“Sitting in school can be troublesome,” sophomore Berkeley Kendrick comments. “I get back pain, and the chairs are not the most accommodating. I find that I focus better sitting on the yoga balls in Ms. Marden’s classroom because I’m more comfortable, and it’s just easier.”

A Mayo Clinic study found that highly sedentary adults were 50 percent more likely to die of any natural cause and had a 125 percent increased risk of events commonly linked with cardiovascular disease.

CHS college counselor Darren Johnston has also realized the adverse health effects of long-term sitting as well, and his office computer is now propped on a contraption to raise and lower height to allow for position changes throughout the day.

“I read an article that proposed…that sitting is associated with a number of adverse health effects, like blood pooling and poor circulation,” Johnston says. “That freaked me out because at this point I’ve been sitting in a desk for the last eight years of my life.”

Now, Johnston cuts his eight hours of day at a desk by standing at thirty minute intervals throughout the day.

The health trend has sparked action in San Rafael, Calif., where last year Vallecito Elementary School made the switch from traditional seating arrangements to standing desks, according to an NBC article. Students reported being able to focus better while standing, and teachers corroborated, explaining that students’ attention spans increased dramatically after making the switch.

Stand Up Kids, an organization dedicated to providing public schools with standing desks, explains that regular exercise does not cancel out the negative effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. According to the Stand Up Kids website, standing desks in schools can contribute to decreased childhood obesity, diabetes, orthopedic problems and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Marden’s alternate seating arrangements were donated to her by CHS parents. Other teachers do what they can to break up extended stationary periods in the classroom.

“On block day, I really try to have a couple dynamic activities where it’s not just sitting for an hour and 35 minutes,” explains Health and Anatomy and Physiology teacher Matt Borek.

Marden hopes to see district support in giving teachers greater opportunity to provide alternative seating arrangements in the future to better accommodate the students.

“I’d like [Carmel Unified] to support alternative seating options, with more exercise balls and standing desks for the students,” she remarks. “Their financial support would be extremely beneficial.”
– Anna Gumberg