Why Wait? Let’s Start Healthy Habits Early

by The Human Solution on December 2, 2015

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Austin middle school students benefit from the freedom of movement provided by an UPLIFT Desk.

Austin middle school students benefit from the freedom of movement provided by an UPLIFT Desk.

We typically associate ergonomics with the workplace, which makes sense; after all, we spend at least eight hours a day at work, so it’s logical to look for product options to make these hours healthier and more productive. Most people don’t really consider another place people spend the majority of their days, a place where comfort and productivity are equally important: schools. It seems wise to start developing healthy work postures at a much younger age, since those habits will carry on to adulthood. Not every piece of ergonomic equipment is appropriate for a classroom setting, but schools can make a huge difference in student health, focus, and energy with one simple item—a height adjustable desk.

You may be familiar with the term “sitting disease,” or the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking,” referring to the numerous negative health effects of sitting for several hours per day. Study after study demonstrates that prolonged sitting leads to an increased risk of diabetes, metabolic disorder, heart disease, depression, and even some cancers. Why do we force students to sit for the majority of their school day, knowing as we do now that there are serious health risks down the road? If we can change the sedentary educational environment, what might that mean for student health now and in the future?

Let’s first consider what a typical classroom looks like–rows of desks with hard plastic chairs in which students are expected to sit for hours without much movement or fidgeting. Even if they have recess and gym class and walk to another classroom a few times, they are still sitting for a good 80-90 percent of the day. Switching to height-adjustable desks (or standing-height desks with stools for periodic sitting) encourages what researchers call an “Activity Permissive Learning Environment” that allows kids to stand, rock, move, and fidget. Even just a little movement makes a big difference. For example, a 2012 study demonstrated that students who use a sit-stand desk burn 15-25% more calories than students in traditional desks, with overweight kids burning 30% more calories. Just this small amount of additional movement throughout the day leads to health outcomes like “improved metabolic profiles, improvements in high-density lipoprotein production, lipoprotein lipase activity, and blood glucose control.” That is good news in the face of our country’s obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemic. Plus, those calories burned add up over time. One hour of standing burns 50 calories; fifteen hours of standing per week for one year burns the equivalent of running 10 marathons!

In addition to the calorie burn and reduction in sedentary time, allowing children to stand and move also helps with behavior, focus, and productivity. Students are less distracted at a standing desk, less restless than when they are stuck in a chair all day, with a more active body leading to more active mind. These improvements in behavior and focus are echoed by teachers who already use standing desks in their classrooms, and by parents and students themselves.

There is widespread scientific agreement that adult sedentary lifestyles can be significantly improved by adding just a couple hundred calories’ worth of movement each day; clearly this is also true for children. It just makes intuitive sense that our bodies are not designed for almost total non-movement throughout the day, and that it’s a bad idea to confine kids to chairs, training them for a sedentary lifestyle. If we get people in the habit of engaging in light activity for at least half their day, and carrying those habits into adulthood, we’ll likely see a drastic decrease in the instances of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s an idea worth standing up for.

TheHumanSolution.com is here to help with office or school ergonomic needs.

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