Sitting all day shortens our lifespan, so why do we still expect kids to do it?
It's back-to-school time, which means kids who've spent most of their summer playing are expected to sit in class at a desk for most of the day. Sure, some teachers let younger students sit on a rug or work at tables, but they're still expected to sit—and sit without moving around. Since studies show sitting all day shortens our lifespan by at least two years, shouldn’t we nip such a sedentary habit in the bud? Monica Wendel, director of the Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A & M Health Science Center and one of the authors of a recent a study of standing desks in four first grade classrooms in Texas, says students are up for the shift.
Don't let visions of students roaming the classroom, sword fighting with pencils and fooling around enter your head. Wendel told the Chicago Tribune that standing "actually improved attention, on-task behavior, alertness and classroom engagement." Indeed, students were so eager to stand that 70 percent of them never even bothered to use their desks at all. The other 30 percent of kids used their desks, but didn't sit at them. An added benefit in a nation grappling with childhood obesity is that the heaviest kids in the study burned 32 percent more calories while standing. The experiment was so successful that the teachers ended up asking for standing desks too.
With such promising results how can schools make the switch to standing this school year? Education budgets are tight everywhere, so it's unlikely that districts are going to suddenly approve the purchase of a slew of pricey standing desks. All we really need is a little rethinking of the way a classroom functions and a commitment to ending our death-by-sitting culture. Depending on their age, students could modify their existing desks into standing ones with old textbooks.
If that's not possible, giving kids the option of standing at least part of the day—perhaps making it a reward you earn for good behavior—could work.