Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 18, Issue 7. Friday, April 17, 2015.
Category: News Literacy
Reason for publication: Because of the exorbitant amount of sitting students do everyday, I thought it was extremely important that the GBHS student population – and Granite Bay locals – know the effects of sitting on a person’s health.
‘Sitting is the new smoking’ is the new health-fueled, anti-sedentary behaviors slogan that has linked sitting, among other common sedentary conduct, as a major catalyst that heightens health risks such as cancers, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and increased risk of death.
The American College of Cardiology has found that sitting can be just as detrimental as smoking to one’s health because sitting for prolonged hours of the day increases a person’s risk for such diseases previously mentioned.
Additionally, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found sitting for long periods of time increases risk for colon, endometrial and possibly lung cancer, and a 2008 Vanderbilt study concluded Americans spend an average of 55 percent (or 7.7 hours) of their conscience day sitting, or in other sedentary positions.
A typical Granite Bay High School student spends roughly six hours a day in class sitting – not including time spent working on homework or relaxing after school.
Both GBHS junior athletes Brandon Miyashiro and Macayla Thomas said they have not been taught at school about the negative consequences of sitting for prolonged hours – the latter having prior knowledge on ergonomically corrected chairs and desks.
“High school students do spend a lot of time sitting,” Dr. Arshia Islam a rheumatologist with UC Davis said. “However, whether they are at increased risk of … (having or suffering from) obesity, diabetes, or neck and shoulder pain depends on what they are doing to counteract the risks associated with prolonged sitting.”
Dr. Islam also said the factors contributing to the health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle include a decreased metabolism – resulting in a decrease of calories burned – potentially leading to obesity and diabetes, as well as poor posture which can lead to musculoskeletal problems.
Because high school students sit for prolonged hours of the day, one discussed method to counteract the effects of sitting is standing desks, but many students do not think they are a plausible solution on the GBHS campus. Another discussed solution are hourly five minute walking breaks – partially instated already as students walk to class every 90 minutes during their ten minute passing periods.
“There is probably an increased risk (at GBHS from) the extended block period schedule that makes our time sitting in one class longer than students of other schools,” junior and GBHS varsity swimmer Macayla Thomas said. “There could be a stretching opportunity or … short breaks provided by the teacher as a chance for students to move – kind of like how Mr. Lawrence ha(s) his student “touch a tree” … to walk outside and take a quick break.”
Damien Lawrence, the aforementioned International Baccalaureate Biology and college preparation Chemistry teacher, gives students in his classes ‘touching a tree’ breaks every twenty minutes in order to give students a release from their focus. One study from Indiana University found five minute walking breaks may reverse sitting-related consequences, however this may not be a practical solution.
“Fifteen minutes is about the maximum anyone can truly focus on something,” Lawrence said. “That is why I try and have a leg stretch session at least every twenty minutes. (However), if I gave breaks every 20 minutes to maintain attention span, that would be approximately four breaks. If each was five minutes long, I would lose 20 minutes of instruction every day. That is almost like losing one day of instruction each week.”
Furthermore, according to Dr. Islam similar studies akin to the one published by Indiana University have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals but none showed significant changes to the effects of sitting with the placement of physical activity breaks. Nonetheless, Islam said walking breaks are reasonable and may be beneficial.
Another huge factor in determining and counteracting the significance of the negative effects sedentary positions have on one’s health is the posture with which one engages in.
“Don’t sit with your legs crossed,” GBHS Health and Safety teacher Kathie Sinor said. “Because that throws off your spine. Don’t sag (or slouch) because that’s not good for your core muscles. Just think of proper body mechanics while you are sitting and … (it has been) found that even sitting properly and sitting up straight will get more oxygen to your brain.”
A different discussed solution previously mentioned to eliminating the risks brought on by sitting is to install standing desks – many of which have already been provided as an alternative to sitting for workers by companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google. Nevertheless, many students doubt the solution’s practicality.
“All lab setting are supposed to be seat free,” Lawrence said. “Students are safer and less likely to knock over glassware if they are standing. However, most students will sit when given the chance even if they know it could be detrimental to their grade.”
Additionally, Miyashiro said he believes a standing desk is not conceivable on the GBHS campus because students would most likely feel uncomfortable after a while standing.
To avert or hinder the significance of the effects sitting may have on one’s health, it is crucial high school students be conscious to the damage sitting can do, as well as to take part in physical activities and be mindful of one’s everyday posture.
“In order to prevent or decrease the risks of health problems due to their long hours of sitting, high school students should ensure they are otherwise physically active on a regular basis,” Dr. Islam said. “Sports, swimming, jogging/walking, yoga etc., try(ing) to maintain a healthy diet which is nutritious, limit(ing) the intake of empty calories and pay(ing) attention to their posture while sitting. They should be trained on the ergonomics of their body and learn how to sit in such a manner as to avoid straining their spine/joints/muscles.”
Moreover, with the current knowledge medical researchers have discovered on the severity a prolonged sedentary lifestyle may have, students should utilize this knowledge to the best of their ability in order to benefit both themselves and others.
“As discussed above, prolonged sitting has significant health risks,” Dr, Islam said. “Our high schools should certainly take the lead in ensuring our future generations understand the importance of regular physical activity and steer away from a sedentary lifestyle.
“Cutting back on the hours of sitting at school may be a reasonable place to start, but this is only one small piece of the puzzle and we need to remember that although prolonged sitting is associated with health problems, most of these can be overcome with maintaining a regular exercise regimen, eating healthy and paying attention to proper posture while sitting.”