Students sit the majority of the school day, yet there is a large amount of data supporting that sedentary life causes various health issues and that movement improves cognitive function; so why are schools not taking action to improve the classroom environment?
“I think we sit a little too much,” senior Jules Gist said. “I think that sitting for fifty-five minutes and then just standing up to walk to class and then sitting for another fifty-five minutes and then doing it six times a day is a little much.”
Mental and physical health problems as well as an over-diagnosis of kids with ADHD or other attention disorders is a root cause of the tremendous amount of hours students spend sitting in desks.
According to the American Heart Association’s report, the average American sits for six to eight hours per day. Prolonged siting is linked to an increase in anxiety as well as a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
“The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important
processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body,” James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., said in a Mayo Clinic article. “When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.”
Many ideas have been proposed to combat the health detriments from prolonged sitting, although many sources say that simply adding an exercise after work or school doesn’t fix the problem.
Fidgeting is an extremely common way for people to react to long periods of sitting and has been becoming more and more prevalent in classrooms, hence the recently successful Fidget Cube and Fidget Spinner products.
“Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to ‘turn their brain on,’” Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, said in a Washington Post article.
A few language teachers at Jesuit have flipped their classrooms around, taking action by pushing desks to the brinks of rooms to create a more inclusive and active environment.
“[Not using desks] gets kids more actively engaged with them moving their bodies which helps bring their mental focus,” Madame Emily Schmidt, French teacher, said. “Even standing up makes you a little more present than slumping in a desk.”
Many students enjoyed the break from the regular routine of sitting in desks for an entire class.
“We didn’t have chairs in [my French class] and we would do a lot of group discussions getting up and moving around,” senior Aryana Abtin said. “I think it helped us focus because we weren’t just sitting in one spot, it made it easier to focus on what was going on.”
Emily Schmidt’s and Christine Truszkowski’s classroom, room 13, hopes to attain furniture that is more suitable for their teaching styles.
“We are suppose to have this room be piloted, hopefully before the semester is over, for new furniture that is alignment with our teaching method so stackable chairs and tables that can fold up and be pushed back,” Truszkowski, Spanish teacher, said.
Last summer many seniors and faculty read Brain Rules, which proposed various ways for
students to add exercise or movement into their learning routines. Some ideas included running on the treadmill while listening to an audiobook, adding periodic exercise between studying, and the implement of standing desks in classrooms.
Students can improve their study habits at home by integrating more breaks in between studying, during which they could exercise or do an activity to get their body moving.
“[I would recommend] more concentrative study and then getting up and running around the block or doing jumping jacks or something like that to kind of wake up and give your brain a little bit of a refresher,” Schmidt said.