Think about the many times each day you grab a seat: in class, on the bus, in the dining hall, while studying. We sit to eat, to drive, to relax. Research has proven the inherent hazard of prolonged sitting, but how does that play out for a student who seems to have no choice?
Dr. Kari Inda, occupational therapy department chair and professor said prolonged sitting is linked to major health problems like “being overweight, having metabolic syndrome (including obesity), diabetes and cardiovascular issues,” Inda said.
Inda said people who sit for two hours in the evening — watching TV, for example — “are at a greater risk of death earlier in life than those who didn’t have these prolonged sitting periods.”
In 2014, The Washington Post reported that the average adult in the U.S. sits for eight hours each day, This habit directly impacts the spine, legs, brain, heart and other organs.
Dr. Deb Dosemagen, education department chair and the education graduate program director, said standing up is crucial to maximize student learning.
According to Dosemagen, learners are not made for enduring long lectures without a break to stand and stretch.
“A rule of thumb,” she said, “is about a minute a year” for attention span. So a 6-year-old could be expected to stay completely focused for about six minutes; presumably a 20-year-old could focus for 20 minutes.
Dosemagen explained that movement helps with attention, and attention in turn aids learning.
“The reality is, if [students] stop moving it will be hard for them to pay attention,” Dosemagen said. “They’re going to move … and we can either fight it or channel it.”
Inda suggests using apps to help break the sitting habit (see sidebar). They can help to “identify how sedentary you tend to be,” Inda said.
Another suggestion: “Every time you’re on the phone, I want you to stand up,” Inda said. “If your phone call is long, you’re going to be standing longer.” Choose an activity you do a lot — reading, talking, watching Netflix — and decide to consistently stand or walk while you do it.
In class, take advantage of breaks.
“If I give my students a break, some of them will get up, but lots of them just take out their phones,” Dosemagen said. Instead, take your phone on the go and walk to the nearest window, or take a lap down the hallway.
Professor Michael Maguire, faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, incorporates walking meetings into his classes. Rather than sitting at desks, students walk around campus while discussing a group project.
“It’s a different way to approach a very traditional setting,” Maguire said. “Students seem to like it. There’s a real sense that it can create more focus.”
The point is to have students “get up, move around and interact,” he said.