New School: Educators Must Take Stand Against Prolonged Sitting, Study Says

LOS ANGELES — Modern offices and workspaces are coming around to the idea that employees should be allowed to work while standing up. While the average work or school day usually consists of sitting down about 80% of the time, more and more health research is finding that sitting for that long day in and day out certainly isn’t doing our bodies any favors. So, while the business world is slowly taking note, what about the educational sector? Angelia Leung, a dance professor at UCLA, set out to uncover some ways university students can take a stand against prolonged sitting.

Leung’s study came to a number of conclusions regarding how students can spend more time upright, such as taking hourly breaks to stand up and stretch during particularly long classes or more open classroom setups that allow students to walk freely. However, the study’s most notable finding was that educational culture and classroom etiquette expectations are going to have to evolve in order for any of these solutions to catch on.

The research team believe colleges and universities first must raise awareness about the dangers of sitting before students are going to be truly comfortable standing up during the middle of class in front of their peers. Among surveyed college students, more than half said they would feel uncomfortable standing and stretching during the middle of a lesson. Another two-thirds shared the same sentiment regarding more intimate, smaller study discussion sessions.

“A cultural change has to take place — that it’s OK to take a stretch break, to stand up during a lecture, to fidget when needed — it’s ‘good’ for health’s sake,” Leung comments in a release. “My students have an advantage because dance classes naturally involve movement, but we can extend these benefits to any class on campus with something as simple as short stretching breaks — no dancing required.”

Prolonged sitting has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, cancer, depression, and heart disease, just to name a few.

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So, how can sitting culture be squashed once and for all? Leung and her team believe that professors, teachers, and other administrators are going to have to take the lead and start the conversation. Professors can start offering periodic stretching or standing breaks during their lessons, and universities as a whole should start campus-wide awareness campaigns aimed at informing students of the dangers associated with prolonged sitting. Administrators can also start constructing more open and spacious classrooms and desk layouts. Adjustable desks are another promising idea.

For the research, eight focus-group interviews and discussions were held with 66 UCLA students (50% undergrad, 50% graduate students). Eight UCLA faculty members were also interviewed. Teachers and students were surveyed on how much they knew about the dangers of sitting for too long, and how comfortable they would be with proposed solutions.

“We need to change the way we teach so that we can offer more standing breaks, create opportunities for in-class movement, and even change the built environment so that there’s more room for moving around,” comments Burt Cowgill, an assistant adjunct professor with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

All in all, researchers say they were surprised by how many students seemed unaware of how detrimental time spent sitting can be, regardless of if they workout before or after.

“Many people thought they would be fine if they also squeezed in a 30-minute jog, and that’s just not what research shows us,” Cowgill concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of American College Health.

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