Every September when my children start a new year at school I feel a tug on my heart strings and hope for good health, happiness and a good education for them. But, despite my chosen school being one of the best in the country it was unknowingly letting my children down on one of those: their health. This health hazard isn’t just in school though, it’s everywhere. Are you surprised when I tell you this health robber is the … humble chair?
In 2015 a statement from Public Health England and Active Working CIC said that prolonged sitting “may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality” (1). In other words even if you are careful about other aspects of your health (nutrition, smoking, exercise) being sedentary for prolonged periods of time is associated with health risks. A scary statement when you sit and think about it (no pun intended).
There is even a term “sitting disease” that the scientific community use to describe the group of ailments that can be exacerbated by prolonged sedentary behaviour. And I won’t spare you, here they are (2,3,4,5):
- Cardiovascular Health (includes heart disease, vascular function, circulation blood pressure)
- Diabetes type2,
- Weight Gain
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Mental Health (including depression and Alzheimer’s)
- Musculoskeletal / Orthopaedic issues
- Muscle degeneration
Does this make you worry if you and your kids sit too much? It made me sit up (sorry). Kids are moving all the time though, aren’t they? As toddlers and pre-schoolers children run around making us gasp with adventurous antics learning about their bodies and what it can do. It cultivates physical and mental confidence. Movement is key to a healthy growing body. Yet at school movement is suddenly restricted by our sitting culture. Surveys found that the average school child sits for around 4.5 hours a day at school (6) Gulp! I think we have something to stand up and shout about. Just so we’re clear, your kids, my kids, all kids have no choice but to sit at school (there’s even a sticker for sitting nicely at our local), this puts their health at risk. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that habits forged early in life can have a big impact on health in adulthood (7). So, what our children do today will impact their health tomorrow!.
Does something need to be done? I think so!
So, I took a deep breath and went straight for the executive headteacher to ask if they would let me present to them why the classroom needs a shake. Admittedly I was nervous, but I had research as ammunition and was ready. To my surprise I didn’t need any of that, they said yes straight away. I came away with tears in my eyes I was so excited. This is it, I have a chance to help our kids. I know what you’re thinking: my profession and knowledge is movement based so easier for me to share this passion but I hope you can see that all you need is the idea, a bit of information, be a nag and your school might listen.
I presented at a teacher training afternoon. I talked about how the modern human uses chairs to sit, why it is detrimental to our health and how we can help our children overcome this. I gave simple ways that children and teachers could move more at school without it challenging the routine.
Here are my move more at school suggestions:
- Replace a desk with an adult desk. This immediately becomes a standing work station. Or make a standing station by placing the chair on the desk (the back of the chair blocks out other children and thus also limits distractions when working alone)
- Make the classroom a barefoot area. This makes standing in alignment possible for everyone.
- To make the most of barefoot time create a sensory walkway or nature trail with pebbles, sand, beams for balance, mud anything that changes the texture and challenges the senses. If barefoot is too much, then consider asking the school to purchase a variety of different sized water shoes. These are super cheap and provide a barefoot experience. Not all the children have to go out at once, so shoes can be shared (I’m not talking flip flops here, no to flip flops!)
- More carpet! And place a low table here (the legs may have to be shortened for the really little ones) and voilà you have a work station where the child can squat, sit crossed legged or legs out stretched.
- Yoga bolsters or just plain old cushions: these are great for different positions they also make it easier for the teacher to get to the floor or have support for a squat position. Afterall we must lead by example!
- Outdoor learning: see that big space outside? Well, bingo there’s an extra classroom. Do what you will with it to create some movement space.
- Add actual movement in lessons with this outdoor space. This is particularly easy with maths. The kids are the counters or make them move objects to show their workings out. The formula for power is a great one. The kids can calculate their own speed when running and learn about how their body moves.
- Or simply incorporate movement tasks before a session or test. Like 10 star jumps before that pesky maths test.
Some of these may have surprised and most associate movement with big movements like running or jumping. But, small movements like the intricacies of the feet are just as important. Not convinced that movement is the future? What about these gems to get your teachers attention? Movement has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health including the ability to learn and better memory and retrieval (8), lower cognitive decline (9) and greater new brain cell generation (10, 11). So, for me ditching the chair in schools and moving as much has possible is a no brainer (hehe, another pun, sorry). And trying to sit still is hard for kids, for some (especially if they have ADHD) it takes all their focus and energy on trying to sit still. This is exhausting and leaves nothing for learning!
But, it’s hard to change a school, the change is likely to be slow. In the meantime, remember school comes back in the bookbag as homework. See that chair in your home looking meek and mild? DITCH IT! You know what to do friends! Set up space for your child to work that encourages movement. My office has a squat, standing and fitness ball station using shelves at different heights. This is an important consideration especially as kids get older and want to use devices. Reports suggest that children between the ages of 8-18 years spend 7 hours a day outside of school being in front of a screen, and this is normally in a sitting position (12) Keep outside for as long as possible, you could even prepare the dinner’s vegetables outside whilst you help with that tricky division. Collect objects such as conkers to use to help with maths if your child is young. Have movement breaks together, this can be a ball game, yoga, balancing, monkey bars. And don’t let them have that recreational screen time until movement has happened. You don’t have to suggest or do all these things at once, just start with one thing, get moving, and then move some more and you never know, you just might make the next generation a happier and healthier one! So, good luck on your quest it’s not as hard as it first seems!
Oh, and just so you know I wrote this blog lying on my stomach, squatting, standing and siting crossed legged on the floor because of my chair free office. Those chairs were waved bon voyage. Until they were used as den building materials (Just can’t stand waste – was that another pun….?).
References and Sources
- Buckley, John P., Alan Hedge, Thomas Yates, Robert J. Copeland, Michael Loosemore, Mark Hamer, Gavin Bradley, and David W. Dunstan. “The Sedentary Office: An Expert Statement on the Growing Case for Change towards Better Health and Productivity.” Br J Sports Med 49, no. 21 (November 1, 2015): 1357–62. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618.
- Biswas, Aviroop, Paul I. Oh, Guy E. Faulkner, Ravi R. Bajaj, Michael A. Silver, Marc S. Mitchell, and David A. Alter. “Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Annals of Internal Medicine 162, no. 2 (January 20, 2015): 123. https://doi.org/10.7326/M14-1651.
- Edwardson, Charlotte L., Trish Gorely, Melanie J. Davies, Laura J. Gray, Kamlesh Khunti, Emma G. Wilmot, Thomas Yates, and Stuart J. H. Biddle. “Association of Sedentary Behaviour with Metabolic Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis.” PLOS ONE 7, no. 4 (April 13, 2012): e34916. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034916
- Edwardson, Charlotte L., Trish Gorely, Melanie J. Davies, Laura J. Gray, Kamlesh Khunti, Emma G. Wilmot, Thomas Yates, and Stuart J. H. Biddle. “Association of Sedentary Behaviour with Metabolic Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis.” PLOS ONE 7, no. 4 (April 13, 2012): e34916. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034916.
- Falck, Ryan S., Jennifer C. Davis, and Teresa Liu-Ambrose. “What Is the Association between Sedentary Behaviour and CognitiveFunction? A Systematic Review.” Br J Sports Med 51, no. 10 (May 1, 2017): 800–811. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095551.
- Tremblay, Mark Stephen, Rachel Christine Colley, Travis John Saunders, Genevieve Nissa Healy, and Neville Owen. “Physiological and Health Implications of a Sedentary Lifestyle.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 35, no. 6 (December 2010): 725–40. https://doi.org/10.1139/H10-079
- Jensen, E. (2005). Chapter 4. Movement and Learning. Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx
- Mandolesi, Laura, Arianna Polverino, Simone Montuori, Francesca Foti, Giampaolo Ferraioli, Pierpaolo Sorrentino, and Giuseppe Sorrentino. “Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits.” Frontiers in Psychology 9 (April 27, 2018). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509.
- Van Praag, H., Kempermann, G., & Gage, F. H. (1999). Running increases cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the adult mouse dentate gyrus. Nature Neuroscience. 2.2, 66–270. Retrieved from NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10195220.
- Liu, Patrick Z., and Robin Nusslock. “Exercise-Mediated Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus via BDNF.” Frontiers in Neuroscience 12 (February 7, 2018). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00052.