We work to live and we live to work in today’s modern day society. But the once praised and highly sought-after nine-to-five career has come under increasing scrutiny recent years as research hones in on the significant risks of excessive sitting for adults.
Can this also be true for children, who spend the majority of their day sitting at a classroom desk? One study has found that activity levels are thought to decline significantly after 8 years of age, specifically among girls.
Study Finds 3 Hours Of Sitting Reduces Vascular Function
The study began with every girl having healthy arterial function, but found that after they sat for three hours, arterial dilation fell by up to 33 percent. This is alarming because a mere 1 percent decline in vascular function is linked to an increase heart disease risk by 13 percent in adults.
The researchers found, however, that when the girls were not in the lab, their artery function returned to normal.
“It seems clear from our results that children should not sit for prolonged, uninterrupted periods of time,” study author Dr. Ali McManus, an associate professor of Pediatric Exercise Physiology at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, explained.
While Alan Hedge, a professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University, added, “This research suggests that children are not that different from adults in terms of fundamental physiology of the body. It confirms that sitting compresses blood vessels in young people just as much as it does in adults [and] just as much as it does in elderly.”
This Is Why Everyone Needs to Sit Less
While we often focus on why adults need to get up and get moving throughout the day, we’re now finding that children need to do this just as much.
The body is made to move around and be active, so it only makes sense that it rebels and goes through significant negative changes when it is forced to be sedentary for prolonged periods of time.
To really understand why you need to get moving, you need to learn why sitting for so long is bad for you. For starters, it can cause organ damage. When you sit, blood flows slower and muscles burn less fat. This makes it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. It also causes your pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, which may lead to diabetes.
It may even increase your risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers, with findings presented at the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit concluding that sitting increases lung cancer by 54 percent, uterine cancer by 66 percent, and colon cancer by 30 percent.
Sitting down after eating also causes your abdominal contents to compress. This slows digestion, which can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation.
Sitting can even result in brain damage, as sitting for too long restricts the flow of fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, both of which it needs to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.
It can also lead to posture problems, including a strained neck and shoulders, since many people hold their neck and head forward when working on a computer or talking on the phone. Back problems are also a risk, as sitting puts intense pressure on your spine.
Because sitting doesn’t require you to use your abdominal muscles, it can also lead to muscle degeneration. Your hips can suffer, too, becoming tight and losing range of motion, while your legs can suffer from poor circulation, resulting in varicose veins.
But with all this insight, how do we change what seems inevitable? Adults work at desks and children learn at desks for prolonged periods.
Implementing Standing Desks
Forward-thinking schools have taken note of the problems associated with forcing children to sit still for prolonged periods of time, giving them more opportunity to move around throughout the day. For instance, at least four classes have introduced chair-less standing desks at Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael, California. The students have reported that the desks are “fun” and help them to feel “more focused.”
Naperville Central High School in Illinois has also implemented a special program that allows students to use exercise bikes and balls throughout the day in their classrooms. Those who took part nearly doubled their reading scores, while math scores increased 20-fold.
Longevity, productivity, and success also rely on movement. In fact, people who made a point to get up and walk around for two minutes every hour boosted their lifespan by 33 percent as opposed to those who didn’t.
It’s important to increase your physical movement at work and elsewhere. Adults can do this by keeping materials at arm’s length, making it necessary for you to get up out of your seat to use the printer, retrieve files, use the phone, etc. You can also sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair, and set a timer to remind yourself to stand up and move about for at least two to 10 minutes every hour. Go for a walk or do simple exercises by your desk.
Children can take advantage, too. Parents should limit screen time and encourage them to play sports or pick up an active hobby like dance classes. You can also make their chores active, like walking the dog or raking the leaves.
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