Standing Up Against Sitting Down: How Sitting Has Seeped Into American Culture

Featured image by @blinkthemag

I fidget, spin, twirl, dance, stand…I can’t sit still. I’m the one person standing in the back of a class, or standing while doing homework in the math center. I know, I seem pretty weird for not sitting. Let me explain.

I was a commuter high school student for 3 years, driving over 30 minutes to and from school each day. At school, I would sit for 6 hours and then go home to sit for 3-4 more hours of homework.

Then, I got worse.

My stomach was revolting against me and for anyone who has ever had a digestive or autoimmune disease…you understand. It’s true that when the gut is happy, the body’s happy. And when the gut is in disarray, your body feels broken.

This was when I stopped sitting (cue the angelic choir). I transferred to an online charter school program my senior year of high school and started something new. I started living outdoors 90% of the day. Math homework? I’d bring my phone and do it online on my 2-hour hike. Need to write an essay? I think better outside and would write it on my google docs app. This was a big change from the girl who would binge-watch entire seasons of NBC sitcoms in one weekend (sometimes entire series–I’m looking at you Parks and Rec and The Office). I know this seems like a luxurious and rather alternative way to learn, but I had been bed-ridden a majority of my junior year so finally, I felt healthy. And good luck learning when you’re not healthy.

This was a transition if you’d ever witnessed one. Not only more activity, less sitting, but more real food. Healthy food, one ingredient foods, fruits, greens, vegetables, kale (kale is a mean lettuce…but this was the start of “something new” -Troy Bolton c. 2006). Goodbye packaged snacks! Au revoir sneaky sugars in pretty boxes created by clever marketers! I’m too smart for you!

Then came the beautiful college life, still driving quite often, but no more 6 hour blocks of sitting. More flexibility.

In-class classes. Real in-person classes–with desks and everything! Wow! How exciting! My first semester was full of 1-hour class blocks that were short and sweet and delightfully efficient (I could go on runs in between!).

The second semester was more than that…filled with a. lot. of. sitting. By the end of that semester, I felt awful. I trudged through my third semester not with an avid fervor to learn, but with reluctance and with a low energy attitude. I sat because I became conditioned to sitting as the cultural norm.

It made me wonder: If I can’t sit still, and I’m in college, how are kids sitting for so long in schools across America?

At School

The need to sit is required for traditional classroom learning. Sit still and if you don’t, you have a learning disorder, we’re told.

2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active in classrooms “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.” And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“We need to recognize that children are movement-based,” said Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, New Jersey. “In schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time.”

It’s almost as if schools train kids to be really good at sitting so they can then join a workforce where they must sit all day.

At Work

70% of full-time American workers hate sitting. And yet, 86% of the American workforce does it nearly all day, at least 5 days a week. In addition to all of that sitting at work, 36% sit to watch 1-2 hours of TV, 10% game, and 29% sit at a home computer. On average, Americans are sitting 13 hours a day.

Sitting Disease. It’s real, and it’s a real problem. It is a metabolic syndrome that results from the detrimental effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle, not necessarily junk food and no exercise, but simply the prolonged state of sitting.

The American Medical Association has recognized the risks of prolonged sitting, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, encouraging employees and employers to find available alternatives to sitting.

The Alternatives

“I’m mad about this! You’re absolutely right!” you say, “But I have to learn. I have to go to school. I have to go to work.”

Although we feel conditioned to sit, maybe this is because not many people have challenged the status quo to do something different.

As the new REI campaign proclaims, “We are becoming the first indoor species.” If innovation and the industrial revolution has created this atmosphere, maybe we should do our best to keep ourselves healthy within it.

Maybe standing desks at work and in schools.

Dance breaks for kids in class? Put on Jackson 5 and Schoolhouse Rock songs.

More class time outdoors?

Maybe work breaks that aren’t only meant for rushed eating or more sitting. Maybe incentivize movement, activity, and employee health.

Standing improves posture, increases blood flow, increases metabolism, lowers blood sugar levels, and increases energy. And I don’t think I have to tell you the benefits of movement and daily exercise.

So maybe stand more, sit less, and understand that some people learn better when they’re moving. In fact, I’d argue, most people do.

Maybe we should change a well-established trend if it’s for the sake of our health.

Kylie Necochea

Studying biology and public health in San Diego. You can find her hiking somewhere, running to early 2000s Disney channel tunes, trying to make chemistry fun, or thinking of one-liners to impress Tina Fey with if ever on a shared 30 rock elevator ride (fingers crossed).

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