Sitting down for extended periods of time taking its toll on students

Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Students not only have to work their butts off, but also have to spend a lot of time sitting on them too. On any given day, you find yourself sitting in a lecture, then on your way home you either sit down on the bus or in the car. Once at home, it’s usually sitting down once again to either study or watch Netflix. Being constantly seated is not the best for someone’s health.

“As humans and animals, we are not made to sit down for long periods of time. We are essentially meant to do low grade movements all the time,” said Jenny Telfer-Crum, a physiotherapist at World of My Baby in Milton.

Telfer-Crum explains that sitting down for long periods of time can be a double edge-sword to your health. The first aspect of sitting down is that people do not sit with a proper posture. We often sit with a slouching posture with our heads forward and upper back forward. Sitting like that for a long period of time can create a lot of tension in our muscles. The second aspect of sitting down for long periods of time is that it can hurt your cardiovascular health like your heart and blood cholesterol.

People often think that they can offset sitting down the whole day with a period of exercise, which is not true. Even if someone does set aside time to exercise, sitting for the majority of the day will cause them to experience the negative aspects of sitting.

So how should we be sitting?

Telfer-Crum explained that we should aim for a position with neutral joint angles. What this essentially means is that our feet are on the floor about shoulder width apart, knees bent at a 90-degree angle and our knees are on the same level as our hips. Our shoulders should be rolled back and we should not have our chin protruding in front of us.

What students can do is change their position frequently while sitting in lecture. Aim to switch between a slouching position to one with neutral joint angles about once every half-hour. Keep track of this by setting up a silent notification on a phone or laptop to remind yourself to change your sitting position.

Often in longer lectures, professors give students a 10-minute break. Use this break as your chance to move around. You do not have to have to be on a mission during this break; even just simply getting up and walking around can be beneficial.

Breaks from sitting should also be part of a student’s study time. As Telfer-Crum suggests, giving yourself a two-minute movement break while studying can help your health as well.  If you are into yoga, you can do some sun-salutations or even just getting up and walking around the house can be very helpful.

A change in study space can help with posture. Students should have their screens at eye level using a raised platform to adjust the height of their screens.

Cellphones also impact many aspects of our lives; in fact, they can change how we sit. As Telfer-Crum pointed out, often when we use our phones, we usually have them close to our chests, causing us to bend our necks to look directly down at the screen, putting strain on our backs and necks.

Sitting is unavoidable for many university students, however there are many ways that students can make small changes to improve their lifestyle and reduce the negative impacts that sitting has on their health. Small changes can lead to big improvements.

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