In browsing through a collection of “stories of interest,” I came across a NYT article from February of this year about how some classrooms are being redesigned without chairs. By forcing students to stand (rather than sit) at their desks, teachers are reporting an decrease in fidgety behavior among their students and an increase in attention paid to academics. From “Student stand when called upon, and when not“:
Dr. James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, advocates what he calls “activity-permissive” classrooms, including stand-up desks.
“We can’t say for sure that this has an impact on those two things, but we’re hypothesizing that they may,” said Beth A. Lewis of the School of Kinesiology, or movement science, at the University of Minnesota. “I think we’re so used to the traditional classroom it’s taken a while for people to start thinking outside the box. I think it’s just a matter of breaking the mold.”
“Having many children sit in a classroom isn’t the craziest idea, but look at how children have changed,” Dr. Levine said of the sedentary lives of many. “We also have to change, to meet their needs.”
Teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin say they know from experience that the desks help give children the flexibility they need to expend energy and, at the same time, focus better on their work rather than focusing on how to keep still.
Researchers should soon know whether they can confirm those calorie-burning and scholastic benefits. Two studies under way at the University of Minnesota are using data collected from Ms. Brown’s classroom and others in Minnesota and Wisconsin that are using the new desks. The pupils being studied are monitored while using traditional desks as well, and the researchers are looking for differences in physical activity and academic achievement.
I wrote a similar-themed post on an older (now defunct) blog back in 2007:
In today’s in-front-of-the-television, in-the-car, on-the-computer culture, getting 30-60 minutes of vigorous exercise and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is not enough to help us lose weight. We also need to (drum roll please)… Stand up!
In a new study from scientists at the University of Missouri, reported by ABC News, “scientists say just standing up may be as important as exercise” in maintaining overall fitness and health.
The peer-reviewed study was published this month in the academic journal Diabetes. Marc Hamilton is the associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of the research team that conducted this study. According to the ABC News summary of the study, “We have to pay more attention to what’s happening when we aren’t in the gym, because the body’s ability to dispose of fat virtually shuts down, at least if we’re sitting down.”
As for how to best stimulate the body during our often sedentary workdays, it doesn’t take much — simple puttering gets the blood flowing. But if taking a two minute walk break every hour to the bathroom or office kitchen is too difficult to manage in one’s always-on-always-working workday, simply standing up works the large leg and back muscles necessary for helping to burn fat. When we sit, the enzyme responsible for burning fat is suppressed.
This reminds me of an anecdote I heard of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Apparently, annoyed about attending a meeting that easily stretched into the longer end of an hour, he took all the chairs out of the conference room. The next meeting, people were forced to stand. The result: the meeting was over in less than 15 minutes.
Related: “Spending the workday at 1 MPH“