Taking A Stand On Children’s Health – One Desk At A Time

pic-1By Peter Parker.

How do you see the health of your students? Do you feel they are moving as much as they should be in their normal school day? Are there strategies in place for your school to take a lead on children’s health? Do you want to be part of a very significant shift to help your students physically and mentally, while possibly also improving their performance at school? Installing standing desks could be the answer.

Some startling facts:

  • Children are sitting for up to 80 percent of their day.
  • The sitting epidemic has been compared to the negative health implications of smoking and is said to be worse.

Sitting for as little as two hours continuously increases the risk for:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • back and neck pain
  • repetitive stress injuries
  • pelvic floor dysfunction
  • hip and knee disorders

There is no doubt that standing desks are an ‘on trend’ topic in today’s world. Every week, there is media attention citing the increase in activity in standing desks for the corporate arena; but why is that focus and community awareness for standing desks not being extended to schools and students?

Put simply, standing desks in schools may be the most simple, effective and easily compliant measure to improve children’s health. The proportion of time children spend sitting with very poor postures on any screen device has exploded. While the time spent on technology is a contentious one, parents and teachers can change the position in which they do it.

Research conducted over the past five years (http://www.upstandingkids.org/#!research-and-articles/cpvw) very clearly explains the negative impact of sitting, with the cardiovascular, intestinal, musculoskeletal and respiratory systems all negatively affected. To help students burn 25–35 percent more calories in their days, which is especially important for those who are overweight or obese, get them standing. Anecdotally, teachers in trials report improved focus, concentration and cognitive benefit by using standing desks. A movement-rich environment could well be the key.

Many children, especially boys, need to fidget. Standing desks allow that extra layer of energy expenditure and nervous system activity via ‘fidget bars’, which allow students to shift within their work station. This then allows their focus to be on learning, as they have expended ancillary activity by being able to move and fidget. In special needs and autistic children who are able bodied, this is even more clearly defined, with the facilitation of movement at a standing desk potentially allowing better concentration.

The ideal scenario is for a child to start kinder or school on a standing desk. That way, they will never know any differently and their perception of what is normal or best fit lays in the fact that this is all they know. Putting these children back into a chair would be stifling and just not feel appropriate. Physically, these children will retain their primal movements, such as the ability to do a passive squat, and will keep the front of their hip joints soft and open, and core muscle groups activated and soft.

When a person sits, his breathing is shallow and confined more to the upper lungs. The diaphragm, the huge muscle that sits between the lungs and intestines, is compressed. This powerhouse region is so important and needs to move with softness and full amplitude to better oxygenate the body. Getting students to stand improves their breathing and better nourishes every system in the body, let alone the brain – the one organ teachers want firing and working at its best when in the classroom.

The incidence of conditions like Osgood-Schlatter disease (inflammation of the bone, cartilage and/or tendon at the top of the tibia at the point of the patellar ligament attachment) and Sever’s disease (inflammation of the growth plate in the heel) has never been higher and is due to tightness through the front of the hips, which causes children to overarch their lower back and load the front of the knees and backs of the ankles. Maintaining the ability to squat, lunge, twist, pull and push without the epidemic of sitting is paramount in all of this discussion.

If a group of 10 year olds is asked to squat, likely over half will not be able do it, will fall over or look completely awkward in doing something that should be so natural. Why does that happen when in other cultures it remains a natural, easy movement? The follow-on consequences of losing such a pivotal movement are massive and a topic that can be discussed and debated long and hard.

UpStanding Kids, a not-for-profit organisation, aims to help educate parents, schools and councils on the physical and mental health benefits associated with standing desks and to place adjustable standing desks in schools across Australia and beyond. How progressive and forward-thinking is your school? Help your students be the best they can be by breaking away from convention and what has always been done.

Peter Parker is a registered osteopath with over 20 years’ experience. He is the founder and a director of UpStanding Kids and is passionate about helping children maintain and improve their health. For more information on how UpStanding Kids can help your students, visit http://www.upstandingkids.org

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