Standing desks have been on my mind a lot lately. I've read the research showing that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to all kinds of health issues, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. In fact, The World Health Organization now ranks physical inactivity as the 4th largest risk factor for death globally behind obesity.
I've felt the effects of sitting all day firsthand. After 15-plus years of being parked at a desk every weekday, I spent nine months last year living a more active lifestyle and felt my body start to change. My posture improved while my mysterious aches disappeared. Then I went back to the "sitting at a desk" grind and within weeks I was at a chiropractor for back pain and my shoulders had resumed their forward slumped position. I'm working on getting myself a standing desk and hope to put myself on the right path. But, while I've been worrying about my own health, it only recently crossed my mind that maybe I should be worried about my children sitting all day, too.
Kids in elementary school sit five to seven hours a day. Would they (especially my fidgety boys) be better off with standing desks too? The organization StandUpKids thinks so. They're currently fundraising with the mission of "get[ting] every public school child at a standing desk in 10 years, to combat the epidemic of sedentary lifestyles and inactivity, and to better reflect 21st century education goals." They call children's sedentary lifestyle a "public health crisis." The organization points out that tacking on exercise like playing on a soccer team or taking a gymnastics class isn't enought to combat the effects of sitting all day—something more needs to be done.
It seems like a radical idea at first—just try picturing a classroom of kids standing behind their desks. And is it really necessary? After all, kids have been sitting at school for generations. But as our society has evolved, our kids have started sitting more outside of school. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children spend an average of seven hours a day on screens including television, computers, and phones. That's a lot more sitting than any previous generation—and we don't yet know what effect it will have on our kids later in life (but it can't be good, right?). Converting to standing desks in school seems like such a simple, (ultimately) cost-effective solution to a huge societal problem. (The desk pictured above is currently available on Amazon for $225.) We can give our kids a healthier start in life and do it at school, where they spend so many hours of their lives.
Beyond the health benefits, there's also research that shows kids learn better standing up. Researchers at Texas A&M found that students at standing desks exhibited higher rates of engagement—measured by on-task behaviors like answering a question, raising a hand, and participating in discussions—than their seated counterparts. And for those kids who have trouble sitting still, staying attentive, and not disrupting class, a standing desk might allow enough movement to help them thrive in the classroom. My son gets movement breaks at school when he's having trouble concentrating. I can imagine he might not need these breaks quite so often if he were standing throughout the day.
What do you think? Should standing desks be the norm in schools?
Photo via SafeCoProducts
Tracy Odell is the General Manager of Parents Digital and mom of two boys. When she's not sitting, she likes CrossFit and gardening (though not usually at the same time). You can follow her on Twitter at @tracyodell.