A hidden health hazard

Too much sitting could be a health issue for many University students and staff on campus.

Jennah Fannoun

A surprising amount of a student’s day, whether we’re in class, on the bus, in the dining hall or studying, involves sitting. We spend more time in seats than on our feet, and it’s so automatic we don’t even realize it.

At least, I didn’t realize it. It was very common for me to go from a three-hour lecture straight to a coffee shop to sit down and study for another few hours, and then catch a bus home — seated, of course.

In the past few years, however, many studies have documented just how unhealthy it can be to spend so much time off one’s feet. They’ve also found sitting increases chances of developing one of several health problems, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and certain cancers. It may even lead to an earlier death.

A researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center specifically tested young, healthy individuals and found that even they experience ill effects from being sedentary for too long.

Perhaps most unnervingly, the research indicates that exercising doesn’t seem to counteract these effects of sitting all day. This means we can’t rely on going to the gym or taking a long walk a few times a week to counteract hours and hours of sitting.

But as college students, what are we supposed to do? The fact that sitting is unhealthy is hardly an excuse to skip class. And for many other activities, sitting is simply necessary.

One of the easiest solutions that researchers have suggested is simply to spend more time standing up. Standing activates the leg muscles, which shut down after sitting for too long, and help to keep blood flowing throughout the body. Next time you’re studying, try seeking out the high tables that can be found throughout campus (the student centers and several other buildings have them). Or stand while catching a bus ride between campuses.

I tried standing more often, and this small change in habit had big results. I became much less restless in class, and I could focus better on my work and studies. It feels a bit odd at first, but the benefits of standing over sitting are definitely worth it.