With online classes and an abundance of Zoom calls, our backs and necks feel like they’ve aged forty years in four weeks. These long bouts of sitting — combined with more caffeine than the average person needs in a day — have lasting effects on both long and short term health.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the average Canadian spends 10 hours a day engaging in sedentary behaviour, like sitting or lying down. Although businesses have been pushing for more ergonomically-correct work spaces, the same cannot be said for student household, as we scramble to make the transition to online learning.

Doctors have noted for years that an increase in back strain and other physical problems are a result of poor ergonomics in schools where students often work online.

“People who sit for long periods of time are at higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, mood and anxiety disorders like depression and premature death,” says Marc Mitchell, assistant professor of Kinesiology at Western University. “The risk is greatest for diabetes — almost a 100 per cent increase as opposed to people who don’t sit for long periods of time.”

The short term effects of sitting for long periods of time are just as bleak, including impacts on mood, academic performance, muscle pain and sleep.

The negative side effects of sitting for long periods of time are high, but the fix is quick and easy — incorporate some standing into your life.

“Your goal should be to either stand every 45 to 60 minutes or accumulate two to three minutes of walking every hour,” Mitchell says. “You don’t have to be training for a triathlon, just standing up and maybe walking around at a leisurely pace can have a big increase on your mood.”

Mitchell also notes that people who engage in light physical activity are happier and more resilient.

“You'll prevent some of the negative side effects of sitting like mental health and productivity right away,” he adds. 

While moving around may mitigate some of the negative impacts of online learning, there are also habits you can adopt to minimize the impacts of sitting down.

The University of Nevada suggests that your hands, wrists and forearms should be parallel to the floor and that your back is fully supported when sitting vertically. Your computer should be at eye level, so one doesn’t have to look up or down at the screen to prevent neck pain. By sitting efficiently, students can prevent eye, back and wrist strain. 

So while that Netflix documentary sounds cool or your new addiction to “Among Us” has you sitting on your phone for four hours on your “study break,” try to consider your body in the process — it’ll thank you later for getting up and being active.

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Sarah is a Culture Editor for volume 114. Email her at sarah.wallace@westerngazette.ca or find her on Twitter @sarahkwallace7

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