Tag: seating

It’s been called the new cancer and it’s killing us. Sitting hunched forward looking at a screen all day causes a laundry list of health issues, from heart and brain damage to back, hip and neck problems.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that such is the growing awareness of the dangers of sitting, that in addition to ensuring correct ergonomics for desks and chairs, she increasingly works with movement specialists like Monja Boonzaier, who helps employees preserve their health in the office.

Boonzaier (who teaches locally the internationally accepted Feldenkrais Method of body awareness and movement) says that although many people understand how bad all day sitting is, much of the advice on how to combat it “is impractical and wrong.”

“For example, people are advised to sit leaning back. But how can you sit back in chair and work on a computer? A lot of advice is also centred around having a strong core because you need those muscles to hold you upright.

“It’s a good theory but people know from their own experience a strong stomach does not make you sit upright. If you watch someone who has been told to sit or stand straight they cannot maintain this ‘correct’ position without a continuous effort. As soon as their attention shifts to an activity that is interesting they will slump back to their original posture.”

Boonzaier says that dynamic sitting is a powerful solution and is increasingly taught the world over as a way to combat the ill effects of sitting all day.

“We recommend arm and wrist stretches, doing side bends to the left and the right to stretch lower back pains, and also doing glute stretches like lunges or swinging each leg forward and back while standing. You should also regularly roll your feet, rock your pelvis back and forth, shift your weight to the left and right sides of your seat, and press each ear to its nearest shoulder. “

Boonzaier says this only take a few minutes and suggests doing a few of them every hour as it will dramatically reduce joint stiffness and back pain. “Ideally people should also get up from their desks and walk around the office or up and down the stairs every hour too.”

Trim, however, warns that stretching at work doesn’t mean you can skip exercise. “The three best exercises to combat sitting for long spells are squats, lunges and wall sits. The best thing about these exercises that you can do them anywhere, you don’t need a gym.”

Trim adds that ergonomically friendly desks and chairs was also fundamental to good office health. “Amongst other things, this means having an adjustable chair that supports your spine and allows you to sit with feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor. Desks should have clearance for your knees. Computer monitors should be placed directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard.”

There is another often overlooked aspect to sitting all day – we forget to breathe.
“Bad posture and stress at work often makes us forget to breathe properly. Every hour, take a few moments to take three or four really deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then out slowly and press the breath out of your lungs. This can be done while stretching.”

How space affects learning

South Africa faces a particularly challenging teaching environment with often overcrowded classrooms, distracted learners and hard working but sometimes under-qualified teachers.

And another, more subtle challenge is that traditional teaching classroom experiences are often not aligned with how the brain works, particularly as it relates to attention.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that learning institutions in South Africa can achieve far better results by better understanding how learning works.

“There are so many things vying for student attention today it makes it harder to get attention and therefore engagement but there are five things that can be done to dramatically improve results:

Seat location impacts attention

A study by Kennesaw State University revealed that where students sit in the classroom impacts focus. Says Andrews: “Students in the front and middle of the classroom stayed on task, while those in the back were more distracted. An active learning classroom where students easily moved and rearrange their seating enables them to stay attentive.”

Classrooms configured with no fixed position where the instructor must stand and mobile seating create better results. Here an teacher or student can address the class, lead a discussion and share content from anywhere in the classroom. There’s no front or back of the classroom, and since the seating allows students to change posture and position easily, every seat is the best seat in the room.

Active learning

Research by Diane M. Bunce, et. al. on “How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class?”, compared a passive lecture approach and active learning methods. Researchers noted fewer attention lapses during times of active learning. They also found fewer lapses in attention during a lecture that immediately followed a demonstration or after a question was asked, compared to lectures that preceded active learning methods. This suggests active learning may have dual benefits: engaging student attention and refreshing attention immediately afterward.

Physical movement fuels the brain

Schools are starting to incorporate more physical activity in the classroom, such as Delaney Connective, a high school in Sydney, Australia, where students do “brain pushups” each morning: five-minute, Tai Chi-like exercises that get the blood flowing and help students focus.
“Physical movement increases alertness and helps encode and trigger memory. Yet schools and teachers traditionally train students to be sedentary, and equate sitting still with greater attention and focus,” noted Andrews.
Simply allowing students to get out of their seats to move while learning provides the brain with much-needed novelty and change.

Novelty and change get attention

Our brains naturally seek out what’s new and different. Therefore varying materials and breaks facilitate attention. A study by Kennesaw State University found that students paid more attention when the professor reviewed quiz answers, presented new information or shared videos, essentially by changing things up.
Novelty and change facilitate learning in another way too. Repeating important points by engaging multiple senses helps to reinforce learning. There is a greater likelihood that learning will generalise outside the classroom if it is organised across sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive networks.

Learning has a natural rhythm

The need for periods of both quiet focus and healthy distraction finds its parallel in learning.
Our brain can focus on a task for only so long, after which it needs a break for renewal to achieve high performance on the next task. Ignore this rhythm and we tend to lose focus.
“Researchers have found that people who respect this natural rhythm are more productive,” says Andrews. Breaks for rest and renewal are critical to the body and brain, as well as to attention span. The work of education is similarly organic, changing at different times of the term, week, even during a single class period.

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