Too much down time: teens sit still for more than two thirds of their day

High schools are being called on to provide students with more opportunities to be active after an Australian study showed teenagers spend more than two thirds of their day sitting down.

In a world first, nearly 400 students from 18 Victorian high schools were tracked, using 'activPAL' wearable devices, by researchers from Deakin University.

The devices measured the amount of time the teenagers spent sitting, standing and lying down from the moment they woke up until they went to bed each night.

They discovered that the highest amount of time teens' spent sitting was during class, where they sat for 75 per cent of the time, closely followed by evenings where they spent 73 per cent of the time sitting.

Lead author of the study Dr Lauren Arundell said the data showed that teenagers' need to move more.

"Teens are typically driven to school, sit at school, driven home, do their homework, and then watch TV or play video games and go to bed," Dr Arundell said.

"While there's no specific target for a healthy amount of sitting time, Australian guidelines recommend that youth limit their recreational screen time to less than two hours per day and break up periods of sitting as often as possible.

"At the moment less than one in three teenagers are meeting that goal."

Dr Arundell said more intervention was required to encourage less sitting throughout each day and instead encourage teens to get up out of their seat.

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"The introduction of standing or active class lessons, where students are encouraged to stand and move around while completing their work, can be an effective way of getting students to sit less and move more at school," she said.

"But we also need to look at ways to make homework and recreation time less sedentary as teenagers spend almost three quarters of the evening period between 6pm and 10pm sitting."

Incorporating breaks from sitting in classroom activities would be one way to help teens with their overall physical and mental health, and boost learning outcomes.

"Research shows that when youth break up their sitting, they have greater concentration, focus and time-on-task following which is great for their learning," she said.

"Almost all lessons can incorporate standing or moving as it's not about changing the content of the lesson, but changing the way it's delivered to incorporate movement.

"Our previous research has also shown that when teachers begin to use standing and movement in their class, the children are more attentive afterwards which helps with classroom management."

Author and educator Rik Schnabel said encouraging movement breaks and active teaching techniques in classrooms helps engage kids with different learning styles.

"In our current educational system, we present education without regard to the different ways in which teens take in and process new information," Mr Schnabel said.

"We plonk our teens in colourful rooms, filled with visual clutter, packed with learners of all types and we ask them to stop moving, be quiet and concentrate.

"The benefits of teens moving more within the school environment delivers a higher level of engagement, instead of the stereotypical stance of supporting one's head to stop it from hitting the desk. When all students are engaged, then education is gained by all."

For students at The Academy, a Melbourne school for Year 11 and 12 students, founded by Alex Rance and Luke Surace, moving more is the focus.

"What sets us apart from other schools is our curriculum which is all contextualised around AFL," Mr Rance said.

"Our vision has always been to create a positive learning environment where we can re-engage students with their schooling and aligning education with these students' passion for AFL seemed like the perfect way to tackle this disengagement. 

"Our students are placed in an AFL-simulated environment during their two years at the Academy which includes a lot of time spent out on the oval and in the gym learning skills, drills and of course, moving their bodies. On average our students will spend two hours per day moving."

He strongly believes moving more at school helps his students focus better in class.

"Moving helps to break up the day for students and allows them to refocus and be as effective as they can be during the times that they do need to sit and concentrate," he said.

"We see first-hand the physical benefits of moving with our students through our physical development program however, we also see great mental health and social benefits of physical activity for our students."

The Academy student, Max Hell's from Hoppers Crossing and plays football for the Werribee Districts.

"What excited me about The Academy was the footy prospect of it and the full time footy education and experience," Max said.

Since being in a football focussed environment, where being active is part of schooling, he's been a lot happier to go to school.

"(At my old school) I couldn't really get a grasp on the education," he said.


The Academy is transitioning to an independent school model. The establishment and operation of the Academy as a school is subject to registration being granted by the VRQA. 

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