When Tim Cook first announced the release of the now ubiquitous Apple Watch in 2015, he made a statement that was met with some criticism.

“If I sit for too long, [the Apple Watch] will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up,” Cook said, “because a lot of doctors think sitting is the new cancer.”

A study from Western’s Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory, led by Harry Prapavessis, is probably the best place to start in understanding what Cook meant.

Sitting is definitely not the new cancer, but “prolonged sitting (typically in bouts of 20 minutes or more),” the study explained, “can cause higher levels of fasting insulin and can increase an individual’s chance of getting type 2 diabetes, increased waist circumference… and increased risk of all-cause mortality.”

The study also mentions evidence that sedentary behaviour is related to cancer risks, specifically, colon, endometrial and lung cancer associated with extended sedentary time.

In the paper, titled “Increasing Nonsedentary Behaviors in University Students Using Text Messages: Randomized Controlled Trial,” Prapavessis and his team looked at ways to break up sedentary behaviour through text message reminders. They had recurrent text messages sent out to students reminding them to take breaks from sitting by either standing or participating in light or moderate-intensity physical activity.

“The premise here with this kind of trial is to start looking at ways of identifying people in society who spend a lot of time sitting like university students,” Prapavessis said. “And to try to give them some constructive ways to break up long periods of sitting because that seems to be the key.”

Prapavessis is adamant about giving students the opportunity to get active and sit less. He believes we’ve cultivated a culture that’s normalized sedentary behaviour. The risks, he says, will sneak up on us later in life.

“People who are in their twenties and thirties think they’re paying a lot now for health care costs,” Prapavessis said. “Holy shit, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

So what would a standing university culture look like? Prapavessis believes that there are simple solutions available to us like having signs beside elevators encouraging students to take the stairs.

Other options include dynamic sitting (where students can sit on exercise balls) or, if they choose, using standing desks in classrooms and libraries.

Sitting through your two hour lecture on an exercise ball or standing may seem abnormal and Prapavessis realizes that, he’s spent the greater part of his career frustrated with what’s considered “normal.”

Jana Luker, associate vice-president student experience, isn’t opposed to the idea of providing students with more health opportunities. Though she does recognize that it’s ultimately up to individual divisions.

“I think that the individual divisions decide what their priorities are and the way our budgeting system goes,” Luker said. “Nothing is going to happen over night anyway, even if everybody was completely in support of it because of the realities of facilities for instance. I would defer to the costs.”

If we’re talking exercise balls and signs then costs would be relatively low. But according to facilities management at Western, standing desks, whether they’re manual or machine operated, range from $650 to $1200.

Conventional style desks can range from $150 to $240 even if it’s just a simple single student desk.

While the Apple Watch may encourage you to get up and start moving after sitting for a long period of time, shifting the culture at Western to embrace more standing may take time. 


Moses Monterroza is a news editor for Volume 110 of the Gazette. Previously, he was an arts and life editor for Volume 109, and staff writer for Volume 108. You can reach him at moses@westerngazette.ca.

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