by Cailin Kowalewski
Classrooms and offices in Jaharis will be outfitted with new activity-promoting gadgets in 2015.
This spring, Friedman students and staff will have the chance to practice what they preach.
Thanks to efforts by Dr. Jen Sacheck and a team of doctoral students, workspaces and a classroom in Jaharis will feature new and innovative technologies that promote more active work and learning.
Dr. Sachek, who teaches N272: Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health in the spring, has a general research focus in physical fitness/activity and its associated health outcomes, in addition to sports nutrition, energy balance, and muscle health. She is also an avid rower and athlete, making the issue of activity-promoting workspaces a very personal one.
The forthcoming technologies, which include standing desks, exercise balls, and ergonomic rocking stools, are part of an effort to promote cultural shifts towards health and wellness in Chinatown and across the university. The new tools will be available to students in classes held in Room 156, in addition to a random selection of faculty offices on the second floor of Jaharis.
The project is funded through a year-long Tufts Innovates grant, offered by the Office of the Provost to “spark imaginative ideas to enhance learning and teaching, including interdisciplinary approaches that integrate research.” Dr. Sacheck and doctoral student Stacy Blondin successfully applied for the grant last February, and have since been acquiring the devices to use in NUTR272, which is offered every spring semester. They hope to make the class a more active “learning lab” for understanding physiology, exercise, and physical activity interventions. Students in the class will have access to the above devices in addition to lactate meters, exercise-related smart phone apps, body composition calipers, and about five Fitbits, which track physical activity.
The motivations for these changes are multifaceted. Dr. Sacheck’s interest in alternative methodologies for increasing physical activity and improving attention is an important one. But equally important is the fact that, despite recent flurries of media attention, comprehensive research is still lacking regarding the sit/stand issue. An article in Smithsonian magazine gives a fair summary of the hypothesized benefits of standing time (or rather, the commonly-cited threats associated with sedentary time), in addition to the research upon which these claims are based. Not surprisingly, extensive sedentary time has been examined in relation to all of the usual suspects, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. But whether standing can have a notable impact on these outcomes remains to be seen.
Even without rigorous evidence for its specific health benefits, diversifying classroom environments seems like good policy for the university. If for no other reason, innovation at Friedman is warranted because, as Sacheck explains, “the school of nutrition hasn’t tapped into many of the technological improvements that have gone on in other classrooms.”
If feedback from Friedman students and faculty is positive, the standing desk movement may spread beyond Friedman and across Tufts campuses. Sacheck and doctoral student Nicole Schultz are planning focus groups among undergraduate students to gauge their interest in the tools, and have submitted a proposal to the National Heart Association for a corporate wellness initiative using standing desks. Hopefully, Friedman students will benefit as their research gathers momentum and staying power…not to mention the fact that extra gadgets could potentially find their way into the student lounge.
For many students (ahem), it may seem hypocritical to study the negative health effects of extended sit/screen time in dimly-lit, three-hour classes. But as you slog your way to the gym or yoga studio this winter, feel encouraged by the fact that great changes in Jaharis may soon be heading your way.
Spring Classes in Room 156
NUTR 218: Communications Strategies in Health Promotion
NUTR 272: Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health
NUTR 330: Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
NUTR 342: Food Systems Modeling and Analysis
Cailin Kowalewski is a second-year FPAN student from Western New York who loves big dogs, tiny houses, and a good run. She plans to survive this winter with the help of homemade applesauce and copious amounts of Sabres hockey.