3MT champ stands up to sitting down

Paul Mayne//Western News

Health Sciences PhD student Yoah Sui’s presentation, Sofa, so good? Maybe not, took top spot at Western’s 3MT competition, moved through the Ontario regional finals at McMaster University, and now will compete at the 3MT National Competition June 3.

Yoah Sui is no psychic. But he knows what you’re doing right now.

Sitting.

“We are sedentary almost everywhere – in our cars, at work, at school, with our friends, even eating,” explained the Health Sciences PhD student, adding the average Canadian spends at least 11 hours a day sitting.

“Research has shown sitting is bad for your health, in the sense that you have a greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even some cancers. The other side of health though, that we don’t really consider a lot, is how does all that sitting make you feel.”

Sui stressed there is more to measuring a person’s health than just the absence of chronic disease. Subjective well-being, he continued, encompasses not only how you feel, but also how satisfied you are with life.

So, when contemplating sitting, does excessive sitting lead to lower subjective well-being or does lower subjective well-being lead to more sitting?

Sui explored those questions as part of the annual Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) research competition, where graduate students have just 180 seconds to present their research and its impact to non-specialist audience.

Sui’s presentation, Sofa, so good? Maybe not, took top spot at Western’s 3MT competition, moved through the Ontario regional finals at McMaster University, and now will compete at the 3MT National Competition June 3.

Sui is one of just 11 PhD students across Canada to make it to Nationals.

“Every graduate student, at some point or another, has been asked about their thesis to the point where I might as well know how to explain it super quick and super well.”

Sui said the 3MT competition is a great example of knowledge dissemination, ultimately wanting to take what we learn, what we create in the research sphere, and hand it over to “the knowledge-users” so they can “do something with it.”

Sui’s research focuses on manipulating the sedentary behaviour of university students to look at its impact on their subjective well-being. Take an active student and make them more sedentary or vice versa, he said.

“On the anxiety and depression scales, some students are really struggling out there. That is alarming to see,” he said. “Some of it is related to sedentary behaviour.

“It’s not just the sitting – it’s what you’re doing while you’re sitting. Out with friends for drinks? You feel good. Sitting and watching TV or on computer doing things not related to work, like social media? Not good. We don’t want to take away sitting from the things that make you feel good, but, overall, the type of sitting students are doing has some impact on their well-being.”

We have embraced “a culture of sitting,” Sui said. “Sitting is a good thing – it’s relaxing, it’s comforting. But we’re doing it to excess. Our bodies aren’t meant to be stationary for so long. It’s about identifying those things that make you feel good while your sitting versus things you just sit to do.

“There are no guidelines for sedentary behaviour as there are for physical activity. But if we can show that changing our sitting habits can positively impact our subjective well-being, maybe we can inform guidelines, maybe improve the lives of all Canadians, maybe make life a little more satisfying.”