classrooms offer plenty of nourishment for the mind, but how does the body fare now that summer's sweet sojourn is over? The places where we nurture our intellects don't always promote good health for our more corporeal selves.Bet you've already figured that out. Ever left a lecture or a class queasy, breathless, headachy or anxious to snooze? The Canadian Lung Association estimates that half the country's learning venues have indoor air quality problems.
Sometimes pollutant levels are significantly higher than they are outside, and while this throws everyone off, people with asthma and respiratory problems (one in five Canadians) are especially affected. Contributing factors can include everything from mould and cleaning fluids to exhaust fumes from outdoors.
But there are other hazards: heating and ventilation systems that don't provide enough humidity or fresh air, low or no natural light, furniture that fails to provide back support. Besides lethargy, watch for irritated eyes and nose, itchiness and difficulty concentrating.
Then come the warning signs of one-size-fits-all furniture: fidgeting, poor concentration, neck and back pain or spasms.
In Ontario, say those in the loop, education's threat to your health has only worsened of late because the Tory government's belt-tightening has led to the "deferral" or cancellation of many needed building-maintenance tasks.
In the meantime, you need to look after yourself. Here's some advice.
"Stay hydrated. Dehydration makes individuals much more susceptible to chemical emissions or lack of fresh air. Drinks containing caffeine or sugar are dehydrating. The herbs echinacea and astragalus help your immune system deal with emissions."
ARVIN JENAB Naturopath
"Fluorescent lights are very unnatural for the eyes -- they cause headaches, visual disturbances and difficulty reading. In some people they trigger migraines. A pink filter in glasses helps some people cope. Get outside every day for at least 20 minutes, for natural light and fresh air. Extra vitamin C helps keep the body clean in the face of chemical exposure. Ten milligrams per kilogram of body weight is a base protective dose."
PAMELA THORNTON Naturopath
"At U of T, whenever there have been cutbacks, maintenance is one of the first things affected. Simple things like cleaning ducts or replacing filters aren't being done. Some lecture theatres have large, heavy curtains that haven't been cleaned in years. We've had more than one problem with mould."
MARYANN DeFRANCIS Chair, Health and Safety, local 1998, United Steelworkers of America "Desks are not typically set up to accommodate laptops so people strain the neck and low back. The angle of the writing surface is rarely bent toward the student, so they have to bend the neck forward to see to write. The seats typically don't provide any support to the lower back. A rolled-up towel behind the small of the back, if possible, would be beneficial.'
DENNIS MIZEL president
Ontario Chiropractic Association
"We were finding that there was a correlation between performance and environment. In our environmentally controlled rooms, we use white boards with non-toxic markers, recycled furniture that doesn't off-gas, non-chemical cleaners, better air filtration and no carpets. It's a little bit more expensive than running an average classroom."
CRAIG HYND, environmental officer
Waterloo regional school board