I grew up in an era before TV remotes were in every household. If you were watching channel 3 when I was a kid and wanted to see what was on channel 5, you got up out of your easy chair or off the couch and walked over to the TV and changed the channel. The phrase "Channel Surfing" wasn't known back then.
That same era did not have a plethora of video games etc. to amuse us for hours at a time. Consequently I spent most of my youth outdoors. In rode my bicycle, I hiked the hills around home, we played football and baseball in the yards and yes even "Cowboys and Indians" when we were younger. Our telephone was reminiscent of "Andy Of Mayberry". We were on a party line and just like Sheriff Andy Taylor, we had to pick up the phone and call "Sarah - the operator" for many of our calls. I believe our phone number was a short, and (2) longs...rings that is, which put us in touch with someone on our party line. The word TEXT had to do with a chapter or portion out of a book. Yes, we actually read books in those days too.
Enough about me. I am just glad that I grew up in America when I did and that I loved my childhood and being active.
What Makes Sitting So Detrimental to Your Health?
According to David Dunstan with the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, the lack of muscle contraction caused by sitting decreases blood flow through your body, thereby reducing the efficiency of biological processes."In addition to engaging in regular health enhancing exercise, people should be encouraged to also think what they do during the long periods in the day in which they are not exercising," he told Reuters.8Indeed, while regular exercise is undoubtedly important, it’s becoming increasingly clear that staying active—and by that I mean just movement, virtually any physical movement, especially standing up—as much as possible throughout the day is in all likelihood imperative for health and longevity. While I don’t discount the idea that poor blood flow contributes to the detrimental effects of chronic sitting, I believe there’s more to it than that.Earlier this year, I interviewed Dr. Joan Vernikos,9 former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, on this topic. She presents a very interesting scientific explanation for why sitting has such a dramatic impact on your health, and what you can do about it.She approached the problem from a different angle than most. Curious to find out why regular exercise does not appear to compensate for the negative effects of prolonged sitting, her research focused on finding out what type of movement iswithdrawn by sitting. What she discovered was astounding. She found it is the change in posture that acts against gravity that is the most powerful, in terms of having a beneficial impact on your health. Regularly standing up from a seated position was in fact found to be more effective than walking! According to Dr. Vernikos:“The key to lifelong health is more than just traditional gym exercise, three to five times a week. The answer is to rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural low-intensity non-exercise movement that uses the gravity vector throughout the day.”
What’s Gravity Got to Do with It?
The word “gravity vector” reveals Dr. Vernikos’ background and expertise with anti-gravity. She was in fact one of the primary doctors assigned to keep NASA astronauts from deteriorating in space. In an anti-gravity situation, your body deteriorates at a far more rapid pace, and interestingly enough, sitting for an extended period of time simulates a low-gravity type environment for your body.Activities such as housecleaning, rolling dough, gardening, hanging clothes to dry, bending over to pick up a stray sock, reaching for an item on a high shelf... all of these fall within the spectrum of movements you would ideally engage in—more or less continuously—during daily life, from morning until night. Dr. Vernikos refers to these types of activities as “G habits.”The reason why they’re so critical for your health is that when you move, you increase the force of gravity on your body. Again, anti-gravity environments speed up cellular deterioration, so the key is to disengage from the gravity vector—this low anti-gravity situation—as much as possible.I’ve previously written about the health benefits of Acceleration Training, or Whole Body Vibration Training, in which you perform exercises on a vibrating platform such as the Power Plate. Acceleration Training works by increasing the force of gravity on your body—which is at the heart of issue, according to Dr. Vernikos. To a lesser degree, a mini trampoline will also increase the G forces on your body and provide similar, yet less extreme, benefits. A mini trampoline or rebounder subjects your body to gravitational pulls ranging from zero at the top of each bounce to two to three times the force of gravity at the bottom, depending on how high you jump.The problem is that our modern society and our reliance on technology has reduced or eliminated many of these opportunities for low-intensity movement and replaced it with sitting. Some people have even taken to texting other family members inside the same house instead of getting up and walking into the next room. All of this sloth-like inactivity adds up and can take years off your life.Based on double-blind research conducted by Dr. Vernikos, the minimum number of times you need to interrupt your sitting in order to counteract its cardiovascular health risks is in the neighborhood of 35 times per day. Interestingly, and importantly, her research also shows that sitting down and standing up repeatedly for 35 minutes does NOT have the same effect as standing up once, 35 times over the course of the entire day. In order to be effective, the activity needs to be spread out. This helps explain why vigorously exercising a few times a week still isn’t enough to counteract the ill effects of daily prolonged sitting.
By Dr. Mercola
Mounting research suggests that even if you exercise regularly, you might still succumb to the ill effects of too much sitting.For example, a study published last year1 concluded that adults who spend an average of six hours a day in front of the TV will cut their life expectancy by nearly five years, compared to someone who does not watch TV.Another recent analysis2 of 18 studies found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least. According to lead researcher Thomas Yates, MD:3“Even for people who are otherwise active, sitting for long stretches seems to be an independent risk factor for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.”An earlier study, published in 2009,4 also highlighted much of the recent evidence linking sitting with biomarkers of poor metabolic health, showing how total sitting time correlates with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other prevalent chronic health problems—even if you exercise regularly. According to the authors:"Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting -- the activity that dominates most people's remaining "non-exercise" waking hours."
Continuous Daily Activity Linked to Healthier Aging
Yet another recent study7 found that seniors who exercise experience less depression, dementia, and other chronic health problems, including diabetes and cancer. The benefit of exercise was major—increasing the odds of healthy aging as much as sevenfold! Best of all, even those who didn’t start exercising until they were in their later years were still able to boost their odds threefold.Most recently, a Swedish study5 concluded that those who live a generally active life have better heart health and live longer than those who remain sedentary for most of the day. This held true even for those who didn’t engage in a regular exercise routine. As reported in the featured article:6“Based on nearly 3,900 men and women over age 60 in Stockholm, the study adds to evidence suggesting that just sitting around may be actively harmful, researchers say.‘We have known for 60 years that physical activity is important for the heart,’ said lead author Elin Ekblom-Bak... But until recently the research has mainly focused on exercise and has "forgotten" about the background activity that we do during daily life...Whether someone exercises vigorously or not, it still usually only takes up a small fraction of the day. That leaves the rest of the time for either sitting still or engaging in non-exercise activities, like home repairs, lawn care and gardening, car maintenance, hunting or fishing.”Avoiding the temptation to stay rooted to the couch may be particularly important for seniors. If you’re older, you’d be wise to make a concerted effort to spend more time doing low-intensity, everyday activities—anything, really, to cut down on the time you spend in a seated position. In the featured study, participants who were signed up at the age of 60 were tracked for more than 12 years, and the findings were quite telling:
- Those who reported overall higher levels of daily intermittent movement suffered fewer heart-related problems
- For every 100 of the sedentary people who experienced a heart attack or stroke, only 73 of the highly active group had such an event
- For every 100 of the least active who died, only 70 of the most active died
- Those who had high daily activity levels and engaged in a regular exercise program had the lowest risk profiles overall