In February 2016, I wrote a blog called “Is Sitting the New Smoking?” It spoke of the problems we get from sitting too much. In addition, it mentioned that the problems brought on by lots of sitting often are not counteracted by fitting in some trips to the gym. This is discouraging news to any conscientious gym-goer!
In that last blog I gave you some tips on what you can do about that. Most of the advice was based on getting up and moving more often. Turns out that this advice still holds, but there is a bit more to add to it because of recent research.
The following pearls of wisdom come from research done and gathered by Joan Vernikos, PhD., former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. She has studied what happens to astronauts when their bodies no longer have the challenge of gravity to work against. She has also looked at what happens to people after various bouts of bed rest. What she has found also relates to what happens when we are inactive in a sitting position for long periods of time. Her interest in this and her background has prompted her to write a book, “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals”.
There are two basic areas I would like to (briefly) cover. One is her (and others’) findings about what exactly happens to your metabolism when you sit a lot. It turns out that, not only do you start to feel sluggish, but your metabolism changes over to do things that aren’t good for you.
- To put it succinctly, pre-diabetic conditions appear very quickly. That means you have reduced glucose tolerance so that your body does not handle carbohydrates as well.
- Another important result is that there is a down-regulation of the enzyme that breaks up fats so they can be used for energy. In other words, you become less efficient at burning fat, and more efficient at storing it.
- There is also a decrease in growth hormone. Growth hormone helps maintain muscle mass. So, body composition changes to less muscle, and more fat becomes infiltrated into muscle.
Sound gross? It is! That is why this area of research is so important. The more we can learn about how to combat these states, the better we will all be.
So, this brings me to the second interesting bunch of her findings. This speaks to the phenomena mentioned above, where going to the gym does not necessarily counteract a day of sitting.
- She and her group found that standing up 16 times a day was more effective than walking on a treadmill for the equivalent amount of time.
- Another group of researchers found that distributing activity at intervals during the day was more effective than a single bout of exercise at banishing the things mentioned above…reduced glucose tolerance and compromised fat usage.
- Perhaps the most interesting finding comes from her work with astronauts. The control center for perceiving gravity is in your inner ear. It works with your other senses of course, and it is a big player when it comes to balance and coordination. Surprisingly, it turns out that our inner ear is also crucial to the regulation of blood pressure and blood supply to the brain. As such, it has a large impact on heart rate, muscle action, and many of the body’s regulatory systems, more than previously thought.
The take home findings: Movement in relation to gravity helps to stimulate many of our body’s systems. One of the most effective movements is going from down to up (i.e., going directly against gravity). What does that look like? STANDING UP!
Taken with other recent findings, it appears that just standing up frequently during the day can be a powerful antidote to staying in one sitting posture for prolonged periods. The key is to do it many times during the day. Going up and down from a squat 20 times in a row is not going to keep your body from slipping back into the bad effects of sitting the rest of the time. She recommends interrupting sitting every 10, 20 or 30 minutes a day to reap the benefits of going against gravity.
Does this mean you get to stop going to the gym? Absolutely not! The benefits of regular exercise are well documented. But, it also means that MOVEMENT COUNTS. If you move more throughout the day, you will feel better because you ARE better.
What do you like to do to keep moving during your days? I would love to hear from you. Contact me here.
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