Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease & Enjoy Lifelong Health by Joan Vernikos (Quill Driver Books, 2016)
You've heard it before: Sitting is the new smoking. Dr. Vernikos makes a convincing case for the rapid deterioration of both the body and the brain during as little as 30 minutes of sitting. As a health researcher with NASA, she observed that the bodies of astronauts "aged" ten times as fast in weightless conditions as at home on the earth. Then she observed the same results in people who sit for much of the day, i.e. all of us.
There are plenty of studies to back her up. The results are not always precise, because most of the data is from statistical analysis of studies that were not originally intended to be about sitting. But the pattern is clear enough, nonetheless.
I'll spare you the details; the writing is not the best, and tends to be repetitious. In a nutshell, however:
- Gravity is our friend, no matter what you may think when you trip and fall flat on your face. Most of our bodily systems depend, one way or another, on motion in the presence of gravity to function correctly.
- When we sit, we deprive our bodies of most of the beneficial effects of gravity.
- Exercise is good, but it is not the answer to the problem of sitting. An hour of intense exercise at the gym does not counteract hours spent seated in front of a computer or watching television.
- But there's really good news: what does counteract the problem of sitting is as simple as taking a break every 30 minutes to stand up, and sit down again. That's it. Of course, more movement is better. Frequency and variety are much more important than intensity. That said, if all you do is break up your sitting by standing briefly every half hour, you're doing your body and brain enormous good, even down to the biochemical level. If you're at the computer, you may want to set a timer—we all know how fast two hours can go without our knowledge. If you are watching commercial television, stand up during the commercials. Done.
If there is a word that defines the solution to our sitting woes, it is alternating—from sitting to standing, from standing to bending over to pick something off the floor, from squatting to jumping up, from stretching up to bending sideways, moving up every which way, kneeling down in prayer to touch your forehead on the ground and back upright again. Add frequent and variety to alternating and you have the keys to the solution.
From this persepctive, it's clearly healthier to be a sit-kneel-stand Episcopalian or a jump-dance-wave-your-arms Pentacostal than a sit-in-the-pew-for-an-hour Presbyterian. :)
And best of all to be a little child.