Sitting Kills, Moving Heals

If you’re like most people, myself included, you probably spend a large portion of each day in a seated position. It’s hard to avoid these days, as computer work predominates, and most also spend many hours each week driving to and from work.

Mounting research now suggests that sitting in and of itself is an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death—even if you exercise regularly.

Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, presents a simple yet powerful scientific explanation for why sitting has such a dramatic impact on your health, and how you can simply and easily counteract the ill effects of sitting.

She was one of the primary doctors responsible for ensuring the health of the astronauts as they went into space, investigating the health ramifications of space travel, and what can be done to counter them.

On a side note, one of my initial life ambitions was actually to be an astronaut, up until college when I opted for pre-med instead. I’m glad I didn’t pursue being an astronaut because I think there are far too many health dangers associated with working in space. But it was definitely an initial ambition of mine.

My primary passion is improving health which is why I’m very excited about Dr. Vernikos’ work. There have been a number of studies within the last year or two that show that even if you are very fit, exercising as much as five times a week for a half hour to an hour each time, you can fall far short of optimum fitness if you sit most of the rest of the time. You’re even at an increased risk of dying prematurely.

Dr. Vernikos’ research with astronauts has clarified why this occurs and, even more importantly, provides us with a simple regimen that could counteract those consequences.

In order to determine why regular exercise does not appear to compensate for the negative effects of prolonged sitting, some of her research focused on finding out what type of movement is withdrawn by sitting. What she discovered was as revolutionary as it was counterintuitive. Not only did she discover that the act of standing up is more effective than walking for counteracting the ill effects of sitting, the key is how many times you stand up.

It’s actually the change in posture that is the most powerful signal, in terms of having a beneficial impact on your health, not the act of standing in and of itself. Put another way, the key to counteract the ill effects of sitting is to repeatedly interrupt your sitting. The key is frequent intermittent interactions with gravity. Standing up 35 times at once will provide only a small percent of the benefit of standing up once every 20 minutes.


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