Recent reports have warned of the dangers of sitting. The longer you sit, the more at risk you put your health. Not only does this translate to you being inactive at work but it probably indicates you may be more inactive in your personal life. Translation: inactivity in general (if you have been reading my columns) leads to a decline in your primary asset….your physical health.
The Inner Workings
Let’s first talk about what actually happens when you sit for extended periods of time. I’m going to borrow these words from Dr. Steve Hefferon when he explains exactly what is going on physically to your body: “(1) The longer you sit, the more likely your pelvis will flare, meaning it can rotate outward, inward, backward or downward. And it can happen on one or both sides. Even worse, you can develop a combination of these incorrect positions. For example, you can have one side rotated forward, outward and high, while the other side rotated backward, inward and low. (2) The longer you sit the more likely your gluts will flatten. This means they will weaken, as lack of use "shuts them down”. (3) The longer you sit, the tighter and more dominant your hip flexors will become in order to stabilize your pelvis. What happens is that your hip flexors will inhibit your gluts from working. Your hip flexors will "turn off" your gluts and the only way to get them going again is to minimize the sitting to restore physical balance”. (4) The last major effect of sitting is that your pelvis will tend to tip backwards. This puts undo stress on your pelvis, SI joint, and your entire spine. It is virtually impossible to keep your pelvis in a neutral position for an entire workday, so at some point during the day you lose it and when you multiply that by 20 to 30 years... you have a life time of back related issues, unless addressed...”
No wonder we feel so stiff when we get up out of a chair after sitting for an hour or three. By the way, the functionality of your gluts is key to all types of running and jumping movements, your ‘quickness’.
Compounding the Problem
One solution that has been introduced is the ‘stand up’ office where the desk is the height of a kitchen counter. You are no longer sitting so you have solved the problem….right? Well, actually….no. Anyone in retail sales who stands all the time will tell you that at the end of the day they are worn out. They have aches and pains on the same level as a person who sits all day. The origin of our problems is that we stay in one position too long. Now take into account that the vast majority of us, particularly we baby boomers, compound our misery by doing little to no exercise. Not only are we introducing imbalances in our body day in and day out, but we allow our muscles, tendons and ligaments to slowly loose their functionality by not challenging them. You can start seeing a decline in your physical structure as early as your late 20s or early 30s if you are not exercising. Unfortunately, more and more of us are falling into that category. The truly alarming statistic is that this has become an epidemic problem for the under 25 crowd, meaning their negative health issues will crop up for them even sooner than they did in our generation. But that’s s subject for a future column.
Statistics Don’t Lie
Here are some of the sobering statistics that relate to sitting. After taking into account age, gender, exercising, diabetes and other pre-existing cardiovascular health problems, the research shows that people over 45 who sit for 8-11 hours have a 15% increase of dying within 3 years. Subjects who sat for over 11 hours have a 40% greater risk. And, by the way, what do you do when you get home from work? Are you pulling an Archie Bunker (stop, sit, tv, beer)? Is that helping your situation?
Those of us who exercise regularly may think that working out several times a week enables us to dodge the negatives of our inactivity at work. Well, the extended hours of static positions will affect your workouts as well. You don’t escape scott free. I had the opportunity to listen to an interview by Dr. Mercola of Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. She had been with the space program since the inception of manned flight and studied extensively the results of being weightless for extended periods of time ( link to 90 minute interview of Dr. Vernikos by Dr. Mercola > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDhXJGZJJd4 ). One of the conclusions was that the best way to overcome the sitting negatives was to get up every hour. You don’t even have to move around that much. It was predicated more on the fact that you are repositioning the body. Helping the body not get set in a negative posture goes a long way toward not having your work place issues negatively impact your workout regimen. Competitive athletics who sit for extended periods will have their performance compromised. (Remember my earlier reference to the deterioration of glut functionality).
The Good News
The solution is simple and to the point. Don’t stay in any one position for an extended period. Keep moving. Incorporate regular exercise that challenges the body at a higher level than your day-to-day activities. The more intense your workout (within reason), the better the results. It is the combination of both disciplines that is the key. Not complicated. You don’t have to stand (or sit) for being unhealthy. It’s your choice, no one else’s. Check the mirror and see what that person tells you to do.
Good Luck and Good Health!
“ We are what we repeatedly do”
Aristotle (384bc – 322bc)
Greek philosopher, physician & scientist
Sarcopenia Versus Your Independence (part 1)
What is Sarcopenia? “The term was coined back in the late 1980s by Irwin Rosenberg, MD, dean of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts”. When you break down the word into Latin, ‘sarco’ for flesh (or muscle) and ‘penia’ for loss, you end up with what Tuft’s University describes as a loss of muscle mass. A more colorful phrase would be ‘poverty of the flesh’. An analogy with which we would all be familiar would be to purchase a new home and then make the conscious decision to not do any maintenance in the years to come. You may be making that calculation based on saving money, which would fall directly under the category of ‘penny wise pound foolish’. If you have made that same conscious decision to not maintain your muscle/tendon complex, let me make the case for why you must, absolutely must, change your mindset!
Let’s first look at the job description of muscles:
•Muscles support our skeletal structure so we will have good posture. Any chiropractor will tell you that poor posture negatively affects your health. Your frame is now out of alignment, putting undue stress on different parts of your body.
•Muscles support your joints, both from a spacing standpoint as well as keeping the joints centered. Strength training is recommended for people with arthritis so the elbows, knees, shoulders, etc. have more stability.
•All movement is contraction based. Any push, pull, walk, lift, carry or run is initiated when muscles contract to move your bones. You could look at the muscles as a cable system, moving your skeletal structure this way and that so you can handle whatever task is at hand.
Rev Up the Engine
Muscle and fat cells are two distinct structures. Fat doesn’t turn into muscle and muscle doesn’t turn into fat. Depending on how you conduct your life, you will gain more fat or more muscle. Fat is actually stored energy while muscle is an active participate in your day-to-day life (reference the previous paragraph). Translation: a pound of fat will burn around 1 to 2 calories per day because it’s not doing anything. On the other hand, a pound of muscle will burn 10 times or more calories per day because muscle is directly responsible for your performing any and all of your daily activities. That muscle mass may start declining as early as your late 20s or early 30s, depending on your activity level. The medical definition of sarcopenia usually engages around your mid 40s where the rate of lose can be around 1% a year and accelerate beyond that as you enter your 60s. Your functionality, your independence, will be affected accordingly.
Redirect Your Concern
When it comes to the media’s attention concerning the declining physical state of our seniors, it seems that the emphasis is directed toward either falling or Alzheimer’s or heart attacks/strokes. While these are legitimate concerns that many of us have or are dealing with today, we need to look at what are the root causes of these health concerns. These three debilitating uncertainties are the result, directly or indirectly, of consistent neglect of one’s physical health. Just as a home becomes a hovel when it is allowed to regress to a high level of disrepair, so too does the mind and body deteriorate with disuse. To quote the title of a Wall Street column from July 2014, “Older Adults Are Not Sick – They Are Just Weak!”
Attention All Ladies
Women have a particular interest in addressing the muscle equation because Mother Nature has put them behind the starting line of life versus men when it comes to this column’s topic. Women statistically have about 30% less muscle mass than men. Miriam Nelson, PhD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts stated “Their muscle loss has an impact sooner. More women end up in nursing homes. Also, women live longer – so they’re older but much weaker”. So, don’t use the excuse that weight training will make your bulky and less feminine. This is truly an urban myth. Virtually all of my female clients, who in the beginning were more than a little reluctant to touch a dumbbell, now relish going to the gym to lift weights because of the multiple physical positives they have been achieving.
Round 2 – Why You Must
Next month’s column will focus on the various health negatives that stem, in part, from allowing sarcopenia to take hold. Whether it is osteoporosis, obesity, escalating health care costs, family stress or diabetes, all are hastened by your lack of attention to your primary asset – your physical health. Consider that the number of people older than 65 will grow from the 461 million calculated for 2004 to a projected 2 billion by 2050. The stakes are high, not only for you the individual, but for your family, for America and, ultimately, for the world.
“Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and do before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to
Johann Goethe (1749 –1832) German writer and statesman
It's The Little Things
You forgot something in the upstairs bedroom. Normally, you would just run back up and retrieve the item but, today, you decided to do it later. You just didn’t feel up to it. Or you just lugged the groceries in from the car to the kitchen but, the clothes soap will stay there for now because walking down to the basement laundry room wasn’t that appealing. Or the grand kids are visiting from Chicago. You haven’t seen them since last year and you were really looking forward to spending time with them. They are 6 and 8, full of energy and have just asked you if they could go to the local park. You have had a great morning with them, but now, you are trying to figure out some reasonable excuse to not have to walk that 4 blocks. You’re thinking to yourself, “But it was so much fun watching them play on the swings and feed the ducks last year”.
A Wake Up Call
What’s different? You haven’t had anything unusual occur in your life this past year. Same job, same home, stable family and good friends. No real aches or pains. You just got a thumbs up from your yearly visit to your doctor. But, your day-to-day routine is somehow being altered, ever so perceptively. Whether you realize it or not, you are getting a sneak peek into your future, or at least one possible future. Your primary asset is starting to lose its integrity, lose its functionality. and as I have consistently advocated, your primary asset is your physical health.
What The Heck Happened!
Understanding on a basic level what’s happening to your body is paramount to knowing how to address your concerns. If you are not an active person and, in particular, you are not incorporating some type of exercise regimen in your weekly schedule, the muscle/tendon/ligament/body structure adapts accordingly. In other words, if you don’t use it, you will lose it, plain and simple. What you are experiencing is your body slowly deteriorating, week by week and month by month, because of disuse/lack of challenge, resulting in a loss of muscle mass and body functionality. And once your physical structure starts going south, you will begin to get a glimpse into your long term future as the little things become more and more difficult, more and more stressful.
Several years ago I was asked if my job was boring. After all, I am plying my trade all day, either at the gym or in someone’s home, teaching basically the same fitness model over and over and over again. The fundamentals of my training program are very similar client to client with an adjustment here or there if we need to work around a specific physical limitation. While I really enjoyed my job, I had to stop and think for a moment to analyze why this repetitive work rarely seemed tedious. The answer was two fold. First, it is the interaction with the individuals who have entrusted me with their health. Almost to a person, they become very engaged in the process. Secondly, I have a crystal ball. I know what that individual is about to experience in the very near future when they stick with the plan. Their physicality begins to be reintroduced and performing day-to-day tasks at the same level that they did 10 and 20 years ago starts to become a reality. To that point, here are some excerpts taken directly from my website testimonials (visit BabyBoomersSurvivalGuide.net):
•“Getting the top off the jar of pickles is something I don't have to ask someone else to do” (Gail / 45)
•“Sleep great and feel like breathing is not a task anymore” (Robert / 47)
•“During our recent winter vacation to Disney World, I really noticed a physical change. We walked around the park from early in the morning until after midnight. I was not tired and my legs did not hurt. I was the oldest person in the group and felt great” (Linda / 54)
• “I can carry my 15 month old grandson (he weighs about 28 pounds or so) up the steep stairs at their place with no problem” (Kathy / 60)
•“I am almost 61 years old and feel that I am in the best shape of my life” (Harry / 60)
•“I was able to achieve my goal--75+ miles on the Appalachian Trail and plan to hike Vermont next year!” (Carol / 62)
•“My son (40), who runs marathons, cannot sprint as fast and when we went hiking out west this summer, he was challenged to try and stay up with me” (Bill / 65)
•“I am doing things I thought I would never be able to do again” (Don / 75)
Move It or Lose It
As we progress past 50, we begin to be more aware in our bones the consequences of what we did the day before. Things just don’t move as well as they use to. We feel stiffer and more sluggish, particularly in the morning. Even though I have been working out regularly for over 10 years, as I have aged, I too can feel somewhat less mobility in the early morning. On the other side of that coin, once I start moving and engaging the day, everything starts to work as it should. The ‘move it or lose it’ scenario is in play. That uncomfortable feeling in the shoulder or knee will either be your excuse to sit on the sidelines or a wake up call to get back in the game. What I can assure you baby boomers is, once you start getting active again, your body will respond. It’s what it was designed to do. My clients prove that mantra everyday, 100% of the time. Yes, I did say 100% of the time! Don’t ever let the little things keep you down.
“The future will depend on what we do in the present”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) Indian activist
Playing the Back Nine
I suspect most of you are familiar with the above heading being a golf reference. For those few uninitiated, the title denotes the last half of an 18 hole golf course. My venture into that most frustrating of sports occurred only during annual sales meetings and only in the scramble format. I never owned a set of clubs, only rented. And starting with this new millennium, the golf ball has only played a part in my life when I wanted to work on my plantar fascia.
Arnold Palmer I Ain’t
Most of the golfers I know consider themselves duffers. They have no illusions about being the next Tiger Woods (at least the Tiger Woods before his mid 30s). They go out every Saturday they can, walk the course, strike the ball and, on occasion, hit that splendid 45 foot putt or dig out of a sand trap to see the ball drop into the bottom of the cup. Golfers are dedicated and passionate, accepting being humbled time and again, waiting for those ‘diamond in the ruff’ moments they can relive at the 19th hole. They enjoy the comradery, the outdoors, the change of pace from the day-to-day grind. It never crosses their minds that they should be doing anything else but go out there and accept the challenge.
When you cross over the 50 year threshold, you could look at that point in your life as having completed the front nine. The front nine was full of trials and tribulations, good times and bad. One has learned who he or she is, having dodged a couple of bullets and maybe even taken a few. Whatever your condition, you soldier on, steeling yourself for the back nine in front of you. What we perceive lying ahead often times seems more like either an uphill battle or a downhill slide…..or, you can look upon the 2nd half of the journey as that opportunity to take all that you have learned (the good, the bad and the ugly) and find a new focus on where you are going. Just like the avid golfer, no matter how bad your game was last week, you venture out, having that hope, that confidence that the next time the outcome will be better.
Don’t Give Up
To quit is unthinkable. Giving up is a frightening concept but I will bet you know someone that has, both in golf and in life. From my perspective, taking care of one’s physical health is paramount to having a fighting chance to enjoying the back nine. What I have personally experienced is the rejuvenation of the human spirit. Time and again individuals have discovered that they don’t have to struggle near as much with their life as they had anticipated. When the stairs are not a ‘sand trap’, when moving your furniture is not a ‘slice’ and when playing with your grandkids is not a ‘divot’, life will again appear to have possibilities.
Just Get Started
No matter what your condition today, if you start taking care of your health, your body will respond. Just as a golfer will take lessons or gain a tip from Golf Digest, certain aspects of his or her game suddenly seem to improve. When you start exercising and eating right, you will find your ‘swing’ again. No, you won’t birdie every hole, but you may end up making par more often than you thought possible. And, now and again, that eagle may make an appearance. Each positive event drives you to keep going, keeping hope alive that you might even hit a hole-in-one along the way. And it’s that optimism that keeps you coming back to play the back nine.
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance”
Marie Curie (1867–1934) French physicist and chemist