On Father’s Day this year, my wife gave me an Apple Watch as a gift. And, as you can probably guess, I went straight to the fitness apps.
Apple watch allows you to continuously measure heart rate, daily steps walked, and the distance walked. You can also set it to remind you to stand up, as I often as you tell it to and it keeps track of how many times you actually did stand up. And, it gives you at-a-boys for hitting and moving toward your goals. So, I starting using all these features right away.
But soon after I was wondering: What does the research say about the benefits of daily activities such as standing, walking etc.? Is their science behind this or is it just a gimmick?
Sitting Kills, Moving Heals
My first step was to carefully read the book we had already in the house: Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. She spent her whole life working at NASA studying the ill effects on astronauts of space travel and living in space in zero gravity. More importantly, she studied how to minimize these ill effects and how to rehabilitate astronauts when they return to earth’s gravity.
And, even more importantly, Vernikos and other scientists also made the key connection that sitting on earth is the same as living in zero gravity. Having made that connection, they found that much of the research for space living becomes relevant to those of us who are earth bound.
According to Vernikos, when astronauts spend time in space, here are the kinds of health issues they develop:
- Blood volume reduced
- Body weight and mass decreases
- Increased calcium excretion
- Increased risk of kidney stones
- Heart shrinks – cardiac output decreased
- Heart muscle wall becomes thinner
- Red blood cells reduced.
- Stamina/aerobic capacity reduced
- Lowered growth hormone response to exercise
- Muscle atrophy; loss of muscle mass
- Muscle strength reduced; size of fiber decreased
- Fat moves in to replace muscle mass
- Muscle sensitivity to insulin reduced
- Muscle less able to take up sugar
- Sense of taste and hearing dulled
- Biological rhythm disturbed
- Calcium lost from bone
- Bone mass and density decreased
- Increased risk of bladder infection
- Delayed wound healing
- Testosterone reduced
The list sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? After reading this list, you wonder why would anyone want to go live in space.
But these are the same effects that you see as people age on earth.
And, here is the kicker: Space research shows that these conditions induced through Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS) are reversible once you get astronauts re-introduced to gravity. It often takes almost one day of re-conditioning with gravity for each day spent in space to fully recover.
What about earth-bound people like you and I? We experience GDS is through sedentary life style. Through sitting and bed rest, we experience zero gravity like condition.
GDS starts as early as age 20. Using bone density loss as a measure of GDS, earth-bound people experience a bone loss at the rate of about 10% per decade. No wonder, by 70’s and 80’s most people have serious osteoporosis conditions with frail bones.
These sedantary lifestyle induced GDS is the reason we are now hearing catch phrases like: Sitting Kills; Sitting is the new Smoking, etc.
How to Overcome Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS)
Through studies and experimentation, researchers have found that to counter the effects of GDS, standing up often is what matters, not how long you remain standing.
Every time you stand up, the body initiates a shift in fluids, volume, hormones and causes muscle contraction to occur, and almost every nerve in the body is stimulated. If you stand up 16 times a day for two minutes, the body would read that as 16 stimuli, whereas if you stood once and remained standing for 32 minutes, it would see that as one stimulus.
Gym Workouts are No Substitute
Another surprising result: Gym workouts of 30 to 60 minute even daily may not be total replacement for activities required to counter GDS. To counter GDS, one needs to exercise stabilizer muscles that include tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Most folks focus on mobilizer muscles that include thighs, biceps, hamstrings, triceps, chest muscles, abs etc.
James Levine an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, coined the term Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is defined as the small, brief, yet frequent muscular movements one makes throughout the day, of which changing position is the most effective. Here are some examples of NEAT movements, other than standing up:
- Bending over to pick up something
- Stretching upward to take something off a shelf
- Getting dressed and undressed
- Playing a musical instrument
- Stirring a pot
- Crossing and uncrossing your legs
- Waving one’s hands while talking
So, more such activities we do, the more effects of GDS we overcome, even though we do not break a sweat.
Extrapolating extensive research conducted for space travels, shows that Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS) has serious consequences to our health. These symptoms of detrimental health due to GDS are often associated with aging, but actually are due to decreased activity as people grow old. Achieving and maintaining optimal health requires strategies to maximize activities to counter the effects of GDS.
The following is a list of some very effective actions to counter GDS:
- Stand up sit Down
- Stand tall
- Stretch at your desk
- Walk tall
- Take the stairs instead of elevator
- Practice balancing when you put on and take off your pants, shoes and socks
- Use a broom
- Play on swings; use rocking chairs
- Play catch; throw Frisbee
- Do yoga
Remember that exercise is not for gym any more. So, as often as possible, inconvenience yourself by:
- Parking far away from the destination,
- Taking stairs instead of elevators,
- Stepping up on escalators,
- Walking instead of taking people movers,
- Getting up frequently to reach for things, and
- Carrying your brief case instead of rolling.
All these action help in keeping your stabilizer muscles in top shape for optimal health.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Would love to hear from you and learn from you.
Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.
Bruce Buchanan said:
thanks for this most recent post, Ashok. very thought provoking as always. seems to me like it is a big stretch to extrapolate from the drastic impact of being in space with no gravity to the perils of too much sitting. that said, the idea of getting up and moving and standing and walking a lot (and not just sitting) make a lot of sense to me. more good input, as I strive to live purposefully to 120 or however many years that God grants me!
Thanks for your comment Bruce.
When I get a chance, I will be sure to post the research paper references which led to the extrapolation from space-living to sitting. There were several studies on “forced bed rests” to measure the impact on various bio-markers and then drawing similarity between the observed changes in bio-markers in space vs. bed-rest studies.
Ralph Bunday said:
Informative as always Ashok, but this post compels me to comment. Reason being; it supports and enhances my MO for daily living.
Informed by your distinctions between “stabilizer and mobilizer” muscles I also appreciated your listing of common daily activities responsible for the enhancement of good health. Such a list straightforwardly keeps me mindful of an axiom learned when I was much younger.
“A man on his feet is worth two in his seat”
(I have not been able to determine who said it.)
Thanks for your comment Ralph.
“A man on his feet is worth two in his seat” – is a good one to remember and live by.
Michael Jansen Jr. said:
Great info! Good to know! Here is an interesting Cornell study that discusses Omega 3 to 6 ratio (or the Am diet vs. eastern): https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/03/30/cornell-study-finds-some-people-may-be-genetically-programmed-to-be-vegetarians/