JKS Communications recommended I review Dr. Joan Vernikos's book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death - and Exercise Alone Won't. This book answers one of the great puzzles of modern medicine: Americans have struggled for decades to exercise more and get healthy, but we’re still fatter, sicker, and more tired than ever before. Why isn’t exercise enough? What’s missing? Since this pretty much sums up my situation right now, I agreed to review the book.
What is the book about?
Dr. Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, has written a book that applies her research on Gravity Deprivation Syndrome to everyday health here on earth. She demonstrates how modern sedentary lifestyles contribute to poor health, obesity, and diabetes, and how health can be dramatically improved by continuous, low-intensity, movement that challenges the force of gravity. She cites her original NASA research on how weightlessness weakens astronauts' muscles, bones, and overall health, and presents a simple plan for maintaining good health throughout life by developing new lifestyle habits of frequent gravity-challenging movement. The book is divided into two parts. The first describes why you need gravity for good health while the second is about putting gravity to work for lifelong health.
Sitting Kills, Moving Heals has come along at the perfect time in my life. I’ve always been a regular exerciser attending aerobic and strength training classes 3 to 4 times a week. Over the past couple of years I’ve hurt myself 3 times – the last time experiencing shoulder pain that lasted six months. I am now in constant fear that I will hurt myself again and not be able to work out anymore. My fitness club and other clubs in my area are increasingly moving towards a high impact and boot camp type curriculum while offering fewer options for us older folks. Several of my fellow fitness club participants have also hurt themselves. Many of us tend to shy away from yoga classes thinking they won’t provide us with an intense enough workout for weight loss. Lately, I have been struggling with what classes to sign up for this fall. Should I risk injury and take the new kettlebell class my gym offers or should I search elsewhere for a yoga or stretching class?
Vernikos tells us traditional gym exercise isn’t enough and only partially improves health of people who, like me, sit all day long.
Exercise is not a substitute for activities that come naturally throughout the day, 365 days a year, for the rest of your life. (Pg. 52)The most beneficial activity for your body is continuous, low-intensity, all-day, everyday movement that resists the force of gravity — simple habits like standing up, walking stretching, pacing and fidgeting. These activities are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), Vernikos writes:
NEAT is a much greater component of your body’s total energy expenditures throughout a typical day than are structured high-intensity exercises such as walking, running, bicycling, or working out in a gym. NEAT is defined as the small brief, yet frequent muscular movements one makes throughout the day, of which, changing position is the most effective: standing, sitting, lying down, bending over to pick something up, squatting, stretching upward to take something off a shelf, getting dressed and undressed, playing a musical instrument, and stirring a pot; even movements as small as crossing and uncrossing one’s legs, waving one’s hands while talking and fidgeting are helpful. It is these types of small movements and activities that do not happen enough when a person is habitually inactive. Whenever we move around, calories we have consumed are converted into energy by contracting muscles and are measured as generated heat-thermogenesis- the “T” of the “NEAT” acronym. Thus, people who move around a lot all day, even if they don’t go to the gym or engage in intense exercise, burn up many more calories than people who are sedentary. They even expend more calories than those who do go to the gym, but then spend the rest of their day sitting around. Not surprisingly, the research on NEAT has shown a connection between the lack of NEAT and obesity and metabolic diseases, like diabetes. (Pg. 36)I also enjoyed the nugget that sitting too long at work or in a car contributes to erectile dysfunction.
Changing my fitness routine:
After reading Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, I’ve decided to change my fitness routine. Dr. Vernikos includes an action plan listing habits, activities and exercises that will increase our gravity fitness. I have already implemented some of her ideas into action. Vernikos says the easiest and most important habit you can acquire is to stand up more frequently throughout the day. She recommends standing up from sitting 32+ times over a 24 hour period. Beginning this week I am going to keep track of the number of times I stand up a day. I will be writing about some of her other suggestions as part of my strength challenge.
I decided to forgo the kettlebell class and take a beginning yoga class instead. The book also includes a health and fitness pyramid giving basic activities that provide the foundation for optimum G-habits as the base tier. Yoga is included as a base activity and its benefits are numerous. Over the long haul yoga will be more beneficial for me than the kettlebell class (especially if I were to hurt myself). Basic activities like yoga give you the most overall health return for your effort and are the least likely to result in injury.
A real life gravity example:
Last weekend I visited my 95-year old grandmother. For being 95 she still gets around pretty darn good; easily getting out of her chair and walking to the dining hall with her walker. My Grandma has never been to a gym or taken a formal exercise class, but she also has never sat still. She spent her life working in her yard and gardens or puttering in her kitchen. Compare that to my 70-year old neighbor whose favorite activity, since his 30’s has been sitting on the couch. (I did give him my old exercise bike, but am not sure if he ever used it). He fell over Memorial Day weekend and spent most of his summer in rehab. Last week my husband received a call from him – could he please help him out of his friend's vehicle - he didn’t have enough strength to lift himself out of the seat by himself and his friend wasn't strong enough to help him. My neighbor had to wait in a car for over an hour before my husband was able to get home from work and help him.
If you are seriously interested in improving your fitness and health you may benefit from reading this book.
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