Stand Up for Healthy Aging!


Sitting kills. You only have to look around to see the consequences – bigger waist circumference, higher body mass index, obesity, Type II diabetes, high blood triglycerides and cholesterol and low levels of the good cholesterol HDL. High blood pressure, risk of stroke, higher overall death rates increase as we sit longer. Not a pretty picture.

Once thought that hitting the gym was the answer, studies are now finding that sitting for many hours each day whether you exercise or not is not good for your health. Leader of the pack is Dr. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who back in 1999 coined the term Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) when he observed that people who ate more and did not gain weight were moving more than they realized. What seemed important were “the thousands of minor movements each day” that they spontaneously made. Levine’s group found that even with intense exercise once a day health markers such as blood cholesterol, sugar and triglyceride levels remained high. Marc Hamilton, another NEAT disciple, found that standing up is the most effective NEAT activity and stimulates the enzymes that break down fat and triglycerides. The NEAT theory and these findings ran contrary to traditional exercise physiology recommendations of intense exercise once a day 3 to 5 times a week. His meticulous work is a wake-up call to the fact that once a day exercise does not replace being active all day. The importance of NEAT finally is receiving the recognition it deserves.

Levine’s work helped me interpret research I was doing at NASA. In 1992 I wondered why, despite hours of intense aerobic and resistive exercise in space, astronaut health was not fully protected. In ground studies with volunteers lying continuously in bed to induce space-like changes, I asked if the gravity vector, absent in space, was the missing link needed to make exercise effective. I  had subjects  stand by their bed for 15 minutes every hour throughout the day or stand and walk on a treadmill for an equal time. To my surprise, standing was at least and sometimes more effective than walking on the treadmill.  It was also not how long they remained standing but how many times they changed posture.

Merely standing 16 times a day was enough in my studies to prevent the consequences of lying in bed 24 hours a day. The smaller postural change from sitting to standing would be expected to require more than that – at least twice that, 32 times a day or standing up roughly every 30 minutes.

By lying in bed or sitting for long stretches you are removing the important physiological signal that standing up provides. Standing is more than just another small movement. In an earlier blog I talked about the importance to Third Age Health of using gravity http://thirdagehealth.blogspot.com/2011/03/aging-well-with-generous-daily-dose-of.html.

At one of my talks someone complained that he would be fired if he got up so many times at work. Asked if he drank water, he said he always had a bottle on his desk. In the old days you would need a trip to the water-fountain. I suggested he move the bottle away from reach.

Being able to stand up helps you remain independent. Structure your life until standing up becomes a habit again.

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