Sleep Better, Now!

...And Improve Your Health

by Dr. Joan Vernikos

Here are 10 things you can do starting today to improve the quality of your sleep, and your overall health.
I recommend you print these reminders and put them somewhere you can easily refer to them.
Start with perhaps 2 or 3 and commit to doing them for at least 6 weeks – this is how long it takes to engrain a habit for long-term benefit. Great sleep and the benefits it brings are worth it!
1.    Get up and go to bed at set times. 

2.    When tired, don’t sleep in but rather go to bed earlier.

3.    Be active during the day but avoid exercise or excessive activity for two hours before bedtime.

4.    Reduce your exposure to lights 90 minutes before bed. Avoid laptop, tablet, and smart-phone screens and turn off the TV!

5.    Eat sparingly within 3 hours of bedtime.

6.    Stop drinking fluids within two hours of bedtime.

7.    Well before getting in bed, review the day gone by and then calmly mentally prepare for the next day’s commitments.

8.    Sleep in a dark cool room.

9.    Make the bedroom for sleep and amore. Do not have a TV in the bedroom. And do your reading whenever possible sitting upright in a chair, and not in bed.

10. Spend two or three minutes before getting in bed doing calming breathing  exercises or more formal sitting meditation. For tips on meditation for the average person, click here.

Remember, small investments in your sleep will pay back in a myriad of ways.

Yoga Therapy – Fitness in a Healing Context

The Proof of Yoga's Benefits
by Dr. Joan Vernikos

In 2012 most all of us have heard of yoga and some of us know, or are ourselves, regular practitioners and familiar with the well-being it seems to encourage.

In the West, people practice yoga for a myriad of reasons. Personally, I began a relationship with yoga almost 10 years ago, and though I greatly enjoy my twice weekly yoga class and love the way I feel afterwards, my understanding of how it works has been minimal. I felt like most in the medical community, that the claims of yoga’s health benefits were overrated, and lacking the scientific research to provide the evidence and credibility.

So I organized a workshop in  Palo Alto, California on “Space Health, Aging and Yoga Therapy” in order to hear what the experts had to say and become better educated. This workshop was scheduled to precede a large international gathering of Yoga Bharati followers, some 400 yoga practitioners, teachers and members of the local community.  Tracks included Philosophy, Health, and Research, where perhaps predictably I spent most of my time. It did not take long until my skepticism was addressed.

Research evidence of Yoga Therapy
All medical research begins with observation and case studies, before progressing to controlled evidence-based research. Today, such research from top US and global research institutions is providing much needed evidence about the significant benefits of yoga practice that is understandable to mainstream medicine. For example:
•    Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa , Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School focused on the growing body of clinical research showing its efficacy in a wide variety of mental health conditions, particularly in chronic stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
•    Dr. Shirley Telles reported on a study in Bangalore, India that after two weeks of daily yoga children were calmer, improved cognitive skills, better focused and memorized verbal and spatial information.
•    Dr. Helen Lavretsky, Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA used PET imaging and changes in cell gene expression to compare listening to music for relaxation to the daily practice of yogic Kirtan Kriya meditation  in stressed family dementia patient caregivers. The daily yogic practice led to reduced stress, better coping and cognitive function as well as a 43% increased telomerase actvivity indicating improvement in the stress-induced biological changes of aging.
•    Several studies reported reduced blood sugar levels in diabetics and improvement in irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis in other examples of the healing benefits of yoga interventions.

In the West we have come to rely on the wonders of modern medicine to replace our broken parts, taking a pill to cure a discomfort or an illness, relying on expert advice of medical doctors to guide us. Alternately, we sometimes adapt a technique that is popular in the East to a western method intended for a similar purpose. Power Yoga is one such example. We “modify” yoga believing that making a movement faster, stronger, more contorted than the person next to us, will make it more effective on that muscle, bone, balance, circulation or controlling function. Essentially we bolster the egoic when the benefits of a physical yogic activity are rooted in our doing the opposite. The results, in hindsight, are perhaps to be expected.

In essence we have effectively segregated mind and body in the west. We do not fully appreciate it although intellectually we might recognize that separating mind and body will not lead to total healing. I hear stories repeatedly of healing, of the importance of mind, attitude, and faith to healing even in a physically weak body. How else can we explain countless examples of miraculous recoveries in cancer patients, stroke victims and others with incapacitating conditions?

While we are now beginning to successfully demonstrate through evidence-based research how each yogic practice works physically and physiologically, we frequently ignore the context in which it was practiced in the East, the spiritual component of healing and wellness, thus undermining its full benefits.

In the quest for fitness I have learned that Yoga is much more than exercise. This ancient behavioral practice allows for the development of skills of self-regulation of internal physiological states. For this reason its use and promotion for treatment of a range of conditions has increased, including as an adjunct therapy for psychological wellness and psychiatry.

The Search for Healing
A question we must ask ourselves is “What is the healing we are searching for?” And then, “How can we best find it?” In order to answer these two questions we can begin by observing the practices of other cultures, look back into our own, and learn from centuries of observation and successes. Evidence-based research is now clearly showing that greater health and vitality does not come when we separate the body’s needs from those of the mind.

What is highly attractive about yoga is that it works best when it is practiced in this way –  meditative concentration and self-awareness is blended within a comprehensive physical approach. Research is now supporting these long-held beliefs. Yoga stands to be of great benefit to improve health in the west.

Caregiving is Growing - How You Can Be of Greatest Benefit

by Dr. Joan Vernikos
Giving care is the most noble form of human compassion. Yet it is necessary for the survival of a society, a  need that makes a society work. It fulfills the emotional requirement of giving and receiving, interdependence, generating or strengthening personal bonds. It taps into the instincts of love and nurturing; brings out the best in being human.

However, maintaining the balance between caring for others and sacrifice is a delicate one. It can quickly turn negative; it may take its toll physically and emotionally on the giver as well as those that surround them.  Excessive, unmanaged stress tips the balance. The key word here is balance. In trying to put together a set of guiding principles for effective and satisfying care-giving what struck me was the enormity of the task because every situation is different. Achieving balance begins with learning, understanding, assessing and being prepared.

As the number of those requiring care increases the social, personal and financial impacts of care giving will need to be better addressed, just as the need for child care became accepted and recognized as a social responsibility when working practices changed as women entered the workplace.

Who is a Caregiver?
Anyone who is concerned or cares for another individual or living thing. It begins with children, brothers, sisters or even pets. It includes parents, a husband, partner or wife, friends and neighbors. Professionals like nurses and doctors may be paid for care-giving. Becoming a doctor has been considered a vocation for centuries whether one is paid or not. Florence Nightingale drew attention to this fact when nursing was recognized as a profession.

Stress and Burnout?
Caring for others involves expending tremendous amounts of time and energy. That energy can be physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Usually all of those modalities are involved when you care for others. If you expend more time and energy caring for others, eventually you will find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed. Burnout, the next step, can occur when you give more of yourself than you are taking in, It is more likely to happen when you are pulled in different directions outside your care-giving, criticized or not supported by family and friends.

Guilt: Feeling Selfish
It is common to neglect yourself when caring for others. I like the example of flying on a plane that experiences sudden oxygen loss. The instructions to adults are to place the oxygen mask on your-self FIRST, and then place the mask on the child next to you. The idea is, if you give oxygen to the child first, you will lose consciousness and be of no help to the child. The idea is the same. When you are caring for an individual but neglect yourself, you may reach a point where you are really not able to care effectively for the other person. Though we think of care-giving mostly in the sense of caring for a parent, caring for a disabled child can also be all-consuming. Though professional caregivers, you would think, do not have the added emotional load that caring for a family member does, they frequently have a difficult time dissociating their emotions from their care giving job.

Self-care: Manage your time, Take Time Outs
Taking time for yourself will have great energy rewards. You will feel better. You will be able to give better care to those you are caring for. Regular time-outs can take two forms. The same paid help at regular intervals, as for example every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, allows you to plan your errands, appointments or some social activity. Agreeing with the care-receiver to go to a facility for two to six weeks to allow you to take a holiday. At other times, take a walk or a bike ride. Get a massage, meditate, learn to breathe to relax. What do you do for yourself? Taking a Health Assessment inventory will allow you to monitor where the energy leaks are. Do not sacrifice your sleep habits, nutrition and movement.

It’s a Team Effort
•    The Care-receiver
Care-giving is limited at best without the cooperation and motivation of the care receiver. Before starting make sure you sit down and have a heart to heart talk alone with your care-receiver. Honestly define your and their expectations. Many seniors used to being in charge and independent feel a loss of dignity when they find themselves on the receiving side.  For others, decisions made for them allows them to complain. Explain the options available to each of you, your and their expectations, and how working together and communicating openly can bring about the best results.
•    Family or Others Responsible for the Care
Whether you are a professional caregiver in an Assisted Living Facility, part of a growing At Home Care team or an ICU nurse, you will experience a similar pattern of physical and emotional responses as the amateur family-member.
•    Public Resources
Know your resources – whether they are free or not, identify what helps others most and when you can get help when you need it. Most work environments have employee assistance programs. Use them. Do your market research, ask others. Almost every family has some case of care-giving and most have had to find out the hard way.

Today people are living longer but are not necessarily healthier. The need for giving care to these older persons will continue to grow. More and more of us will be significantly involved in the giving of care in some manner. When greater attention is paid to the well being of everyone involved, and beneficial resources are more wisely used, the caregiving itself can be a more rewarding experience for all.

Your Take-Away Benefits from "Sitting Kills, Moving Heals"

by Joan Vernikos

Since the publication of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals in December 2012, people who have read the book or heard me speak, have been sharing their stories on how they have benefitted. This has been informative and very rewarding, as the reason I wrote Sitting Kills was to offer a different way to approach our lives and our health – one based far more on what is possible without relying so much on things outside ourselves.
Today I’ll share what you have said matters.

1. It raises awareness of how one’s lifestyle directly affects one’s health. And that this is up to each one of us.

“I had not realized that what I do and don’t do all day makes a difference to how I feel.”

When one becomes aware of how profoundly lifestyle habits have become more sedentary in the modern era, then people seem inspired to do something about it.  Today we are sitting uninterrupted at rates never before seen, so often slouched in a comfortable chair or looking at a computer or smartphone screen. Our reliance on pills to solve more minor complaints can be reversed. Even youngsters can benefit from greater awareness about what impacts their health.

No one else can move for you. You are the only one who can become aware of how you feel in order to better manage the conditions in your life and your response to them.

Some things you have said:
“I pay more attention to my eating and sleeping habits now.”
“I think of stretching instead of taking a pill.”
“The Health Assets Questionnaire was a useful start and guide to where I was health-wise.”

2. Increasing movement in small ways yields big results.

“I feel 20 years younger. I have walked every morning but was not aware how much I sat the rest of the day. Now I am doing something all day long and still enjoy my TV.”

The key here is that sitting (and indeed relaxing) is ok as long as it is interrupted often and with gravity-challenging activities, and that exercise alone likely will not do it. It seems that almost weekly there is more research showing how uninterrupted hours of sitting increases the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease even if you exercise regularly. Between TV and other media we are encouraged to sit many hours but we can reverse the impacts simply by getting moving.

If your mobility is constrained you can experience significant improvements just by briefly standing up every 20 minutes. Even if at first you cannot stand up at first you can regain your mobility in a few months. If you cannot get up at all there are many stretching and strengthening activities you can do. “I find that sitting on a straight-backed chair instead of a comfy chair has improved my posture and strengthens my core muscles.”

Some things you have said:
“Chuck sits in front of a computer screen all day long. He does not care to exercise because he has back pain but once he understood how this works, he can go along with the idea of standing up every so often and stretching.”

3.  Weight Loss

“I lost weight without dieting.”

No, really, and it isn’t complicated. Have you noticed that when you are generally more active that your weight stabilizes or goes down? The non-exercise activities I promote specifically target fat metabolism. Therefore the more one moves all day the more one will use fat stores for the energy needed to function. Couple this with good food choices and adequate sleep and you have a perfect storm for weight management.

4. Feeling More Energetic

 “Moving about with housework, gardening, cooking, all day makes me feel energized throughout the day in a way that exercising once a day did not!”

Maybe there isn’t a more important benefit than this one.

When you exercise once a day, you generate one large spurt of energy. You then cool down because you have over-stimulated your body and then often rest from the fatigue often brought on by this type of activity.  Your hunger may also increase, leading to your eating more. However if you can change your daily habits to include more non-exercise movements you will feel a kind of sustained energy, without some of the highs and lows associated with traditional exercise. By all means exercise, but do so in ways that allow you to  keep moving the rest of the day too.

“I get up at TV commercials and do something around the house.”
“I told my work-mates that I am ignoring internal e-mails. They can come and talk to me instead.”

 A very handy side-benefit here is More Free Time
“It doesn’t take more time or effort to remain active and healthy.”

We may not realize how much time exercising takes up – driving to the gym, prepping and showering after a run, and so on. As one reader has shared, “I realized that I can get the same or better benefit to my health and mobility in less time.”

5. Reduced Health Care Expenses

“I have extra money in my pocket because I feel better, sleep better and don’t think of the doctor first.”

It is likely that if you follow many of the suggestions in Sitting Kills you will experience a greater sense of health overall - benefiting from an improved immune system. As people being to feel better more of the time based on changes to their habits, the old reflex to pop a pill or call the doctor at the first twinge subsides. Who doesn’t want to save money today on health care? But it’s probably up to you as I don’t think we can expect insurers to give us a deal.

As one reader directly shared:
“I spend less money now on my health and drug costs.”

We hear often today that we are living longer than ever, which is true. But the big question is: are we living better? Trending data may paint a bleak picture on this front, but I am not deterred. In fact I am more confident now than ever that we each have a great deal of influence over the quality of our lives, both in the present and for future times. If we choose, each of us can take action to improve our health and overall quality of life. Starting right now.

An Interview on Commuting, Sitting, and Managing the Effects

I was recently interviewed by Meg Boberg of Los Angeles-based Traffic Byte about the challenges of commuter life- the average commute in the US today is now over 46 minutes. The one defining feature of commuting in a car is the inability to stand up, and the increasing amount of time spent sitting is a problem for most of us in this modern age.

So I thought I'd share some of our conversation about how the body deals with this kind of sitting, and what we can do to reverse the effects of too much sitting. 

Meg: How does the body respond when we stand versus when we sit for extended periods of time?
Dr Joan: Think of the body as toys that you need to shake to keep them working. The body needs to move up and down in relation to gravity to keep the blood circulating and tune the machine that pumps the blood around – not unlike a car. Gravity then pulls the blood down to the feet while the heart and arteries pump the blood against gravity up to the head to fuel the brain. Unlike the rest of the body that converts what we eat to glucose, the brain needs the blood to transport the oxygen and nutrients, mainly glucose, to supply it with fuel to function. No fuel, or running on low, compromises how the brain works.
Standing up and sitting down or lying down and standing up again is how we do it. Doing so once a day and expecting it to work all day doesn’t do it.

Every time you stand up the blood is drawn to the feet by gravity – plain hydraulics. The sensors in the neck register reduced volume topside triggering the heart to begin to pump harder.  This increases heart rate and raises blood pressure thereby increasing blood flow to the brain. If you stand up often you will hardly notice anything was happening. If you have not stood up for a while, as with a couple of days in bed with the flu, you may pass out because your pumping system is out of shape. You faint because your brain is not getting the blood supply to carry the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Start moving again and you quickly recover.

If you stand up or sit down for too long the blood stagnates in the feet and legs (encouraging swollen feet, blood clots and varicose veins) and even though the heart and pumping system may work well for a while eventually it slows down or quits. So, neither uninterrupted extended sitting nor uninterrupted standing are good for you. Guards at Buckingham Palace learn to squeeze their muscles periodically to pump the blood up. 

Meg:  What are some of your suggestions for office workers, who can’t control the fact that they must commute to work, sit during office hours and may sit even more when they go home?
Dr Joan: Office workers who commute by train or who sit at work or when they get home need to structure their lives to introduce frequent opportunities to stand up often throughout the day until they become habits. They can do this with electronic or web-based reminders, by getting out of their chair to communicate with others – more sociably rewarding – or drink water, or use the restroom, but not all at once, as well as using the stairs instead of lift or escalator. In other words, consciously take every opportunity to incorporate movement of all kinds into the day. They also need to sit up in as upright a chair as possible. Slouching or tucking legs under the chair cuts off the circulation to and from the legs even further. Upright posture with feet flat on the floor encourages unobstructed circulation even when sitting. Working at upright desks and upright desk treadmills are fads that are hard to sustain. A new sliding adjustable desk - the XTensionDesk - looks more promising and can be adjusted to your height and your best work level from sitting to standing – better for your back as well.

Commuter driving is bad for your health not merely because you are sitting. But if you have to, choose your work hours carefully to avoid stress and minimize the drive. Do not have a full breakfast before you start. The combination of stress, sitting and a full stomach that draws blood to your stomach and away from your brain is lethal. Use the slow traffic and traffic lights as an opportunity to practice deep breathing and some isometric leg contractions. Make sure the seat is at optimum level and back position for upright active posture. Introduce using the stairs, taking a walk, using the gym for short periods; shower immediately on arrival at work to provide a time-out between your commute and beginning of the work day.

Meg:What are some of the detrimental effects of prolonged periods of sitting?Dr. Joan: Recent studies have linked increased mortality of hours of uninterrupted sitting per day to breast and colon cancer. Deaths from cardiovascular disease have also been linked to too much sitting even in people who exercised.

Sitting is a leading cause of obesity, Type II diabetes, bone and muscle loss, joint problems, back pain, depression and reduced immune function.

That Green Thing

by Joan Vernikos

The following anecdote and related article is about living “green” and how in bygone years our lifestyles were less reliant on the many conveniences of modern life. And there’s a valuable extra takeaway in there.
“Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”
The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

As you might imagine, what struck me about this post isn’t so much about the “green” movement. For me this story illustrates the significant changes that have taken place within only a few generations in the level of activity that was required in daily life. Non-exercise activities, including the several common ones highlighted here, kept the older among us and our parents slim and healthy without going to the gym or running 10K’s.

In the modern world we tend to rely on technologies that have minimized our habits of being active all day with these non-exercise activities (NEATs). Our reliable and plentiful powered vehicles have almost eliminated the need for self-propulsion. We hop on an electric gym-treadmill rather than take a walk or ride a bicycle down the road to accomplish a task. Our huge refrigerator-freezers and the readily-available packaged and processed foods means we no longer need to plan and cook meals. Elevators and escalators have mostly replaced walking upstairs. Clothes-dryers have eliminated the need to carry laundry outside to hang on a line, and wrinkle-free garments and dry cleaners have nearly eliminated the activity we got from ironing (although I am not complaining about doing less ironing!). The vacuum cleaner replaced the broom, and we know that pushing (or even riding) a powered mower is a heck of a lot less strenuous than pushing a human-powered one.

Back “in the day,” in the process of living an ordinary existence, our lives were replete with activity. At the same time we used less heating and transportation fuels. And we hadn’t been taken over yet by the throwaway culture that developed so quickly starting in the 1950’s. We washed empty containers and re-used them, used very little plastic, had no paper towels, and consequently had much smaller household ecological footprints. So perhaps we were green before anyone called it that.

And we certainly did not have to worry about sitting too much back then; sitting was a luxury. And when we did sit we usually accomplished something – knitting or sewing, talking with each other. And yes, we danced a lot more then too.
Conditions were more conducive to leading a healthy lifestyle precisely because we had so much daily activity. Maybe backwards isn't such a bad way to go.

Why I Wrote "Sitting Kills, Moving Heals"

by Dr. Joan Vernikos

The answer is really quite simple: I want everyone to be as healthful and vigorous as is possible, and it is far more achievable than we believe –  or are told – is possible. Despite all of the amazing technological advances, and enormous wealth created in the 20th century, we are fatter and less healthy than ever. And I am close to certain that the solutions aren’t all that complex, and are readily available to us. While the info we get on living healthfully is sometimes helpful, often it misses the most important points: that we each must take some level of responsibility over our current condition, and that the key denominator to greater health and independence is to use gravity, simply to move more, and perhaps surprisingly that doesn’t necessarily mean “exercise.”  So here’s a little on how I got here, with my new book and why I am so sure of the efficacy of its approach.

As I was growing up I always enjoyed solving problems so science research was a natural course to follow.  Listening and asking probing questions was a logical path to solving a problem. My doctor father’s diagnostic questioning approach was a great apprenticeship.  Among the things I was taught to be grateful for, is the one and only human body we get.  “Make the most of what you’ve got,” my mother used to say. Probably yours did too. I could have paid more attention to that. But I also found out that it is never too late to work on it.

Writing Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, was the result of a lifetime of blending the awareness of what made me feel good, with what was confirmed scientifically through my research. Stuff that is completely natural can help us live better, every day and into the future. Aging well is a function of how we live today. It begins with greater awareness, listening to your body and taking responsibility for its state of health. The approach is based on old, tested traditional practices and is really nothing new.  Just that this science proves it. It is science that never really got out to people, and certainly not in understandable terms that can be readily useful to everyone.

For those of you not familiar with my work at NASA and how it influences all I do today to help people live and age healthy, here is some key info. When in 1993 I became Head of Life Sciences at NASA it was my responsibility to find out how living in space affects the health of astronauts and how to protect them from adverse effects. I was therefore the focal point in answering questions from the media and interacting with the public. Senator John Glenn was well aware of my research and that it could help make the case for his flying again. He returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77. My own research had pointed to the similarities between the effects of living in space, volunteers lying in bed, and the rest of us as we age. It was clear to Senator Glenn why there was benefit in sending a person in their 70’s into space, but little understanding by the public of why we did it.

So I began to seek ways to educate the “every-man” about how to live better. The explanations were obvious to me, but I realized that it was not so when I spoke to the general public .   Though I had written many scientific papers, writing a book in simple language was a totally different undertaking. In my case, the urgency of writing such a non-technical book came from the needs of the public – your needs. The public audience wanted, and still wants, to know more.

The G-Connection and an Amazing Discovery
In 2001 I “retired” from NASA. At a time when most others would take it easy, I took to the road and spoke with anyone who would listen. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to explain why these similar changes in astronauts and seniors happened, and how this knowledge could help just about anyone. My 2004 book The G-Connection was my first try at this – presenting the case that aging changes are not solely a function of how old you are but how much you sit over many years of living.  I kept my skills sharp by advising the European Space Agency and working with top scientists.  After over 100 talks on four continents, the numbers I could reach was still vastly smaller than my aspiration.

What kept me going was the positive feedback on the benefit of my suggestions, especially on one seemingly simple one: stand up. I would advise people at my talks whose mobility was compromised by age, surgery or even stroke to stand up right then and there, even with assistance. I instructed them to do that every 30 minutes throughout the day every day. This is what I had found prevented in young bed-rest volunteers the adverse effects of continuous lying in bed. But the results reported back amazed even me. Those that adhered to the 30 minute rule with no other exercise, showed remarkable improvement in mobility within as little as three months. Today I am discussing with a senior center, a more structured study to validate this approach scientifically. And it remains an ongoing shining example of what is possible when we begin to use gravity more wisely.

Gravity as Friend? A Counter-Intuitive Concept
In modern times gravity has gotten a bad rap – that it is the enemy that drags us down and ages us. To convince people of the opposite I needed to develop a simple ‘How To’ approach that was similar to the way I speak. And I was committed to address the questions that have arisen: How did we become so sedentary? Is too much sitting really to blame for the illness epidemics that are crippling us and the costs of our health care system?  How exactly could one re-introduce gravity into every-day life? Why was structured exercise not enough on its own?

And above all, what could I do to change attitudes and maybe even health policy? What tools could I give you to help you live healthier?

From Interest to Passion
So let me tell you why I wrote Sitting Kills. While the country was figuring out who pays for health care, here I was sitting on a practical, inexpensive, scientifically-proven natural solution derived from research paid for by the taxpayer! It became my passion to share what I knew, in plain language, that anyone could understand. Astronauts, chosen on the basis of being the healthiest and the fittest ‘right stuff’, are transformed by the lack of gravity in space into the likes of those 30 or 40 years older. Yet, despite the debilitating effects of spaceflight, astronauts fully recover soon after they return to Earth. Why not use what we learned about astronauts at NASA to benefit the rest of us?

My challenge was to provide clear, practical guidance to share with you the value of using our old friend gravity, simply and easily through everyday activities that are of a different nature than traditional vigorous exercise in the gym.

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals does just that. It is a life-changing call-to-action to get you out of your chair and back into health and vigor.  Follow its plan for a lifetime of energy and physical health. Here’s to your continuing good health!