Sometimes it takes me all day to write a post for this blog. That is, six or eight or more hours sitting in a chair poring over books, magazines, printouts, a dozen or more open browser windows and a keyboard.
For many years, sometimes – nay, most times – I didn't get out of the chair but for lunch, to search the shelves for another book or magazine I needed, or to pee. (Ollie the cat conveniently jumps up on the desk when he needs stroking.)
All this sitting is not good. In fact, it is so bad in terms of health, it alone could kill me before my time. Which is the reason that a couple of months ago, I downloaded a free smartphone app that has only one function – it dings at whatever interval of time I set it for.
At first, that was once an hour to remind me to get out of the chair and move around for awhile. But now, after a rash of new information about the health dangers of inactivity, I've set the app to ding twice as often - every half hour.
There are hundreds of studies each corroborating the findings of all the others: nothing keeps us healthier than exercise and exercise is almost a miracle treatment for many conditions and diseases. Here is a new report about how exercise slows muscle wasting due to age and heart failure:
”In both age groups, four training sessions of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, five days a week plus one 60 minute group exercise session was associated with increased muscle force endurance and oxygen uptake.
“Heart failure patients 55 and under increased their peak oxygen uptake by 25 percent, while those 65 and over increased it by 27 percent.”
Did you notice the amount of time devoted to exercise in this study? Twenty minutes spread four times throughout the day is not much for such a big-deal return on investment.
More and more research is finding that although there is nothing wrong with running marathons, sweating through 90-minute gym workouts or ten-mile bicycle rides if that is your pleasure, it takes far less effort than previously believed to stave off the dire effects of inactivity.
”One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard...or doing something really strenuous,” [says science, health and fitness reporter, Gretchen Reynolds]. “That’s untrue and, I think, discourages a lot of people from exercising.
“If you walk, your body registers that as motion, and you get all sorts of physiological changes that result in better health. Gardening counts as exercise. What would be nice would be for people to identify with the whole idea of moving more as opposed to quote 'exercise.'”
Gretchen Reynolds writes the popular “Phys Ed” column in The New York Times and a couple of weeks ago, her new book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer (whew!), was published.
It is on my list for “next” (along with six others) but I haven't read the book yet. Even so, I am so impressed by an interview with Ms. Reynolds in the Times last week and encouraged at how important I believe her information is for elders who may not be able to do strenuous exercise anymore, that I wanted to share this with you now.
Some more excerpts from the interview which you will find here.
”There is a whole scientific discipline called inactivity physiology that looks at what happens if you just sit still for hours at a time. If the big muscles in your legs don’t contract for hours on end, then you get physiological changes in your body that exercise won’t necessarily undo.
“Exercise causes one set of changes in your body, and being completely sedentary causes another.”
“Humans,” writes Ms Reynolds, “are born to stroll” and she makes a clear distinction between the kind of movement needed to help maintain health and that meant to improve sports performance. For the former, “movement” is key and you already have everything you need to do that:
”There are always options for moving,” says Ms. Reynolds. “You don’t have to do anything that hurts. You don’t have to buy equipment. If you have a pair of shoes, they don’t even have to be sneakers.
“People have gotten the idea that exercise has to be complicated, and that they need a heart rate monitor, and a coach, and equipment and special instruction. They don’t.”
“If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.”
It turns out, according to Ms. Reynolds, that I have been doing exactly the right thing with my reminder app that dings to help counteract a life spent in front of a screen:
”I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now,” she says, “because I was spending five or six hours unmoving in my chair. The science is really clear that that is very unhealthy, and that it promotes all sorts of disease. All you have to do to ameliorate that is to stand up. You don’t even have to move.”
I hope this post has moved you to get moving. Although Ms. Reynolds' prescription is aimed at people of all ages, it seems tailor-made for elders. And it is frequency more than length of time spent moving that matters.
You will find the archive of Gretchen Reynolds' Times columns here which is well worth a read.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Vitale: Butchie