Good Health is Easier Than You Think

A former NASA director of life sciences on why sedentary living is bad for our health.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Fight Sitting Disease.

My mother used to say “I want to be healthy till I drop dead”. That is becoming less possible in our modern world. Innovations replaced the way we do most things. I learned to drive on a stick-shift car. When automatic cars came in, my left leg became weaker than my right leg. Driverless cars will soon make our life even easier. In the process, our body gets weaker and older. Sitting throughout the day, at the office, school, commute or at home, we steadily become disabled and lose our independence. Long spells of sitting are stealing our zest for life. In the US, people sit for 6 to 15 hours per day.

We do know that sedentary living is bad for our health, but we put off doing anything about it because we think we need to start an elaborate exercise program. The truth is that intense exercise once a day does not counteract the effects of sitting though it would be needed for fitness, like running a marathon. Sitting is as normal and necessary as standing. Extended hours of either are unhealthy. Modern inventions and devices like TV remote controls and cell phones encourage us to move less and less. The culprit is not so much the total hours sat but, whether or not we interrupt sitting with standing.

My research at NASA was to understand the impact of space travel on the human body. The results from space applied back to Earth are helping everyday Americans live “active” and independent lives through healthy aging. So what’s the secret? Simply put, “Stand up”. Though sitting has been compared to smoking it is far worse. Sitting is related to every medical condition we know. Biologically, we humans are designed to move. For healthy aging and independence, we need to sustain mobility. “Stand up, and stand up often” should be our mantra.

Gravity(G) is not only crucial to planets and stars in the universe but also to human life on Earth. We were born and evolved as bipeds on Earth working against the force of gravity just to stand up. As the Earth rotates we have night and day; we lie down to minimize G’s effect when we sleep. We stand up at daybreak and move about in G all day. We learned from astronauts in space, in minimal G (10͘ˉ⁵), that a broad range of markers of ill health and aging such as — insulin resistance, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and immune function, bone and muscle atrophy — do not seem to adapt, but continue at a faster rate than on Earth. Space, lying down and sitting are all conditions that deprive us of the G stimulus — either by not having it as in space, reducing its influence as in bed, or during uninterrupted sitting where we are not using it.

The solution is simple. Align yourself with G. Sadly, the change that sends most elderly to a nursing home is the inability to squat or use a toilet. Sitting on a toilet and standing up again unassisted, is crucial to independence. While sitting at your desk, put a book on your head. If the book falls off, you know you need to straighten up. Walk your dog. You don’t have one? Get one to motivate you. Hold your head up above your spine whether walking or texting; a drooping head leads to stooping and back pain. Dr. Debra Rose at UC Fullerton CA uses as a measure of health, the number of stand-sits you can do in 30 secs off a hard-backed chair. Average is 9 -14, < 9 you need help and >14 doing great. The simplest antidote to immobility is to stand up at least once every 20–30 minutes throughout the day. Standing up is the best way to increase blood flow to the brain. As we age this is crucial to ward off dementia or Alzheimer’s. The brain needs glucose and oxygen. Blood provides it.

Be a child again — go play. Swing on a swing in those abandoned playgrounds. All play involves G. Unfortunately, people tend to stop playing after reaching 20.

Take charge of your precious health. We are Designed to Move¹


¹Joan Vernikos, Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease & Enjoy Lifelong Health, 2016, Quill Driver Books, Fresno, CA. tubo�;�,�

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