Have you heard the news that sitting is the new smoking?
When you sit, you use less energy than you do when you stand or move. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and what is called metabolic syndrome which is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, blood pressure, body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. It has been found however that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting, even though others say that you can’t totally eliminate the problems caused by too much sitting.
I find that a balance between the more yin Eastern exercises and Western active exercises is ideal. The main Eastern exercises I have used are hatha yoga,aikido, tai chi and chi gong.
Yoga decreases the secretion of cortisol, the major stress hormone. After 3 months of yoga practice, a study showed that participants had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression. Yoga practitioners also have lower levels of inflammatory markers, thus it is also beneficial for pain. Poor sleeping is associated with many health issues, in studies the yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than other groups.
As you might expect flexibility and balance increased greatly in those who do yoga, which is especially important as people get older. Strength and endurance also were increased. Yoga usually involves breathing exercises or pranayama which help improves breathing and lung function.
Chi gong exercises are more flowing with continuous movements unlike yoga where you more hold positions or asanas. Tai chi is a specific set of chi gong movements which were adapted from martial arts exercises and routines. Chinese medicine describes “three regulations” as part of the benefits of chi gong which are body focus, which includes posture and movement, breath focus, and mind focus with meditative components. Thus they are like a moving meditations.
There is a saying in the internal arts that the mind moves the chi or life force and the chi moves the body. Thus by balancing the nervous system the whole body benefits. When you get sensitive to energy flow in the body, you can feel the stagnation in the body clear and then energy flow in the acupuncture meridians which also benefits the internal organs. This energy can also be directed towards others as a source of powerful healing, sometimes called external Qi.
But I have found over the years that in addition to the more mindful eastern practices, it is good to have the body exercise in a stronger way with the lifting of weights as well as getting the heart rate up. The best exercise is the one that you will actually do. Sometimes I will go on a treadmill or bicycle machine to get my heart rate up, but I find I actually prefer tennis because it is more fun and find my body gets more exercise without my even trying. I have found many patients who were either overweight or had knee problems, find great benefit in swimming, where you feel weightless and can get quite an aerobic workout. Others who complain that yoga and downward dog hurt their joints often benefit by doing Pilates.
There is recent research showing that slowing down and speeding up can get better health results than a more prolonged steady exercise. There is one program called peak eight.
Do a 5 to 10 minute warm-up starting out at 50 – 60% effort and ramping up to 80% by the end. Then set a timer on your phone, watch or clock for 30 seconds of maximum effort and 90 seconds of slower recovery for 8 rotations (8 hard work intervals each followed by 90 seconds of recovery intervals) This helps growth hormone and testosterone levels and is amazing for the heart and lungs as well as weight loss. So in 20 minutes 3 x a week you benefit more than you would be jogging or doing a steady treadmill for an hour a day.
Even fun games like badminton or ping pong can get you off your seat, having fun and benefiting your body and your mind. If you don’t have a gym membership or own weights, you can do exercises anyway like a series of push ups, sit ups, planks, toe touches, jumping jacks, burpies, chin ups or other isometric exercises. Many studies have shown that even moderate amounts of walking is incredibly beneficial compared to those who hardly move at all.
Even though technology has made it so easy to not move, there are many wonderful apps that can guide you through an exercise routine. Some people need a personal trainer to stay on top of them and hold them accountable and pushing themselves. But the apps can also help you to really get good exercise as well. There are many websites and online videos where you can be guided in yoga and qi gong as well.
Eating well and meditating is just not enough. I had done that for years and started developing low back pain. I found that exercises that strengthened my core were the key to eradicating that pain. I also noticed that when I made exercise a regular part of my routine that if I stopped for a few days, my body would feel stiff and stagnant. almost corpse-like, and I would crave movement and weights. I also enjoyed that peaceful silent brain state I felt after exercising.
I know most of you would never consider taking up smoking cigarettes and would even consider it a very bad health decision to do so. But if you don’t move your body, it is just as damaging and may even shorten or reduce the quality of this amazing and valuable body we have for this one life.