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Why your daily gym sessions may not be enough to keep you healthy

By Dr. Michelle Lim, D.C

Hiking at Griffith Park

Hiking at Griffith Park

In this fast paced world, we do our best to juggle a career, a family, a social life, and last but not least, time for ourselves.  “Me” time usually includes some sort of hobby that is conducive to our physical health.  Here in LA, people have many options to stay physically active-there’s the gym, zumba classes, cycling & pilates hybrid workouts, circuit training, crossfit, yoga ballet fusions, barre classes, and any other combination, technique-specific class you could imagine, all offered in one city.  Let’s not forget the endless opportunities Griffith Park or Runyon Canyon has to offer for those who want to enjoy the outdoors and get a great work out.  Exercise is readily available anywhere and everywhere, so there’s no excuse not to get it.  Living in LA, most locals are conscious about setting aside at least an hour a day, a couple times of week to join their favorite class or go to the gym to engage in routine exercise.  But is that really enough?  Although your concerted effort and positive intention is much appreciated by your body, more and more research suggests that our 3-5 day workout is not enough to protect our health.  

 In 2009, The British Journal of Sports Medicine published, ”Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting — the activity that dominates most people’s remaining “non-exercise” waking hours.”  While in In the November 2012 Diabetologia issue, Wilmot, et al analyzed 18 studies to examine the association of sedentary time with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality and concluded that:
  1. People who sat for the longest periods of times were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease than those who sat the least, even if they performed some kind of moderate to vigorous physical activity on a regular basis.  Prolonged sitting was also linked to a greater risk of death from all causes, but the strongest link was to diabetes.

What does this mean?  Lead researcher Thomas Yates, MD states, “Even for people who are otherwise active, sitting for long stretches seems to be an independent risk factor for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.”  So that pretty desk job, that long commute, and how we spend our down time sitting (watching TV, being on our i-pads, reading, etc.) is slowly depleting us of our health.  With advanced technology granting us a sedentary lifestyle, both a blessing and a curse, this increases our risk of premature death despite regular exercise.

As interviewed by Dr. Mercola, Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals:

“The key to lifelong health is more than just traditional gym exercise, three to five times a week. The answer is to rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural low-intensity non-exercise movement that uses the gravity vector throughout the day.”

That makes sense since life is a fluid, continuous journey.  It is only when we become stagnant that we begin to die mentally and physically.  Scientists at The Wayne State University of School of Medicine gathered a dozen rats and found that at a cellular level, inactivity increases the risk of heart disease.  “But even more intriguing, the results underscore that inactivity can change the structure and functioning of the brain, just as activity does,” states Dr. Mueller.

So what to do?  Microbreaks.

  1. Dr. Yates recommends standing up for 2 minutes for every 20 minutes you spend sitting down and standing up during commercials when watching TV.

  2. Dr. Vernikos’ research shows that simply standing up 35 times over the course of the entire day is a powerful antidote to periods of prolonged sitting and is more effective than walking.

Let the world be your gym

Let the world be your gym

We all know the protective effects of regular exercise, but now that we know that constant movement is key, we must modify not only the quantity of physical activity that we endure on a daily basis, but adjust our mindset as well.  Instead of focusing on getting that one good gym workout, or that amazing sweat session in zumba, we need to see the opportunity to move everywhere, all the time.  We must not limit ourselves to describing physical activity as a single set duration of time, but intermittently, throughout the day.  If we want to move toward wellness, we need to redefine exercise as constant motion all day rather than equate it with hard work like push-ups or bench presses.

We need to train ourselves to look forward to and get excited about movement to recharge rather than sitting or laying around.  We need to associate motion, or at least incorporate it in our relaxation methods to replenish ourselves mentally and spiritually.

If we could only view getting up, walking around and stretching every couple of minutes as second nature rather than a chore, or simply standing during every commercial or at the office, then we can be on a better path.  With the wealth of knowledge we have about what it takes to be healthy and how to take care of our bodies, we need to stand up and end the cycle of being sedentary.  Now, get up and give your body a break.


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