Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Straighten up and let gravity be a friend

Earlier this month I wrote an article called, “Gravity is the Enemy.” Today’s article is going in a different direction, but also deals with the subject of gravity and loss of mobility.

gravity The CostCo Connection magazine had an article this month written by Jennifer Nelson. The title was, “A Matter of Gravity ... Too much sitting can compromise your health.” Boy did that title grab my attention.

Ms. Nelson interviewed Joan Vernikos, a former NASA scientist and the author of “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.” Ms. Vernikos explained what happens to astronauts when they return to earth after being weightless for months.  The author then equates what astronauts go through when they come back to earth as to those of us who sit more than stand.

She comments that conventional wisdom would suggest that if you watch your weight and get aerobic exercise a few times a week, you’ll offset your sedentary downtime. Yet, recent research believes this is not true.  Ms. Nelson goes on to explain that “sitting is equivalent to what happens when you quit using gravity. When you stand up, gravity pulls on your body from head to toe. When you sit down, that distance is smaller, and if you allowed gravity to have its way, you’d be crumpled on the floor.” [Been there, done that a few times]

posture If we do not use gravity to keep our muscles strong, then the body does not get the stimulation it needs to remain healthy. Ms. Nelson goes on to explain that a host of health issues can evolve including high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, etc. To further complicate the problem, if we do not sit correctly (slumped shoulders, rounded back, legs tucked under or crossed, leaning forward, etc.) we can complicate the problem causing neck and back pain as well as other health issues.

What can those of us do that have problems standing or walking? Joan Vernikos recommends that we stand every 20-30 minutes even if we don’t walk around. Sara Daily, a physical therapist, recommends changing positions frequently, squeeze your shoulders together, and flex and point your ankles. The point is to continue using those muscles even if sitting and to take regular breaks from sitting. Ms. Daily also recommends that no matter what position you are in (sitting or standing), do not slouch.  You need to:
  • Sit or stand straight.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your head straight and your shoulders back.
Also, when at home lie down and elevate your feet above your heart for a few minutes each day to improve circulation.
posture sitting
When we are forced to become less mobile because of the progression of Kennedy’s Disease, we need to be even more vigilant in our attempt to remain healthy. It is easy to become a little lazy. However, doing nothing is also bad for your health.

Standing frequently, even if only for a few minutes at a time, can make a lot of difference. Straightening and lengthening the body is also helpful. Exercise, whether standing or sitting, is extremely important. “If you don’t use it, you will lose it” [in our case a little quicker than most].

The best advice I can give is to “be aware” of your body’s position and let gravity help keep your muscles stimulated.


  1. As you know Bruce I use a power chair like yours and I use it go out to lunch from work everyday - about 3/4 mile round trip. I've found that if I lean forward a bit, and/or tilt the back back a bit, a sit straight w/o touch the back I get some exercise effect. W/o back support the body needs to compensate as the chair travels over other than flat ground.

    It isn't much but every little bit helps!

  2. Bob, thanks for the comment. Yes, as you know, I exercise every day and every chance I get during the day. Every little bit does help!


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