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In fitness and in health

By Randall Buskirk

SAT OCT 02, 2021

Bear in mind that health is different from fitness. Health is the absence of disease whereas fitness must be defined by what one is fit to do, presumably with exertion. Problems arise with social expectations about the universal value of exercise. And government guidelines push us in a direction that doesn’t necessarily work or solve the sitting problem. The solution is simple, frequent, beneficial daily movement, which is readily available to all anywhere, and is already, to one degree or another, part of our daily lives. — Designed to Move, by Dr. Joan Vernikos

In class we've been exploring the ideas of Dr, Joan Vernikos, former Director of Life Sciences for NASA. In her work and studies with astronauts in microgravity environments, she concluded that being in space, sedentariness (remaining in any one position for extended time), and aging all look basically the same physiologically.

What they have in common is what she calls "gravity deprivation." Not moving against gravity. More specifically, not moving against gravity in the up and down direction.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this involves our friend the vestibular system. Yay! Moving up and down sends a signal through the vestibular system that initiates a whole host of physical responses from every system in the body to cope with and make possible the transition in body position. These signals in effect wake you up and "tune" all these systems to work together more optimally.

"Some obvious consequences of gravity deprivation include reduced endurance, weaker muscles and bones, impaired balance and coordination, back pain, poor sleep with an increased need to urinate at night, disturbed blood pressure regulation, and reduced immune defenses that may result in increased vulnerability to infection.''

Other effects of not moving against gravity: arterial stiffness, decreased sensitivity to insulin, increased body fat, decreased collagen/aching joints, slower reaction time, decreased growth hormone and testosterone, skin loss of endothelium, decreased hearing/taste/vision, circadian rhythm disruptions, decreased wound healing.... Wow, sorry about that!

The good news is that much of that is reversible or can at least be mitigated. Just like the astronauts return to earth and adapt to life in gravity again. They regain mass, strength, balance, mobility, and their other functions. We can too.

There's good evidence that the key is not exercise, or not only exercise. It's as simple as changing your position or posture in relation to gravity. Try not to go more than an hour (and certainly no more than two hours unless necessary, when the effects really set in) in any one position. Even better, every 20 or 30 minutes stand up if you are sitting, or sit down if you are standing. Maybe even squat! (Come on, knee course!) 

I'm inviting you to join me—ok, let's call it a challenge—in changing position/posture simply and frequently throughout your day this week. Find something that will remind you and prompt you to stand up, sit down, lie down, or get on up, whether it be James Brown, every time a commercial starts, or every time you see or hear something that cues you. Make it a game.

I found a free app called "Simple Interval Timer" (SIT) that I can set to ding every 30 minutes for as many sets (hours) as I want.

For added benefit, maybe take that 15 seconds or 30 seconds to also do a vision, balance, or mobility drill. Or freestyle something. Get a drink of water, etc.

Enjoy. Live long and prosper!

For more ideas on how to tune up your vestibular system, you can click here.