Last week I was deeply immersed in understanding the role of gravity and movement in keeping our bodies strong and healthy. I was deep into an extraordinary book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Joan Vernikos who was the former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. After reading about her research with astronauts and people on bed rest, I’ve shifted the way I think about gravity. Most of us see gravity as a drag. On our skin, bones and bodies in general.
Dr. Vernikos’ work shows that without gravity, like in space, or on earth when we spend too much time sitting or living a sedentary lifestyle with little movement, what we typically associate with the “normal” conditions of aging happens much, much more quickly. There are two significant points in this research and discoveries.
The first is that in fact our bodies are designed for gravity and movement to maintain our bone density, muscle mass, and cardiovascular system. We are meant to have the resistance of gravity to maintain a healthy body. In space and in tests of extended bed rest, study after study showed that when we sit and move less often, typically as we get older, our health is compromised. Our bodies are a miraculous, self-healing machine that need to be used to work well. Gravity is not a foe pulling us down, sagging our skin, but a force that we need and can utilize to keep us healthy and strong.
The second point is that we have misunderstood aging on a most basic level. We have assumed that many of the conditions of aging are a given. With the ticking of time, we will inevitably deteriorate. This is not true. John Glen went into space at 77 and felt the impact of a weightless environment, but no more than the other younger astronauts. Then he came back to earth and recovered just like the others and he lived to be 95 years old.
It is the lack of movement, and sedentary lifestyle, not age that matters. I’m here to share that gravity is your friend. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday or where you are right now. It is not too late. You are not too old. You can train yourself with new habits that can make a big difference. This is not about determination or willpower, this is about shifting your focus to hone the movements of daily life to work for you.
So when you shift that mindset and embrace that tomorrow is a new day what comes next?
Joan Vernikos created what are called G-habits, which are varied non-exercise movements that help build those important stabilizer muscles. These are critical to helping to live pain-free. When the stabilizer muscles are weak, often there is back, neck and hip pain and the mobilizer muscles that help us move don’t have the right foundation and can’t work properly.
You can train yourself to do these G-habits like you have trained yourself to brush your teeth. While brushing your teeth takes minimal time, 1-2 minutes. it has tremendous benefits. Most all of us have decided that investment is worth having healthy, working teeth.
G-habit will become like that for you but take even less time. Let’s start with something really easy, standing up and sitting down. Joan found that to stand up and then sit back down 32 times in a day was what it took for her bed rest patients to stay at a stable, healthy state. What does that mean for your typical work day?
Standing up means you stand without leaning on the arms of your chair using your legs and core muscles. Do it slowly and note your posture. Imagine that sting at the crown of your head and before you stand up sit tall and let the abdominal muscles engage before you engage the legs to stand. If you want an extra challenge, close your eyes.
Sitting down means not just plopping down. Go slowly, take a few seconds to slowly lower down. Feel your long tall upright spine so your core muscles engage.
The 32 times does not mean standing and sitting 32 times in a row. This did not have the same impact in the studies. The impact is spreading them out during the entire day to minimize the long stretches of time spent motionless, whether that is sitting, driving or lying down.
I looked at the math to see what that might look like in my day.
1: Getting out of bed. Standing up to rise for the day. I like to add a nice stretch of my arms overhead. I love to really ground through my feet here and steady myself before I take the first step. I check in with my body, say hello and give thanks for my ability to get up for a new day.
3-13: I go to the bathroom next. Now here is where we women have an advantage, so I’ll admit that right now. I drink coffee in the morning and then water throughout the day, not a lot but I have to go to the bathroom at least 10 times from when I wake up to when I go to sleep so that gets me to 13.
14-15: Then most of us go to the car or train to get to work and sit down and stand back up on the way to and then from work. Getting in and out of the car is a different kind of movement. (Yeah, variety is awesome!) How can you do this again with using gravity as resistance and engage your stabilizer muscles?
At work let’s assume there are 4 hours in the am and 4 hours in the pm not counting lunch, spent mostly sitting. There may be a few meetings mixed in but if I set a timer for 20 minutes and stood up and sat back down each time the timer went off that would be 8hr x 60 minutes = 480 minutes /20 = 24 times. 15 + 24 = 39… so we are already over 32.
That is not counting at least one or two times for sitting down to dinner and then on the couch and the ups and downs to help kids or a quick trip to the kitchen in the evening.
When I broke it down this way, I could see with one simple task of setting my watch for 20-minutes throughout the day I could break up those blocks of sitting times and get 32 times in. It is similar to when you begin to count steps. As you become more aware, your body and mind just do it. And that is what we are working towards. No drama, no forcing, no stories or excuses, just a new habit.
Let me know how it goes.