Alt-Health: Move!

moveWalk into the average home or office. See if you can spot the biggest health hazard in the room. Is it the fluorescent lights? Emissions from display monitors?? The mites, the dust, the bacteria lurking in the air ducts and pipes? No. The most dangerous ticking time bomb in the place is your chair.

I once taught painting at a nursing home in South County. The director, Darnell, grew up in nursing homes. Her mom was a director who often brought her daughter to work. By the time we crossed paths, Darnell had seen it all and heard every excuse in the book of senile wheedling. “They think I’m the bitch of the century because I won’t let them sit down in those the wheelchairs,” she’d say. “They whine and gripe, but I know they can walk. They need to keep moving as long as they can, even if it hurts. That wheelchair — it’s always the beginning of the end.”

And it was true. People seemed to just melt into those chairs once they took to them. They stopped coming to painting class and stayed in their rooms. Next time I heard about them, they were gone.

Today, the average office worker spends about 10 hours in a chair. First, there’s all that time at a desk and in front of the computer. People sit at meals, then on the commute to and from work. Back home, they sit down again. It’s tempting to just give in and stay there, playing video games or watching TV all night. Exhaustion is a great excuse to do nothing but veg out.

I completely understand. Nobody wants to get up and run laps after they’ve put in a grueling day. But there’s a few things you should know about this “rest” you are giving yourself while slumped in a chair.

Even if you exercise a few days a week, and regardless of your body mass index, if you spend six or more hours a day in a chair (and this is amazingly easy to do) you are far more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and, especially, diabetes.

If you spend a minimum of just five or more hours a day in a chair, you are far more likely to develop or worsen a chronic disease. Unfortunately, chronic fatigue is prevalent among those with lingering illness. Remaining perpetually sedentary only makes the exhaustion worse.

Sitting for a mere four hours or more a day gives you a nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause. Reducing your time in the chair could increase life expectancy by two years.

The average adult admits to spending at least 55 percent of the day doing something sedentary. The real percentage is probably far higher.

Human beings need to move. The blood that travels through our veins is a living stream and the movement of this fluid is vital to our health. When spring water rushes down the side of a mountain, it bubbles, fresh and clean, over rocks and roots, through pitfalls and passages. Unless poisoned at the source, such water is generally safe to drink, because there is no opportunity for bacteria to grow or for microbes to multiply; the movement of the water sweeps them along like a sanitation truck. But if that same spring happens to spout up in the flatlands where it collects in a stagnant pool, it becomes the festering ground for decay and algae, breeding mosquitoes, fungus and rot.

A large number of us work at jobs where we are allowed as much freedom of movement as a chained bear. It’s not just at work. Students sit in classes, sit in study. Physical education has lost importance and presence in our schools. In the meantime, despite advances in medicine and a lot of complex and expensive treatments, diabetes, chronic disease and depression are on the rise.

So many of these problems could be both solved and prevented if we did one simple thing: move. Here’s a place to start: Try working standing up. Many businesses have become very supportive of creating ergonomically healthy work stations for employees. They know they’ll have fewer worker’s compensation cases and time out for illness if
they do.

What about your commute? Is work or school close enough to bike or walk? And you might want to exchange your “thumb action only” digital games for some interactive dance stuff that makes you move. Not to mention sex. It’s a great aerobic activity.

So get that stream of life inside of you flowing, put down the devices, get up off the chairs and MOVE.