by Marilynn Preston
“Gravity” isn’t just the name of a stunning film about transformation and change starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and mind-altering special effects.
Gravity is also the best-kept secret for living longer, and stronger, with more energy and a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
This, too, is mind-altering, and the subject of today’s Healthy Lifestyle Lesson: “Why inadequate use of gravity is killing us.”
Our story begins in the ’90s with the NASA space program and Dr. Joan Vernikos, who was director of the Life Sciences Division. This is not an easy job to get. Vernikos is a highly regarded researcher. Keep this in mind as you contemplate her amazing findings.
She and her NASA team faced a tough medical issue: When perfectly fit astronauts go into space — a gravity-fee environment — they quickly show signs of accelerated aging. Their overall health deteriorates. Their bones weaken. Their muscles weaken. They begin to show each other pictures of their grandchildren.
When the astronauts return to Earth, their strength returns, their bones stop deteriorating and fitness returns.
So what’s up with all that? Vernikos and her team figured it out, and you can see her on YouTube or on www.JoanVernikos.com enthusiastically explaining: “The lack of gravity in space wreaks havoc on the body … On Earth, gravity is our life line … it centers us and grounds us … the gravity factor is present to stimulate every cell, every nerve in our body … it etches images in our brain that tells us where we are in relation to our environment … All this rapidly disappears in space … in a gravity-free environment.”
So far, so good. Gravity is good. Gravity-free is bad.
And then Vernikos lowers the boom. Earthly sitting is a form of weightlessness. It brings us dangerously close to a gravity-free environment, she says, and we “sitanauts” are doing more and more of it every day, for typically eight to 10 hours, in our cars and couches, at our desks and dining tables, in front of big and small screens.
“The less we move, the less we use gravity,” she explains. Modern conveniences and technology may be making our lives easier, but our sedentary lifestyles are making us sick.
And here’s the kicker: Time in the gym, even working out three to five times a week, cannot make up for the negative results that come from disengaging with gravity.
“We’ve struggled for decades to exercise more and eat less,” says Vernikos. “We’re fatter, sicker, more tired and more out of pocket than ever. Some of us even exercise strenuously. Yet, the way we live is slowly killing us.”
Which is why she wrote a book called “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death — And Exercise Alone Won’t,” published in 2011. Strap on your harness and prepare for liftoff — it’s a mind-blower.
When you sit, you’re essentially disconnecting from the “life line” that is gravity. When you get up and change your position — and this is the finding that dazzled her most of all — you’re reconnecting with gravity in ways that promote health and wellness.
It’s the change of position that is most powerful and matters most, Vernikos says. “The results amazed me! Standing was more effective than walking! You got that?”
Vernikos got it big time, and it has led to her current planetary mission: educating earthlings about the cure for too much sitting.
“To reverse the damage of sedentary living,” Vernikos advises, “put gravity back in your life.”
How? Do frequent nonstrenuous activities throughout the day. Stand up every 10 to 15 minutes, bend and twist, take the stairs, wash the car, empty the dishwasher. You get the picture.
“Our bodies need perpetual motion,” says Vernikos. “The good news is that there are unlimited free opportunities for movement all around us. The key to lifelong health is more than just traditional gym exercise an hour a day, three to five days 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.”
Worth repeating: Rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural, low intensity movement.
It’s not rocket science, Dear Reader. Well, in this case, I guess it is.
Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com.