What words come to mind when you see the word ‘astronaut’?
Smart? Physically fit? Lean? Healthy?
Not exactly the same words you’d use to describe your average, sedentary North American, right?
Yet astronauts and physically inactive adults have a heck of a lot in common. Once the astronaut returns to earth, that is.
Recently, I was sent a copy of the book Sitting Kills Moving Heals, written by Joan Vernikos, former Director of Life Sciences at NASA. Dr. Vernikos has spent most of her career studying the effects of the lack of gravity on the health and wellness of astronauts.
Remarkably, after only 14 days in space, astronauts frequently exhibit
- a 25% reduction in aerobic capacity
- decreased bone density (up to 5% per month)
- decreased muscled mass and muscle strength (1% per month)
- stooped posture
- increased fatiguability
- decreased cardiac output
- decreased heart stroke volume
- reduced sensitivity to insulin (as seen in diabetics)
- decreased testosterone
- decreased growth hormone
- aching joints
In short, many of the same changes we observe in sedentary individuals as they age, even though those individuals have never left the earth’s gravitational field (that we know of; alien abductions, not withstanding…).
Not content to merely catalogue the litany of symptoms astronauts returned to earth with, Dr. Vernikos has also studied the types of exercise programs astronauts need to follow to minimize, prevent and recover from these zero-gravity induced changes.
Surprisingly, her research supports the claim that frequent, low intensity movements performed repeatedly throughout the day are better are combatting the effects of zero gravity on health than short duration, high intensity workouts.
What does that mean for our average, sedentary adult? Worry more about walking and bending and stretching and reaching than getting to the gym three times a week if you want to get stronger, healthier and perhaps, lose weight. For example;
- taking the stairs rather than the elevator
- hang your clothes out to dry
- vacuum and wash the floor (yourself; it doesn’t count if you have a cleaning lady…)
- walk, don’t drive, to the mailbox
- carry your groceries in a basket rather than pushing a cart
- use a push mower rather than an electric mower to cut your grass
While the general premise of this book is not new (‘move more’, ‘walk more’, ‘increase your daily activity’ have all been prescribed by many, many fitness professionals), what is new (and interesting to me!), is the demonstration that previously fit individuals can reverse the damage of a sedentary lifestyle without embarking on a high intensity exercise program.
(And if you’re at all intrigued about life in space, there are lots of fun sidebars with info about eating and sleeping under zero-gravity).
Moving more, every day, all day is a goal that should be attainable for all!
Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book to read and review. All views and opinions in this review are my own.