SLCo Healthy Lifestyles Blog
Is Sitting the New Smoking?
For decades, we have been hearing about the benefits of living a physically active lifestyle. From early research linking regular physical activity to decreased incidences of a number of ailments such cardiovascular disease, depression, and many forms of cancer (ACSM, 2006), to first lady Michelle Obama’s nationwide campaign “Let’s Move” aimed at encouraging children to move more, it is well established that being active is one of the most important things we can do for our health. But what about the times when we are not moving a lot; the long commute to work, the increasing number of hours spent at a desk, the post-work couch time devoted to relaxing? As long as we make time for physical activity each day, we get a free pass to sit in our remaining hours, correct? Unfortunately, research is beginning to show that the answer to that question is a resounding no.
What research is currently illustrating is that sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.
The dangers of sitting started to become evident as early as the 1950s, when researchers discovered that men in physically active jobs have less cardiovascular during middle-age, and when disease is present, it is less severe, and they develop it later in life than men in physically inactive jobs (Morris & Crawford, 1958). Fast forward 60 years, and research performed by Katzmarzyk et al. (2009) shows that there is a strong association between sitting and mortality risk from all causes including cardiovascular disease.
To understand the harmful effects of sitting for an extended period of time, the concept of sedentary behavior needs to be examined. The phrase sedentary behavior comes from the Latin word 'sedere', meaning, “to sit” (Owen et al., 2009). Most individuals can sit for many hours at a time, day after day. In fact, approximately 70% of the waking day may be in a sitting behavior.
One recent study (Dunstan DW, et al., 2010) compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:
- A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
- About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack (Mayo Clinic, 2012).
Hence, the idea is born that sitting is as potentially dangerous for our health as smoking!
What steps can be taken to reduce the negative health consequences of sitting for long periods of time?
- When sitting at your desk for an extended period of time, stand up and walk around the office at least every 30 minutes
- Keep a water bottle at your desk and refill it often
- Take a trek to a farther bathroom at your work-site when going to the restroom (if multiple bathrooms are an option)
- When taking phone calls, try standing up to break up the time spent sitting
- Consider installing a standing desk in your work area
- Conduct walking meeting with your colleagues whenever possible
- During long meetings or presentations, stand at the back of the room for a period of time
- Walk to a colleague's desk instead of e-mailing or calling them
1ACSM. (2006). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
2 Morris, J.N. and Crawford, M.D. (1958). Coronary heart disease and physical activity of work: Evidence of a national necropsy survey. British Medical Journal, December 20, pp. 1486-1496
3 Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L., and Bouchard, C. (2009). Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(5), pp. 998-1005.
4Owen, N., Bauman, A. and Brown, W. (2009). Too much sitting: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(2), pp. 81-83.
5 Dunstan DW, et al. Television viewing time and mortality: The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Circulation. 2010;121:384
6 Viva Healthy Cosmetic (2014). Overcome the Dangers of Sitting. Retrieved from http://www.vivahealthycosmetic.com/2013/09/17/danger-of-sitting/
7 Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting? Mayo Clinic. (2012, June). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005
Mindfulness and Your Health
When many of us think of the concept of health and wellness, the first two terms that come to mind are nutrition and physical activity. While these areas of health are important to address for our optimal well-being, there are some other facets of health that often fall to the wayside. Mindfulness, just like diet and exercise, is a crucial piece in the complex puzzle of health.
What is Mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the found of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, mindfulness means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
Mindfulness is a form of meditation where we are always engaged in the activity at hand. It is the opposite of dwelling in the past and also anxiously anticipating future events. Seems simple, right? Mindfulness, like any other skill, is something that must be practiced in order to feel more proficient in it. This isn't something that you decide to do in one day and then it carries for the rest of your life. It is a conscious, concerted effort every day to stay present as much as possible.
All it takes is 10 minutes
Why is Mindfulness Important to our Health?
Research performed by a group of neuroscientists at Harvard University showed that practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques actually increased regional brain gray matter density. Grey matter is the part of the brain that contains the most neuronal cell bodies. The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. The lead researcher in this study, Sara Lazar, Ph.D., stated that “although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.”
Magnetic resonance images (MRI scans) of everyone’s brains were taken before and after they completed the meditation training, and a control group of people who didn’t do any mindfulness training also had their brains scanned.After completing the mindfulness course, all participants reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness, such as “acting with awareness” and “non-judging.” This means that not only are we experiencing an increased sense of well-being and less anxiety while we are practicing being mindful, we are also re-configuring our brains in ways that continues long after a mindfulness technique is initiated. Britta Hölzel, another researcher involved with the study, noted that “it is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
The Practice of Mindfulness
Where to Get Started How can we incorporate some of these centuries-old mindfulness and meditation techniques into our busy, 21st century lives? Jon Kabat-Zinn has some tips for how to use simple meditation techniques to increase your mindfulness in everyday life:
- Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
- Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
- Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
Check out these interesting videos and meditation techniques to assist you in practicing mindfulness and developing the lifelong skill of staying in the present moment!
The Rise of Mindfulness in Society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jtOY2mpHdg
Breath and Bodyscape Guided Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdG2C8wr1pc
The Benefits of Mindfulness: http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/mindfulness.htm
Brown University Health Education: Mindfulness http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/
1 Miller A.K.H., Alston R.L., Corsellis J.A.N. Variation with age in the volumes of grey and white matter in the cerebral hemispheres of man: measurements with an image analyser. Neuropathol. Appl. Neurobiol. 1980;6:119–132.
2 Holzel B.K., Carmody J., Vangel M., Congleton C., Yerramsetti S.M., Gard T., Lazar S.W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research - Neuroimaging, 191 (1) , pp. 36-43.
3 Puddicombe, Andy. "Mindfulness: All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes." TED Talks. TED Conferences, LLC, 01 Nov. 2012. Web. 30 May 2014. .
4 David Creswell, Laura E. Pacilio, Emily K. Lindsay, Kirk Warren Brown. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology - June 2014 (Vol. 44Complete, Pages 1-12, DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.007)
As our society becomes increasingly technologically advanced
and more and more of us are “plugged in,” we can easily lose touch with the
benefits of the simple activity of being outside and enjoying nature. This becomes even more of a
challenge when the areas we live and work in are highly urbanized and our time
spent in nature becomes less and less. We may be so busy that we don’t even
notice the growing lack of green space around us and some of the negative health consequences we may be experiencing because of this decline. What are the health
benefits of spending time outside and how can we better incorporate this into
our busy lives?
Definition of a Green Space
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
green space is defined as any space that is partly or completely covered with
grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. Green space includes parks,
community gardens, and cemeteries. Typically, urban environments tend to be
somewhat void of the above listed attributes, while suburban and country areas
typically contain more green space.
Physical Health Benefits of Green Space
- Urban green spaces encourage exercise and are a more restorative environment than indoor settings
- Green spaces offer a free, accessible, public environment in which to exercise and play to those who cannot afford a private gym membership.
- Having plants within view of workstations decreasesoth illness incidence and the amount of self-reported sick leave
- Green spaces provide necessary places and opportunities for physical activity. Exercise improves cognitive function, learning, and memory.
Also, individuals are more likely to exercise if:
- Walking trails, parks and gyms are accessible
- Sidewalks are present and scenery is enjoyable
This short video documents how the health of a community is in part determined by its access to green space and how much the neighborhood you live in affects your overall health and well-being
Mental Health Benefits of Green Space
- Stress recovery is faster when viewing nature
- Many studies connect urban park use to decreased stress levels and improved moods. In one study, the longer participants stayed in a park, the less stress they exhibited.
- Researchers found that 71% of people found a reduction in depression after going on an outdoor walk versus a 45% reduction by those who went on an indoor walk.
- Brief glimpses of natural elements improve brain performance by providing a cognitive break from the complex demands of urban life.
How to Bring More Green into Your Work Routine
- Take frequent walks outside, weather permitting
- Adorn your office or cubicle with live plants or flowers
- Encourage co-workers to keep plants in their offices as well
- Bike or walk to work
- Suggest holding meetings at a nearby park
- Eat lunch outside
1Grinde, B., and G.G. Patil. 2009. Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6, 9: 2332-343.
2 Pretty, J., R. Hine, and J. Peacock. 2006. Green Exercise: The Benefits of Activities in Green Places. Biologist 53, 3: 143-48.
3 Kaplan, S. 1995. The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward An Integrative Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15, 3: 169-182.
4Bringslimark, T., T. Hartig, and G.G. Patil. 2007. Psychological Benefits of Indoor Plants in Workplaces: Putting Experimental Results Into Context. Hortscience 42, 3: 581-87.
5 Grahn, P., and U.K. Stigsdotter. 2010. The Relation Between Perceived Sensory Dimensions of Urban Green Space and Stress Restoration. Landscape and Urban Planning 94, 3-4: 264-275
⁶ Burls, A. 2007. People and Green Spaces: Promoting Public Health and Mental Well-Being Through Ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health 6, 3: 24-39.
The Neoroscience of Wellness
The Neuroscience of Wellness
The secret to a healthy brain may not be so secret at all. Most everyone would like to see enhanced memory and cognitive abilities in their daily lives. Who doesn’t want to be able to remember the names and faces of new people they meet, remember important facts, and improve their problem solving skills? However, one concern that many people have is whether or not their cognitive functions will decrease as they age. The answer might not come in expensive supplements or other intelligence-enhancing products. Scientific studies have shown that one great way to enhance cognitive abilities may simply be to move more.
How Our Brains Work
Our brain is built up of neurons, which make up the connections that our brain uses to process information. Basically, neurons are how we think. Scientists used to think that we were born with all the neurons we would have, and we slowly lost those neurons over time. While many neurons in our brain cannot recover from damage, neurons can develop new connections and even regrow in certain areas of the brain (Cotman, Berchtold, & Christie, 2007).
The Aging Brain & Physical Activity
As we age, our brain size normally decreases, and specific areas related to memory may suffer as a result. Studies have suggested that a person’s brain size can increase in size if they engage in regular physical activity. This proved to be consistent even when taking into account the age of a person. A bigger brain generally means a healthier and smarter brain. Combatting the decrease in brain size that comes with aging with regular physical activity, a person might help prevent the effects of aging in their brain (Wendell, Gunstad, Waldstein, Wright, Ferrucci, & Zonderman, 2013).
The Mayo Clinic suggests that keeping physically active may:
- Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
- Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment
- Delay the start of Alzheimer’s for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease (Petersen, 2014)
What Can I Do to Maintain a Healthy Brain?
So what does this all mean for our brain health?
First of all, it means that the activities we engage in affect our brain. Whether or not we engage in physical activity affects the size of our brain, which has been linked to cognitive ability. It means that if we neglect physical activity, our brains may suffer, but it also means that our brains respond quickly when we start engaging in healthier behaviors.
To preserve and protect brain health, follow these suggestions:
- Incorporate physical activity into your daily life. It doesn’t matter what you do, but choose an activity you like as you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
- Visit your doctor to take care of any health problems that could keep you from an active lifestyle.
- Pay attention to your mental health and seek help when needed. Be aware of common signs and symptoms that may warrant attention, such as changes in eating or sleeping habits, and pulling away from people and activities.
- Spend time cultivating relationships with family and friends.
- Eat a variety of fresh, whole, and healthy foods to boost memory.
- Live an active life physically, mentally, and socially. It will keep your brain healthy longer, and who doesn’t want that?
For a more in depth look at how physical activity enhances our memory, cognition, and well-being, check out this video with Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki:
1Cotman, C. W., Berchtold, N. C., & Christie, L.-A. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends in Neurosciences, 30(9), 464-472.
3 Petersen, R. (2014). Alzheimer's disease. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/alzheimers-disease/faq-20057881
3 Wendell, C. R., Gunstad, J., Waldstein, S. R., Wright, J. G., Ferrucci, L., & Zonderman, A. B. (2013). Cardiorepiratory Fitness and Accelerated Cognitive Decline with Aging. The Journals of Gerontology, 69(4), 455-462.
Importance of Sleep
Have you ever felt tired when you wake up in the morning or do you feel extremely sleepy in the afternoon? Do you get enough sleep? According to the
Institute of Medicine, the average adult needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep. However, studies show that in 2012 in the United States, only 70% of adults received sufficient sleep. That means that 30% of adults aren’t getting quality sleep every night! Check out the chart below to see how many hours of sleep you should be getting.
What Happens When We Sleep:
Although scientists aren’t exactly sure why we sleep, they have many ideas about the
functions of sleep. Here are a couple of important functions that happen during sleep:
- The cells in your body repair themselves
- Important hormones related to growth are released in children and boost muscle mass in adults
- Your body is able to conserve energy
- The cardiovascular system, including your heart, is given a chance to rest and recuperate
- Important functions in the brain enhance learning and memory
- Immune system is boosted
Harvard Medical School’s website for more information!
Getting enough sleep improves our overall health. Sleep affects our mental, emotional, and physical health so it is very important to get the recommended hours of sleep for your age to stay healthy. Check out the list below to see why sleep is so important.
Benefits of sleep:
- Won’t be as likely to get sick
- Your body will be more likely to maintain a healthy weight
- Increase in cognitive ability and mood
- Ability to think more clearly and do better at work and school
- More energy
- Improved memory function
Who doesn't want all these benefits? The most important thing to remember is that sleep is not just a nice luxury, it’s a necessity! View this video on why sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health.
How important is sleep?
Along with the benefits of getting adequate sleep, you may experience side effects if you don’t get enough sleep.
Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation:
Short-term side effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Decreased cognitive ability
- Decreased precision in performance
- Longer reaction time
- Decreased higher level cognitive capacity even with stimulant use (such as caffeine) (Kilgore, 2010)
Short-term side effects can be dangerous, especially if a person is driving or operating machinery. The longer a person is awake, the more dangerous it becomes. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports that
being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, which is the legal limit for alcohol consumption. Follow this
link to play a short game and find out how sleep deprivation can affect your daily performance. The longer your reaction time is, the more errors you will make, and that can have disastrous results especially when a high level of concentration is required for a task.
In addition to the short-term side effects, if a person consistently gets less than the needed 7 to 8 hours of sleep over time, they accrue sleep debt. After days, weeks, or months of getting less sleep than needed, a person may develop additional side effects.
Long-term side effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Increased blood pressure (Palagini et al., 2013)
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Decreased immune system function and increased inflammation (AlDabal & Bahammam, 2011)
- Impaired glucose tolerance which is a precursor to diabetes
- Increased tendency to gain weight
- Mental distress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders
relative risk of dying, compared to the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006)
Getting enough sleep can be a daunting task especially when our busy lives and schedules seem to take over, but you CAN make small changes that will improve your health and well-being in the long run. Follow these guidelines from the
National Sleep Foundation for designing an environment conducive to sleep:
Here are some additional tips to help you fall asleep:
- Exercise early in the day and avoid exercising late at night right before bed
- Don’t drink anything with caffeine late in the day
- Avoid eating a big meal close to bedtime
- Be consistent with the time you go to sleep and wake up
- Drink alcohol in moderation
If you try these tips and still feel extremely tired during the day or have difficulty sleeping, you may have a sleeping disorder. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to see what they can do to help you!
AlDabal, L., & Bahammam, A. S. (2011). Metabolic, Endocrine, and Immune Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. The Open Respiratory Medicine Journal, 31-43.
Kilgore, W. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Prog Brain Res, 105-129.
National Research Council. (2006). Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. In H. R. Colten, & B. M. Altevogt. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Palagini, L., Bruno, R., Gemignani, A., Baglioni, C., Ghiadoni, L., & Riemann, D. (2013). Sleep loss and hypertension: a systematic review. Curr Pharm Des, 2409-2419.