Photo by Alka Rautela on Unsplash
“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of theMoishe Feldenkrais
process and you improve the quality of life itself.”
In spite of today’s emphasis on meditation to relieve stress, our bodies were designed to be in movement. And since time is flowing, and our lives along with it, the biggest challenge we face every day is how to be present to ourselves while moving around and doing our stuff.
Every part of us, from the mitochondrial and cellular levels to those of muscle, bone and sinew, is meant to be in continual play with every other part. What’s more, any time we are able to bring conscious attention to our living body as we move through an active day, we will feel a surge of energy and lightness.
What joy that brings, and what relief! Why not try it right now?
Just become aware, whether standing or sitting, of all that’s going on under your skin — the biggest organ in your body. Notice your butt on the chair or your feet on the ground and sense the continual movement of blood flow in your vast system of arteries, veins, and capillaries. I’m talking about a system that is more than 60,000 miles long! What’s more, as it pours out of your heart, it zips away to the tips of your fingers and toes and returns to the heart within a minute.
I used to get down on myself when I got antsy at endless Sunday dinners in my sister-in-law’s palatial mansion, where our extended Peruvian family sat around for hours and dissected whatever political situation was churning the zeitgeist. Delicious food, yes, but what a heavy afternoon! However, now that science has confirmed that my instinctive need to move was not off base, I no longer feel inadequate.
The news gets worse: grisly studies tell us to get up and move around more often if we want to live longer than our sedentary friends. It turns out that obesity, heart problems, and diabetes tend to proliferate among those who sit around a lot, as well as the early death health-news reports threaten us with. On the one hand, inactivity contributes to weight gain—a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, hypertension and unhealthy blood sugar levels. We kind of knew that. But now they are telling us how it also harms cells at the biological level, according to a new report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
I learned about the new study from Dr. Christine Schaffner, who wrote that a bunch of scientists led by Aladdin Shadyab, a post-doctoral fellow in family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego, followed the effects on chromosomes in the blood samples of nearly 1,500 older women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (a long-term study of chronic diseases in post-menopausal women). They focused on the telomeres—the tips of tightly packed DNA in every cell. Previous studies had found that as cells divide and age, they lose bits of the telomeres, so their length can serve as a marker for how old a cell is and, indirectly, that person’s cells.
The researchers compared telomere length to how much the women exercised, to see if physical activity affected aging. Those who were sedentary for 10 hours or more had shorter telomeres than those who spent less time sitting around. That added up to about eight years of aging.
Whoops! That means those of us who spend more time sitting are hypothetically some eight years older than those who are somewhat inactive but spend less time sedentary. And since those who got the recommended amount of daily exercise showed no association between time spent sitting and telomere length, physical activity may counteract the shortening that occurs with aging.
Shadyab summed it up: “Women who did not meet the physical activity guideline and were sedentary for at least 10 hours a day were biologically older; their cells are aging faster than those of women who were less sedentary.”
We got the message. And while exactly how much physical activity of your precious cells will negate the aging effects of sitting is not clear yet, this study tells us sedentary behavior has real aging effects on the cells. What’s more—you guessed it!—exercise is a good way to combat that aging process.
Now let’s get technical about why that’s true: Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues to help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. The good news is that when heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your day. You feel better when you move around more because your heart rate has increased and your blood flow pepped up to nourish skin and brain. It also provides more oxygen to your lungs so they can breathe more deeply, what’s more, that pumped up blood-flow is going to help carry away any waste products, like the harmful free radicals from working cells we’ve all learned to fear.
So if a half hour of exercise is going to flush cellular debris out of your system every time, come on, guys! Get up and move! Enjoy a walk, yoga, tai chi, cleaning house, or any other form of exercise. It’s what we were meant to do!
And tune in next time to for more on how hard your lymphatic system works to keep your immune system strong against Covid 19.
And while you worry about all this as well as the dire situation the world is in, don’t forget to BREATHE!