It is possible – even likely – that you are sitting as you read this, just as I was sitting as I wrote it. This, in the face of medical experts who often remind us that sitting too long and too often can be hazardous to good health. The source of this concern was a famous study conducted by folks at the Mayo Clinic in 2005.
Now, 10 years later, the warnings coming from the Mayo Clinic regarding too much sitting are even more alarming.
Recent research has shown that sitting for hours a day not only slows your metabolism, as the earlier study demonstrated, but also increases your risk of developing serious medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes. Insulin effectiveness, researchers found, drops with lack of movement. The enzymes responsible for generating good cholesterol, which is supposed to be high, also drops.
Those are just a few reasons some are calling sitting “the new smoking” – as in, a habit that could kill you.
In the face of mounting evidence of just how bad it is for us to sit as much as we do, we are being urged to, at the very least, get up and stand or move for 10 minutes each hour.
Standing desks are already being used at companies as big as AOL, some government agencies and even the offices of the company that syndicates my column, Creators, as an answer to employee concerns.
With these new findings, we can also expect some “chicken or the egg” debate. It’s not entirely clear at this point whether it’s that too much sitting brings additional health risks or it’s that people who are already inactive and unhealthy end up doing more sitting.
What can’t be argued is the fundamental link between fitness and health. This binding relationship was recently reconfirmed in a study conducted at the University of Vermont and published in JAMA Oncology. The study found that very fit men in their late 40s were less likely to get lung cancer and other forms of cancer than unfit men. The study also revealed that their high fitness levels appeared to increase their chances of surviving cancer if diagnosed later on. It further demonstrated that even small improvements in fitness could help reduce cancer risk and that as long as people are above what is considered the low-fitness category, they can have meaningful health advantages over those below it.
“Your health behaviors and your fitness earlier in life has an impact 20 or 30 years later – and that’s what people don’t realize,” said Dr. Susan Lakoski, who led the study. “Being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet are already known to be important factors in reducing people’s risk of developing cancer and other diseases.”
Lakoski also pointed out that a study investigating links between men’s fitness levels and cancer risk constituted a new approach to attacking the problem.
This got me thinking about the bigger problem – of how modern medicine approaches disease prevention in general.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instituted its “National Prevention Strategy” in an effort to increase the number of Americans who remain healthy at every stage of life.
The intention was to see prevention woven into all aspects of our lives – to stop disease before it starts. Such comprehensive preventive effort has to begin at the community level. And this is exactly where it is coming apart.
What we are seeing are community health groups and companies that specialize in diet and fitness locked in a battle with physicians, hospitals and doctor-dominated boards of directors for their proper seat at the table and for their slice of federal funding to bankroll non-medical ways to treat and prevent chronic conditions.
On one side of this struggle, you have a health care industry – resistant to growing evidence – that still focuses almost exclusively on costly medical interventions. On the other, you have reputable and successful local entities at the ready to help patients make needed and more effective lifestyle changes to prevent disease and facilitate recovery.
According to a 2012 Institute of Medicine report, more than 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion spent each year on medical care is for preventable chronic conditions, yet only about 3 percent of U.S. health spending goes to public health and prevention, such as diet and exercise.
“Compared to even the best medical therapy, we can decrease heart attacks, strokes and deaths by between 35 and 45 percent by changing lifestyle,” Paul Rogers, a cardiologist at a Kentucky healthy lifestyle center, recently noted. His center provides medically supervised exercise, nutrition counseling, stress management and classes in yoga and other disciplines.
Rogers also pointed out that dropping about 10 percent of weight reduces cardiac risks significantly. If weight drops by 15 to 20 percent, diabetes starts to reverse, blood pressure goes down, cholesterol levels improve and sleep issues improve.
The CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force, which researches and recommends community programs, is both greatly underfunded and faced with a huge logjam regarding funding options, hampering efforts to provide needed support for such programs. Perhaps an even bigger obstacle is the bureaucracy of doctors and hospitals resistant to the fundamental change that teaming up with community health groups represents.
Meanwhile, for the past four years, nearly 29,000 people who participated in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program have been left in waiting for further funding for its services. This program has seen participants lose an average of 5.6 percent of body weight within a year. The Y’s program is classroom-based and helps adults at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes focus on eating better and increasing physical activity.
“We are faced with just a ubiquitous epidemic of chronic diseases,” said Matt Longjohn, a physician and the Y’s national health officer. “The root causes of these chronic diseases are preventable, and community-based organizations can be a part of expanding care.”
For the betterment of national health and wellness, they must be.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.