I know, many if not most of you are already sitting down, and therein lies the subject of today’s post. We wheelchair users consider ourselves unique because we spend most of our waking hours sitting. But, according to new research recently reported in the New York Times, we aren’t as outside the mainstream in this regard as we think. The truth is, accordingly to researchers in Australia, “the average adult spends 50 to 70 percent of their time sitting.” That’s only a couple of hours less than you and me. Australians aren’t a whole lot different than Americans – they sit all day at work and sit all night watching the telly, next to Sheila (their girlfriend), munching on a bikkie (a cookie) and sipping a Toohey’s (a beer).
Most of us in chairs worry incessantly about skin breakage, infection, and accidents of all sorts, but we quickly get used to sitting as a lifestyle. We never stop to think that maybe sitting per se is bad for us, but apparently it is. The evidence is growing that the more you spend your life sitting, the shorter and less robust that life is going to be. You may never have to dress another wound or take another antibiotic or visit the ER for the rest of your life and you still may be jeopardizing your health and longevity by doing nothing but sitting there.
In a word, sitting kills.
One sitting study cited in the Times focused on TV watching as a measure of sedentary activity and the harm it can cause. I have no idea as to the precise amount of TV your average para watches daily, but my guess is that it is high. If it’s anywhere close to the societal average, we’re all in trouble. The Aussie researchers figured it all out and came to some shocking conclusions.
Every single hour of television watching after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. And over the course of a lifetime, if you watch six hours a day parked in front of your TV, you will live 4.8 fewer years than someone who watches no TV. That is a big chunk of life not lived. The average length of a televised pro football game is over three hours. Sit through that, some news headlines, a couple of sitcoms, and Jay Leno and you’ve just shorten your life by a little over two hours.
You are also increasing your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dying prematurely. And here’s the rub: even if you exercise regularly but still watch six hours of TV a day, you still have about the same mortality risk as some clod who does no exercise and watches no TV.
The researchers featured couldn’t fully explain why the simple act of sitting is bad for your health, but one clear consequence is the lack of large muscle contractions in the lower body. When muscles don’t contract, they need less fuel and that excess of blood sugar stays in your arteries and can contribute to diabetes, among other disorders.
The solution to killer sitting is simple for the non-disabled: watch less TV, climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, stand and move around more at work, and keep exercising. But what if you are “confined” to a wheelchair? Then you have to be a little more inventive and even more conscious of your sitting patterns. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Move your lower body in any way you can, whenever you can. I have a workout machine that automatically pumps my legs while I rotate my arms. It’s like an exercise bike for the whole body. If you are not around such a contraption, figure out another way of exercising or stimulating your legs and torso. Get your Sheila (female mate) or Bruce (male mate) to help you perform passive exercises in bed or on the floor. Hell, get out of your chair and roll around on the grass in the backyard. Your dog will love it.
2. Never stay on your posterior for more than 20 or 30 minutes without lifting yourself off of it, either by in-chair push-ups or with the help of a mate. When you sit, it cuts off blood flow to that whole region. You were probably told to do this by a physical therapist at some point and you forgot. Okay, I forgot…for years.
3. Stand. I myself don’t have a standing device but I probably should. Weight bearing is good for circulation, muscle tone, and bone resilience. If you have bad contracture in your legs like I do, it leads you to a kind of negative mindset where you conclude that you can’t stand upright and shouldn’t even try. Guilty as charged.
4. Spend less time in front of a screen. If you spent more time rolling down to the store or coffee shop or just rolling, period, instead of blanking out in front of a television or video console or a computer, you’ll both save brain cells and revitalize body cells. In this regard, Facebook is not your friend.
If this all sounds a little elementary and common sense, that’s because it is elementary and common sense. Pressure wounds are elementary and commonsense, too – if you keep pressure on such a wound, it won’t heal and you’ll spend months changing bandages. If you remove the pressure, it will heal in short order. We all know these things, but because we are so damn distracted by things we think are so much more important – work, leisure, some perceived flaw or petty slight – we don’t do the simplest things to maximize our well-being or length of stay on the planet.
Excuse me, I gotta go roll in the grass.
© 2012 Allen Rucker |
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The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life