“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”
― Albert Einstein
Life is funny like that. You think you’re doing everything right, and then you learn something new that might just make all your efforts irrelevant. Ignorance really is bliss.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the top killers around the world are cancer and heart disease. And they’re both fairly preventable if you’re living a healthy lifestyle (exercise, managing stress, healthy eating etc.)
I’m proud to say that I workout at least 5 times a week, eat a 90% plant-based diet and manage my stress quite well through daily prayers and meditation. By God’s grace I have a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.
Yet there are two health risks that I’m not doing enough to prevent, and that I have every intention of working on.
1) Not enough sunlight:
It’s quite ironic, but many here in the GCC suffer from vitamin D deficiency, due to lack of sun exposure. I haven’t checked my vitamin D levels in quite a while, but I’m pretty sure I’m not getting enough sunlight. My office is in a mall, so not only do I not get exposure to the sun but I don’t get any natural light at all. The rest of my time is also spent indoors or in the car.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, sun exposure is not only important for obtaining vitamin D (which helps in calcium absorption and bone strength among other things) but is also important enhancing mood and energy, melatonin regulation, treating neonatal jaundice, treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and other important benefits.
According to WebMD, a lack in vitamin D can cause muscle and bone weakness, as well as other symptoms like increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, severe asthma in children, and even cancer. Great! Just when you thought you were on the safe side!
So how much sun exposure should you get? According to Healthline.com, “A little can go a long way: just 10 minutes a day of mid-day sun exposure is plenty, especially if you’re fair-skinned.” I’ve heard the “10 minutes a day” thing before, which is not too difficult, and that’s what I usually aim for.
But sadly it’s not so simple. Dr. Michael F. Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution, “advises estimating the time it would take your skin to turn pink in the sun. Then divide that time by 25 to 50 percent, depending on your skin type.” That’s a bit too complicated for me. Though I don’t know that for sure, I’m pretty sure that an average of 10 minutes a day in Bahrain should be fine, which is what I’m aspiring to. The rest I will leave in God’s hands.
2) Sitting is the new smoking:
New research has come out in the last couple of years that highlights the danger of prolonged sitting. This is not entirely earth shattering as everyone knows that exercise is important. Here’s the big revelation: prolonged sitting is bad for you even if you exercise regularly!
I have to say this really shook me. Generally speaking, the minimum amount of exercise you need is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (for example walking, cycling, gardening, or swimming), and a minimum of two days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
I easily meet this and often a single workout will last close to 150 minutes. But I also sit for many hours a day. Anything from 5 to 15 hours a day, and this apparently is really bad. Damn!
The person who coined the term “sitting is the new smoking” is Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk. Here’s what he said about the issue, as quoted in the Huffington Post:
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
The HP article continues to say “Researchers have found and continue to find evidence that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing several serious illnesses like various types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
“Another reason the smoking analogy is relevant is that studies have repeatedly shown the effects of long-term sitting are not reversible through exercise or other good habits. Sitting, like smoking, is very clearly bad for our health and the only way to minimize the risk is to limit the time we spend on our butts each day.”
Here’s another way of looking at it, smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.
So what to do about it?
Well, according to RunnersWorld.com “the remedy is as simple as standing up and taking activity breaks. Stuart McGill, Ph.D., director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo says that interrupting your sedentary time as often as possible and making frequent posture changes is important. ‘Even breaks as short as one minute can improve your health,’ he says.” An article in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity suggests aiming to stand for five minutes out of every 30 minutes. Personally, I’ve started to work standing up a lot more in my office. I got myself a VariDesk and spend as much time on it as possible.
Also, I regularly stand up and walk around during meetings. This is easy for me as most of my meetings are internal and I’m chairing them. My colleagues have gotten used to me just getting up and walking around in mid discussion. Is it enough to undo the long hours of sitting? I really hope so.
Now excuse me I’ve got to get up and move around a bit.