I love my doctor because she’s willing to just lay the truth out for me without beating around the bush. I had to see her on Monday for a checkup because the folks at Blue Care Network, the medical insurance company Anne gets through her job, have decided that in order not to charge us a ridiculous amount of money for a shitty policy we have to jump through hoops to qualify for paying a slightly less outrageous amount of money for a slightly less shitty policy. The upshot being that several months ago we had to go through physicals to see how badly out of shape we are. Which, admittedly, we are.
Apparently, out of the two of us, I’m the bigger (ha!) offender as I had to go back for this recent checkup to see if I’d managed to lose any of the near-300 pounds I’ve been carrying around. For, if I hadn’t, steps would need to be taken if we wanted to keep the slightly less shitty policy. Naturally, I managed to gain four pounds in the interim going from 294 to 298 pounds. Considering the first checkup was just before last Thanksgiving and this one was just after Easter, I suppose it’s probably not much of a surprise given the amount of good eating during those months. My blood pressure was borderline, but still on the “healthy” side, and my disposition was as snarky as ever.
As it turns out, when they said that steps would have to be taken, they meant it literally. I had a choice, my doctor said, if I wanted to keep the slightly less shitty policy to either sign up for Weight Watchers or get a Pedometer and start walking more. The insurance company pays for it either way, but of the two options the get-off-your-ass one was more appealing. If only because I’ve been meaning to do that anyway and now that I’ll be constantly recorded like some alcoholic with a breathalyzer strapped to his wrist perhaps that’ll actually motivate me to STFU and GTFO.
All of that is background to explain why I love my doctor. She’s the one who gave me the title for this entry. She said it after I mentioned a recent study that suggests that sitting too much will kill you. Duh, you’re probably thinking. Lack of movement is what makes you fat and being fat will kill you earlier. Yes, that’s true, but apparently it is much worse than that: Sitting may be a lethal activity.
Researcher James Levine at the Mayo Clinic wanted to know why it is that some people seem to be able to eat without gaining weight while others struggle with weight issues even if they generally eat the same amount of food. So he got a bunch of both types of people together and had them eat all their meals in a lab where their caloric intake could be controlled. He wired them up with special underwear that were packed with accelerometers and inclinometers to measure the subject’s movements and what positions they spent their time in. Then he gave them 1,000 more calories than they needed and told them not to exercise. As you’d expect, the folks who tended to eat without gaining weight stayed fairly skinny and the others tended to pack on the pounds:
“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t.
OK, no big surprise there. That’s pretty much what you would expect. Here’s where it gets worse:
People don’t need the experts to tell them that sitting around too much could give them a sore back or a spare tire. The conventional wisdom, though, is that if you watch your diet and get aerobic exercise at least a few times a week, you’ll effectively offset your sedentary time. A growing body of inactivity research, however, suggests that this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging. “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
So basically what they’re saying is, if you sit around a lot you’re putting your body into a state that is innately damaging to its well being. This isn’t a takes-a-long-time-to-affect-you kind of problem either:
Hamilton’s most recent work has examined how rapidly inactivity can cause harm. In studies of rats who were forced to be inactive, for example, he discovered that the leg muscles responsible for standing almost immediately lost more than 75 percent of their ability to remove harmful lipo-proteins from the blood. To show that the ill effects of sitting could have a rapid onset in humans too, Hamilton recruited 14 young, fit and thin volunteers and recorded a 40 percent reduction in insulin’s ability to uptake glucose in the subjects — after 24 hours of being sedentary.
Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.
[…] Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”
Needless to say I found this to be quite alarming considering that I spend a good portion of my day sitting at my desk and a good portion of my time at home sitting at my desk. Worse, I like sitting. With laying down coming in a close second. I always figured that once I got around to exercising for 30 minutes a day I’d be much better off, but this research suggests that’s not the case at all. Presumably I’d have to spend most of my time walking to offset any sitting I tend to do and I just don’t like walking that much.
So I looked at my doctor and I said to her: I’m doomed. And she said that I had to just face it, the Universe is out to kill you. Everything causes cancer, viral and bacterial infections are an ever present threat, and even if you manage to avoid all of that crap you can still step out your door and get clobbered by a meteorite or a bus or, well, just about anything really.
Still, I thought, if you can find the motivation there are at least things you can do to help prolong your life. I sincerely believed that until I read this article this morning: Heart-Healthy Omega-3s Not Healthy for Prostate: Study.
MONDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) — High levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the blood may be associated with an increased risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer, while elevated levels of unhealthy trans-fatty acids may lower the risk, a new study suggests.
Got that? If you’re eating lots of food with omega-3 fatty acids to to avoid coronary disease you may be increasing your risk of prostrate cancer whereas those artery clogging trans-fatty acids may actually reduce your chance of prostrate cancer while increasing your risk of coronary disease. Talk about having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Which is pretty much what they say you’ll have to do:
“We were stunned to see these results, and we spent a lot of time making sure the analyses were correct,” Theodore M. Brasky, a postdoctoral research fellow in Hutchinson’s Cancer Prevention Program, said in a Hutchinson news release. “Our findings turn what we know — or rather what we think we know — about diet, inflammation and the development of prostate cancer on its head and shine a light on the complexity of studying the association between nutrition and the risk of various chronic diseases.”
But, Brasky and his colleagues don’t believe men who are concerned about heart disease should stop using fish oil supplements or eating salmon or other fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
“Overall, the beneficial effects of eating fish to prevent heart disease outweigh any harm related to prostate cancer risk,” Brasky said. “What this study shows is the complexity of nutrition and its impact on disease risk, and that we should study such associations rigorously, rather than make assumptions.”
Still, it’s upsetting to think that you can’t fix one problem without potentially causing a different one in the process. To my inner cynic this is just proof that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Mind you, I don’t find this depressing. I find it annoying. It’s certainly not the way I’d run the Universe if I were in charge. Still, with so many ways of shuffling off your mortal coil I suppose it’s silly to worry about any particular one to a excessive degree. So I will get my pedometer and I will walk more and take the stairs more, not so much because I think it’ll prolong my life, but because it’ll save us a bit of money on insurance premiums. I will endeavor to eat a healthier diet, but I’ll still be a human with all the failings that entails and indulge in foods I probably shouldn’t because they make me happy.
In the end, given my family history, I’ll probably die from either cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, and/or accident of one sort of another. If I’m really lucky, I’ll die from all of them at once and set some sort of familial record. Hopefully it’ll be later rather than sooner, but if my quality of life were to get too shitty for some unforeseen reason then sooner wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in that case.
But I’m not going to sweat it too much anymore because it’s not like I’m going to get out of life alive in the end anyway. No one does.