Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spitballin' Over A New (To Me) Public Health Scare

What's that old saying that (maybe?) was concocted during the rise of totalitarian states? "That which is not forbidden is compulsory."? Or is it "If it's not compulsory, it's forbidden."? Kafka seems to have taken this notion a smidgen further in some of his immortal werks, giving us the impression that you can't even know what's forbidden or compulsory: you wait for the State to knock on your door and they tell you. That Kafka! Such an imagination!

For hypochondriacs like myself, reading about health issues - even and especially health issues of more urgent concern for others - over an extended time can lead me down a similar one-way, no-exit blind alley, and recently I ran up against a doozy.

Sitting Can Kill: It's Like Smoking
Yep. Plug in "sitting down and smoking health risk" into your favorite search engine and sit back...I mean stand up...and drink it all in. Sitting is a hot topic among some researchers, and sometimes I suspect they're having us on. Get this: according to one study, and another one, sitting for more than six hours a day - in any form (at work, watching TV, in a car, etc) - is linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity (surprise!), chronic back pain, muscle weakness, posture problems, and early death.

                         Who knew this poor dear pretty thing is slowly inching toward death,
                         AKA, The Big Dirt Nap? It's tough to look at. Avert your eyes! It's 
                         just so...sad!

Now, there are a lot of studies on sitting, and as I read them - all in the midst of a good, long day of sitting on my ass reading books and some articles on my MacBook - I tended to lose track of who did which study; the anxiety and absurdity of it all - that I have spent most of my life, slowly committing suicide all the while thinking I was enjoying a languid life of modernity...it was too much.

All those hours I've sat! I think it was the Institute for Medicine and Public Health, but the anxiety had built so much by then, my ears were ringing, I think I was having palpitations - and I was sitting while reading this schtuff! - The Institute said that, of 6300 people polled, most people spent around 56 hours a week sitting. Lemme see. There's seven days in a week. Seven goes into 56...carry the nine...damn I wish I was better at math...do you need to divide by pi? I forget...Let's just say we spend around eight (8) hours a day sitting, in one way or another. Let's face it: that's a lot of ass-time, folks.

Some of my favorite times of my life were spent sitting. I remember when I first saw Citizen Kane. I sat through it all, oblivious that I was killing myself. There was a time I attended a semi-formal sit-down dinner with many sexy, witty people. We were such fools! We were so totally unsuspecting!

American College of Cardiology: more bringers of bad news for those of us who sit. 54% of people who sit more than six hours a day are likely to die of a heart attack...within 15 years of the moment you read this, or something like that. If I seem something less than the Ideal Reporter here, it's 'cuz this whole sitting story has me dizzy, and I should go lie down, if only because it's better than sitting. I already spend 1/3 of my life there anyway (lying down).

Prof. Marc Hamilton, a physiologist at a biomedical research lab in Louisiana, wrote in the journal Diabetes in November, 2007, "The dire concern for the future may rest with growing numbers unaware of the potential insidious dangers of sitting too much." It's been almost five years since Prof. Hamilton wrote that, and even though I think of myself as someone who "reads everything," I'm only now becoming aware of the insidious dangers. How many more of us are sitting...as you read this!!!

                            Not a pic of me, but a graphic representation of the inner turmoil
                            I feel upon learning of the dangers of sitting, and I'm sitting now!

Another quote from Prof. Hamilton, gleaned from this ABC News article (with video) that shows a bunch of office worker-saps at their nadir - trying to get the corporate work done for Massa by standing at something called a "standing desk" and walking on treadmills - the Hamilton quote: "Smoking and sitting too much have some striking parallels. Decades ago smoking was so common that everyone perceived that...not only was it acceptable behavior, but that there was safety in numbers."

Not much more one can add to that!

What Happens When We Just Sit There
Well, we know that breathing - respiration - causes oxidation. We "rust" inside. No amount of antioxidants is gonna win that battle. Breathing is simply insidious, I tells ya. May as well be sitting while enjoying a few tall, cool, breaths. No one - except Ray Kurzweil - lives forever. I figure, what the hell? Enjoy ourselves while we're here. Have a smoke, maybe? A drink? What's your poison? Have a seat!

So the Dangers of Sitting: as soon as you sit your body goes into "storage mode." We inherited this from our ancestors, who had a tough time remembering when you asked them, "When was the last time you sat?" These ancestors - chances are very good you're related to 'em - were always out working all day, hunting game for the tribe, or farming. They had bodies like gods, or they were starving to death. Sometimes both within a period of 18 months. When they relaxed and pulled up a chair, their bodies really needed to go into storage mode. Ours? Not so much. Immediately, the leg muscles get their electrical current shut off. We go into hibernation mode, and, sitting, burn a whopping one (1) calorie per minute. I assume two or three per minute if you're sitting and fidgeting unnerved with worry because you just found out that sitting kills.

An enzyme that burns fat - lipase - drops in effectiveness by 90%. Pretty much as soon as you plop down and "take a load off." And we are a load, lemme tell you...But I'd rather not. Okay: One in three Unistatians is overweight, many of those ones obese, morbidly obese, and even Reality TV Show Obese.

What To Do?
It came quick. We never saw it coming, in a way. So maybe we're relatively blameless. For 99.99% of our time as hominids, Life Was Hard. Not much to sit for. Then, just a few seconds ago in the longue duree of Epochs, we got TV, La-Z-Boys, beanbag chairs, stereophonic sound, Internet, and scads of other things of comfort to muscles. Absence of toil. A surrealistically easy access to fat and sugar. And BLAMMO: we're a buncha lardasses, sitting and smoking, eating french fries while enjoying a marathon of Mad Men. I say we're blameless. Our paleolithic forebears would've done the same!

We just got capital ell Lucky in the History Sweepstakes.

Allow your imagination, distributed throughout your nervous system, based in your brain, housed in your cranium, bathed in warm, nutrient-rich cerebrospinal fluids and oxygenated blood...allow that imagination to relax unencumbered by basic biological needs. It's all there, on the tray in front of you. Just sit and read, or watch amazing shows. Enjoy the dip. Do you like cookies? Have one! Entertainment! Even our early paleo ancestors sought to modulate their inner states. Hence that Olde Time Religion: sex and drugs, drinking and dancing, drumming. Then, later: Gee Oh Dee...but we still had fun in our off-hours nonetheless.

                   This poor sap will never see it comin.' Will you tell him he's killing himself?
                   I sure won't. He'll find out soon enough. I wonder if he has Sitter's Insurance?

So, what are we to make of this new health scare? I feel we're doomed. Oh, sure, one study shows that people who sit for three hours or less per day lived an average of two years longer, but fer crissakes: how could all that gawdawful standing and pacing and running-around be worth the extra two years when there's such a kaleidoscope of joys to be had, sitting and eating and watching shows. And reading and talking and daydreaming, all while sitting. Do you daydream while lying down? I don't. If you do, fine. When I lie down, I tend to sleep, or doze, or do other things delightfully primal. But no daydreaming.

Hey, I love to walk and ride my bike. I do yoga and it's greatly rewarding. It feels good. But I also sit for at least six hours a day (not that I've begun counting), so I'm doomed. But I'll be going out in style. A heart-attack or cancer? Probably. But am I going to give up Turner Classic Movies? Sitting and reading James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Anton Wilson, science fiction, and phenomenological sociology? Sitting for hours engaged herbivorously with friends, quaffing ales and laffing? Nooo way! I'd rather be dead than give any of that up! Sitting is my birth-right! I'll sit until they carry me out - reclining - in a pine box. (Am I over-reacting?)

Ladies and germs, we start 'em off young, in high-chairs. They think it's "normal" by age seven! I guess what all this has been leading up to is: Good lawd! Who will tell the children?

We're all hopelessly addicted. These news stories about the dangers of sitting are too much, and I won't take them lying down. I'll take them square on the chin, as I sit here, grinning in the face of death, a bit of chocolate syrup having escaped the corner of my mouth, dribbling down into my beanbag. Take THAT!..."reality"?

As one who laffs in the face of Death, I humbly submit to my Dear Readers that I wrote this entire spew while SITTING! My extremities barely moved for about 75 minutes, the blood pooling up ominously near my mid-thorax, no electrical current flowing through any of the networks of nerves forming the off-ramps of my tibia. And you know what? I couldn't care less! (If you don't see another OG post for seven days or more, I've probably died of a heart attack worrying about sitting too much.) If I were not to be cremated (my wish), I would have these words put on my headstone, and the OG readers would know its deeper meaning:

                                    He Could Stand No More

Some Sources:
Is Sitting A Lethal Activity?
Sitting May Lower Life Expectancy, But It's So Comfortable
Is Sitting As Dangerous As Smoking?
The Dangers of Sitting At Work - And Standing


Bobby Campbell said...

I like trending towards less sedentary lifestyles, but these reports seem to present correlation as causality in a fairly disingenuous manner. Wouldn't the drastic change in our diets that accompanied the cultural shift towards lounging play a pretty important role in the prevalence of heart disease et al? Might it not be such a big deal for our bodies to enter rest mode if it didn't have a Big Mac, French Fries, and a large Coca-Cola to burn off?

Doesn't it just seem off to isolate such a ubiquitous phenomena and associate it with such dire consequences?

After all 100% of deaths occur after prolonged oxygen exposure!

"A common house hold item could kill you and your family in seconds! Tune in at 11 to find out what it is!"

The Dihydrogen Monoxide Hoax comes to mind, where people were persuaded to sign a petition banning water as a dangerous substance.


I find myself particularly biased against this, because when that sinister infographic first went viral it really scared many of my family/friends, which I regard as more certainly hazardous to their health than sitting itself.

Eric Wagner said...

This makes me think of Janwillem van de Wetering's comment of the prevalence of hemorrhoids among zen students.

The first time I saw "Citizen Kane" I saw it on a small tv and I couldn't read the writing in the oven at the end, so the ending remained an enimga until I saw it again.

Please live forever, Dr. Johnson.

SatoriGuy said...

I just watched Minority Report again recently. And I was struck by how relaxing the Precogs looked floating in a nice whirlpool on their recliners waiting to dream about some future murder etc.

If that's where the future is headed it looks pretty damn comfortable, well minus the dreams of murder and all.

Shannon said...

Well now I feel horrible! I just crammed a Wendy's Baconator combo with large fries and a Frosty into my 6 foot, 135 lb frame. Now you tell me that sitting around reading this post and eating this food may kill me?!?!

That's depressing.

michael said...

@Satori Guy: Thanks for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Hoax bit. That's sort of the feelings I felt well up as I read article after article about the dangers of sitting: If I'm going to respond to this stuff, there's no other way than to satirize it. I mean really: SITTING?

The physiological reasons why sitting for six hours or more made sense, but in the broader brush-strokes of Actual Life, it soon induced hilarity in me. Okay, I get it: we sit and enjoy life and we die earlier.

I tend to agree that the diet and TV "feeds" into this equation much more than is emphasized by the "simply sitting kills ya" EXPERTS.

And yea, anyone clued into the pitfalls of correlation and causation should take pause when reading this schtuff. I decided to write about it, but take it at face value, by going into a panic first. I hope hilarity ensued. If not...well, then it didn't.

I guess. I got up today and did yoga for 20 minutes, then showered standing up. I WALKED into the kitchen and nabbed some coffee, but I've been sitting pretty much ever since. My days are numbered, dear friend, but I'm still enjoying everything I do sitting, lethal as it is. I've noticed my loved ones sitting a lot lately. And they're often smiling and talking while in the upright position. I don't have the heart (a heart that is being damaged by what I'm doing now) to tell 'em. Some knowledge is best kept close to the vest.

michael said...

@Prof. Wagner: re: zen students and hemorrhoids. Yep.

Ballet students, fantastic, lithe bodies, all kinds of foot and ankle problems, eating disorders, chronic joint problems, torn meniscuses, etc. All for Art.

I think of a Simpsons flashback: Homer's dad is watching TV, July, 1969. He tells young Homer, sitting in a beanbag with headphones on, that he should come watch the live first step on the moon, but Homer is oblivious, singing along with his headphone music, "Yummy yummy I got love in my tummy and I feel like loving you."

Or however that goes.

michael said...

@Shannon: Even though I'm like you: tall and thin, have trouble keeping weight on, I still feel solidarity with the rest of Us, struggling to keep our Body Mass Index below 30%.

Have you tried a deep-fried Coke? Or what about Jimmy Dean's pancakes and sausage on a stick, covered in chocolate chips?:

At this existential crisis, we must make decisions for ourselves. I say, fuck it, and smile into the Apocalypse, sitting.

michael said...

@Satori Guy: the pre-cogs are the way out of it all: replacement parts. Got a bad heart from sitting and eating Oreos, Dennys' heart attack breakfasts, Cheez-Whiz straight from the can? Just get a new part and soldier on, sitting.

The murder stuff tends to bother me, though.

But I do like to exploit buoyancy and float in water, sitting.

At this point I'd like to quote from some poets named Motorhead, from their poem, "Ace of Spades":

I know I'm gonna lose
'Cuz gambling if for fools
But that's the way I like it, baby
I don't want to live forever.
(cue: guitar solo interlude)

leogang said...

Hehehe the inner turmoil picture is perfect!

michael said...

@leogang: I thought so. I only wish I could find out who (or is it "whom"?) to attribute the photo to. I've found with Google Image Search it's very often tough to find the credit for the photographer.

Are you sitting down?

In my post, I quote Prof. Marc Hamilton thus:
"Smoking and sitting too much have some striking parallels. Decades ago smoking was so common that everyone perceived that...not only was it acceptable behavior, but that there was safety in numbers."

And it occurs to me that, if he's literally correct, then every time you attended an event like a rock concert or football game, you were all sitting, feeling there was "safety in numbers," wrongly so. You were more like a member of a Jonestown-mass suicide group, only the suicide is in Ultra Ultra Slo-Mo.

I hope you're enjoying your day, sitting there, reading this!