Why I Wrote "Sitting Kills, Moving Heals"

by Dr. Joan Vernikos

The answer is really quite simple: I want everyone to be as healthful and vigorous as is possible, and it is far more achievable than we believe –  or are told – is possible. Despite all of the amazing technological advances, and enormous wealth created in the 20th century, we are fatter and less healthy than ever. And I am close to certain that the solutions aren’t all that complex, and are readily available to us. While the info we get on living healthfully is sometimes helpful, often it misses the most important points: that we each must take some level of responsibility over our current condition, and that the key denominator to greater health and independence is to use gravity, simply to move more, and perhaps surprisingly that doesn’t necessarily mean “exercise.”  So here’s a little on how I got here, with my new book and why I am so sure of the efficacy of its approach.

As I was growing up I always enjoyed solving problems so science research was a natural course to follow.  Listening and asking probing questions was a logical path to solving a problem. My doctor father’s diagnostic questioning approach was a great apprenticeship.  Among the things I was taught to be grateful for, is the one and only human body we get.  “Make the most of what you’ve got,” my mother used to say. Probably yours did too. I could have paid more attention to that. But I also found out that it is never too late to work on it.

Writing Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, was the result of a lifetime of blending the awareness of what made me feel good, with what was confirmed scientifically through my research. Stuff that is completely natural can help us live better, every day and into the future. Aging well is a function of how we live today. It begins with greater awareness, listening to your body and taking responsibility for its state of health. The approach is based on old, tested traditional practices and is really nothing new.  Just that this science proves it. It is science that never really got out to people, and certainly not in understandable terms that can be readily useful to everyone.

For those of you not familiar with my work at NASA and how it influences all I do today to help people live and age healthy, here is some key info. When in 1993 I became Head of Life Sciences at NASA it was my responsibility to find out how living in space affects the health of astronauts and how to protect them from adverse effects. I was therefore the focal point in answering questions from the media and interacting with the public. Senator John Glenn was well aware of my research and that it could help make the case for his flying again. He returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77. My own research had pointed to the similarities between the effects of living in space, volunteers lying in bed, and the rest of us as we age. It was clear to Senator Glenn why there was benefit in sending a person in their 70’s into space, but little understanding by the public of why we did it.

So I began to seek ways to educate the “every-man” about how to live better. The explanations were obvious to me, but I realized that it was not so when I spoke to the general public .   Though I had written many scientific papers, writing a book in simple language was a totally different undertaking. In my case, the urgency of writing such a non-technical book came from the needs of the public – your needs. The public audience wanted, and still wants, to know more.

The G-Connection and an Amazing Discovery
In 2001 I “retired” from NASA. At a time when most others would take it easy, I took to the road and spoke with anyone who would listen. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to explain why these similar changes in astronauts and seniors happened, and how this knowledge could help just about anyone. My 2004 book The G-Connection was my first try at this – presenting the case that aging changes are not solely a function of how old you are but how much you sit over many years of living.  I kept my skills sharp by advising the European Space Agency and working with top scientists.  After over 100 talks on four continents, the numbers I could reach was still vastly smaller than my aspiration.

What kept me going was the positive feedback on the benefit of my suggestions, especially on one seemingly simple one: stand up. I would advise people at my talks whose mobility was compromised by age, surgery or even stroke to stand up right then and there, even with assistance. I instructed them to do that every 30 minutes throughout the day every day. This is what I had found prevented in young bed-rest volunteers the adverse effects of continuous lying in bed. But the results reported back amazed even me. Those that adhered to the 30 minute rule with no other exercise, showed remarkable improvement in mobility within as little as three months. Today I am discussing with a senior center, a more structured study to validate this approach scientifically. And it remains an ongoing shining example of what is possible when we begin to use gravity more wisely.

Gravity as Friend? A Counter-Intuitive Concept
In modern times gravity has gotten a bad rap – that it is the enemy that drags us down and ages us. To convince people of the opposite I needed to develop a simple ‘How To’ approach that was similar to the way I speak. And I was committed to address the questions that have arisen: How did we become so sedentary? Is too much sitting really to blame for the illness epidemics that are crippling us and the costs of our health care system?  How exactly could one re-introduce gravity into every-day life? Why was structured exercise not enough on its own?

And above all, what could I do to change attitudes and maybe even health policy? What tools could I give you to help you live healthier?

From Interest to Passion
So let me tell you why I wrote Sitting Kills. While the country was figuring out who pays for health care, here I was sitting on a practical, inexpensive, scientifically-proven natural solution derived from research paid for by the taxpayer! It became my passion to share what I knew, in plain language, that anyone could understand. Astronauts, chosen on the basis of being the healthiest and the fittest ‘right stuff’, are transformed by the lack of gravity in space into the likes of those 30 or 40 years older. Yet, despite the debilitating effects of spaceflight, astronauts fully recover soon after they return to Earth. Why not use what we learned about astronauts at NASA to benefit the rest of us?

My challenge was to provide clear, practical guidance to share with you the value of using our old friend gravity, simply and easily through everyday activities that are of a different nature than traditional vigorous exercise in the gym.

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals does just that. It is a life-changing call-to-action to get you out of your chair and back into health and vigor.  Follow its plan for a lifetime of energy and physical health. Here’s to your continuing good health!