Here what Dr. Fleming, Senior Life Solutions, has to say about "sitting as the new smoking"!

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Senior Life Solutions

Get Up and Move, For a Longer, More Enjoyable Life

Dr. Fleming, Senior Life Solutions

Have you heard the phrase: “Sitting is the new smoking”? In this brief article, I’ll explain what that phrase means, and more importantly, how getting up out of the chair and moving more can be helpful to our mental health, longevity and enjoyment of everyday life.

In recent years there has been increased awareness among both medical professionals and the public that the more time we spend sitting down, the worse our health gets. Just as it took decades for the medical profession to acknowledge the serious and widespread health risks of smoking, so has it taken awhile to recognize the risks of prolonged sitting. Research has shown that the amount of time we spend in the sitting position is directly to “all-cause mortality” (death from all causes). In addition to increased risk or worsening of heart disease, diabetes, blood clots, and arthritis, a sedentary lifestyle—associated with too much sitting—even increases the incidence of certain cancers. And as a physician specializing in psychiatry I am particularly interested in the effects of both inactivity and exercise on brain functioning and mental health.

One of the more fascinating findings of recent research has been the discovery that the actual “wiring” of the brain (the nerve fibers known as the white matter which connect different brain cells and regions) is different in those who engage in even moderate activity on a regular basis compared to those who are sedentary. Those who were spent most of their days sitting had more white matter lesions (clumps of dead cells) in the part of the brain associated with memory and learning (known as the hippocampus) compared to the more active participants in the study. And the good news is that you don’t need to join a gym, hire a personal trainer or even embark on an intense exercise program. The protective effect of moderate activity was even noticed in those whose “exercise” was shopping, housekeeping or yard work. (OK, I have to stop here to point out that this is probably the first time a doctor recommended “shopping” as a health promoting strategy!).

Other recent studies have confirmed decades of research showing the mental health benefits of exercise especially regarding depressive symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, sleep disturbance and irritability. In a study published in 2014, previously inactive participants who began exercising three times per week, had a 19% decrease in the likelihood of developing these symptoms over a 5 year period compared to those who remained inactive. Some of the effect of moderate to vigorous physical activity seems to be related to the growth of new brain cells and connections.

Now, it is not too surprising that someone who is already depressed will find it especially challenging to start any type of exercise program, so it is best for someone with some of the above symptoms persisting for more than a couple of weeks to speak with their health care provider for assessment and treatment. Referral to a mental health professional may also be necessary. Also, it is important for anyone considering a significant increase in their activity level to consult a medical provider to address any unsuspected medical problems and to make adjustments to current problems in order to avoid injury.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with one other bit of medical news that relates to this topic and involves even less effort than light activity: research has shown that just changing our posture or our facial expression can not only have a positive effect on how others respond to us but can affect our own mood and attitude in a beneficial fashion. So, as the summer comes into full bloom, here is my prescription for all who made it through this entire article: get out of that chair, pull your shoulders back and start smiling as you get ready to go shopping for fireworks, hotdogs and watermelon. Then start preparing for some serious summer parties!


——-Dr. Fleming is the Medical Director of Senior Life Solutions, an intensive outpatient program for seniors at Community Hospital—Fairfax. For inquiries about this program. Please contact Program Director, Gail Heitman, RN at 660- 686-2319