Living is Moving: Email-Interview (Part I) with Dr. Joan Vernikos

Dr. Joan Vernikos

“If you come upon someone who is not moving, your first thought is, are they dead?”

Now that you mention it, she’s right.

She is Dr. Joan Vernikos, a Doctor of Pharmacology, speaker, author, an inspiration, and great fun on the tennis court.  Culpeper is lucky to have her.  She was born to a 60-year-old physician who trained in Medicine before the use of most technological diagnostic tools and laboratory tests.  Instead, he used his hands, checking body temperature, asking questions, and listening to the patient. This approach is now what we think of as Functional Medicine and was foundational to Joan in life and in her 30 years of research with NASA as the Director of Life Sciences, Washington DC (Retired).

Joan’s email-interview was so rich, this month’s Wellness and Wellbeing segment will be a two-parter, starting with movement and ending with stress.

You didn’t know gravity and space-based medicine had anything to do with living long and living well?  Well, as Kevin Hart would say, “you’re gonna learn today!”

Joan explained that while we are living longer than ever before, we are not living healthier. The number of adults living with disease today has increased from 9 to 30% since 2003 alone. On average we are fatter. More have neck or back pain. Depression and /or anxiety has steadily increased over the past half century.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the work it took to do common household chores has been minimized by wonderful modern conveniences in the home and the office, such as the dishwasher, washing machine, food processor, and cars.  While they may make our lives easier, they rob us of frequent daily movement.

Joan reported that most of the increase in chronic disease in recent years is now traced by research to excessive sitting. Studies show that those who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40% increased risk of earlier death compared to people who sat fewer than 4 hours.

Joan’s research and work with Senator John Glenn and other astronauts “showed us that simple frequent movement that uses gravity is fundamental to health”. Living without it in space, where there is no up or down, the body could not sense any change in posture.  Without frequent movement, the body loses muscle and bone, leaves you feeling weaker, older, and “just plain lousy”.   Lack of movement leads to poor balance, reduced mobility, musculoskeletal disorders, and increased risk of death from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases and illnesses.

As Joan explained it, continuous, uninterrupted sitting takes away the frequent alternating stimulus to the inner ear balance organs, contractions of posture muscles, and intermittent increases in brain blood flow that changes in posture such as alternating sitting and standing generate.

Not even a stand-up desk or once-a-day exercise can counteract the effects of prolonged sitting.   Instead, here are a few of Joan’s suggestions:

#1 Stand Up:

Stand Up slowly unsupported, waive your arms overhead and Sit Down as slowly as you can. Now do that every 20-30 minutes.  If you are sitting a lot, whether at home or at the office, doing this one thing will have the single biggest impact on your risk factors for poor health and premature death.

#2 Look for opportunities to move more:

  • Park further away
  • Carry your groceries
  • Take the stairs
  • Hold “stand-up” meetings

#3 Get up and Play:

  • Swing on a swing!!
  • Dance, Hop, Juggle.

The more you Move the more you will want to Move. The benefits will mean a healthier, happier, more mobile and productive you today and later in your life.


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