We are built to move. The human body is a miraculous mechanical structure of levers, pulleys, winches and tethers designed to harness the power of energy into movement. Unfortunately, we barely need to move to survive in our modern environment, so significant numbers of people have become sedentary, resulting in preventable health crises. Life in ancient cultures was very vigorous compared to today and yet, even those folks practiced exercise and movement activities beyond their daily chores.
Fast forward to the post-industrial revolution, where American lives grew cushy with modern tools to do our human “work” at jobs and around the house. The 1950s brought us Jack LaLanne, television’s first fitness personality, after many US soldiers drafted during World War II were so physically unfit they had to be placed in noncombat jobs. Around this time, researchers began to clearly identify the “components of fitness”: cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
The first fitness guidelines were created and tested in US schools in the 50s, obtaining baseline “normative” data about average fitness of our kids. Not much changed until the early 70s, when Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a retired military physician published his most famous books, Aerobics and Run for your Life. In an instant, it was as if he began the transformation of public health awareness as he shared the first clear evidence about exercise and disease prevention.
The 1970s American landscape was littered with our first real joggers (and streakers)! Unfortunately, that is when we also began our love-hate fitness relationship and obsessive focus on bodyweight and cardiovascular exercise. The jogging revolution was closely followed by the 80s dance-aerobics explosion, legwarmers and all. With this greater awareness of disease prevention, gyms and fitness classes blossomed along with crazy fads.
To help apply the science for the public health, the first standards for cardiovascular fitness were published in 1974 and remained exactly the same until the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) made slight modifications in 1995. The Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription were only modified slightly to clarify “intensity” of cardiovascular activity, but nothing was included about musculoskeletal health prevention or practices. Much of the problem is there was not enough research done yet, so the science was, and is, still behind the curve.
Today’s statistics hint that we may be paying the price for this oversight, both individually and in US health economics, as joint replacements and other orthopedic surgeries are skyrocketing and at younger ages. Perhaps hard to believe, but the ACSM did not again update the exercise Guidelines for Physical Activity & Public Health until 2007, when it finally added a recommendation for strength activities– with a small nod to musculoskeletal health!
Compared to our grandparents and parents, today we are required to sit excessively, limiting our physical movement in all parts of society, transportation and play. Researchers are only just beginning to discover the vast scope of health consequences from “improved” re-engineered modern spaces (offices, cars, public areas/ built environments) that limit human movement. Data indicates that affluent countries now spend 70% or more of their waking hours sitting. Remember—our bodies are designed to move! During the past five years, disturbing scientific evidence reveals that not only do we recognize our original risk group of people who qualify as ‘sedentary’ (“lack of moderate-to-vigorous” levels of activity) but we must adopt a new paradigm to differentiate a totally separate risk category for those who practice habitual sedentary behavior (too much sitting), hence the recent news articles titled “Sitting is the New Smoking.” What the statistics actually show is that excessive sitting behaviors are associated with our current tsunami of chronic health problems, regardless of exercise habits. This means that even those who exercise at the gym every day, but also sit many consecutive hours at work are still in a greater disease risk category than they hoped. Our lifestyle is undermining health, even with gym membership usage. Once again these studies focused on cardiovascular health, where we have already spent many millions of dollars for the last 30+ years. How is it possible that our mechanical research accomplishments have allowed us to fly to the other side of the world in hours, but we still have not learned important facts about care and feeding of a human body?
While public health information saves lives, it seems clear that we cannot count on the slow information we receive from the higher institutions and we must educate ourselves to practice our own self-care. Revolutionary self-care education efforts are indeed underway, thanks to some of the research pioneers like Jill Miller. When I took my first Yoga Tune Up® class, I loved how I felt and also valued that students were learning to care for their own musculoskeletal health and stress reduction. But what completely hooked my inner nerdy- demanding- scientist self into a silent happy dance, was the fact that Jill Miller extrapolates this work from established science, yoga, AND the most current research known yet by few!!
Tune in on Friday for a little more satire on the the dangers of sitting and history of strength training plus a simplistic breakdown of how science is actually baked into the secret sauce of Yoga Tune Up®. Best. Recipe. Ever.