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How to Experience the Benefits of Exercise Without Moving

Physical activity is protective of our health and so is spiritual activity.
05/08/2014 02:27pm ET | Updated July 8, 2014
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Recently, the Washington Post published an article about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. It featured some of the same research I discovered last year. During that time, a very interesting thought occurred to me - which I will share with you in this post - that I believe is a unique way to address this epidemic that is contributing to the growing prevalence of chronic diseases in this nation and throughout the Western world.

Sedentary Epidemic Includes Police

Much to my surprise, I just discovered, in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa which found that even police officers are sedentary.

A team of researchers at the University of Iowa measured physical activity in police officers, whose jobs are presumably predicated on movement, yet researchers found that police officers burn as much energy on the job as someone sitting while holding a baby or washing dishes.

"We find that police work is primarily sedentary," explains Sandra Ramey, Assistant Professor in the U of Iowa College of Nursing. "The public view, how the media portray it on shows like 'Hawaii Five-0,' it's just go, go, go -- it's an intense, high-activity profession. But it's not. It's more like bursts of energy with long periods of little activity."

"The findings are important because workers -- no matter the occupation -- are increasingly employed in mostly sedentary settings," says Ramey.

The Dangers of Being Sedentary
Are you a couch potato, lying around watching TV for hours on end in the evenings and on the weekends? Do you spend many hours seated at a desk during the day? Thanks in part to the technology revolution it's very likely that you do. If so, you should know that there is a relationship between long stretches of sitting and dying from heart disease. This risk to your health is heightened even if you engage in physical activity at other times.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of chronic diseases related to the modern lifestyle. The sedentary behavior now ingrained in our culture is literally killing us. Long periods of sitting in front of a computer, or driving a vehicle such as a bus or a taxicab have a significant negative effect on our physiology. For example, extended TV viewing -- the kind that's done while seated in your living room, lying down on a couch, or lying in bed rather than while running on a treadmill at the gym -- leads to an increased incidence of metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes, in adults over 60.

Your body isn't designed not for stagnation, but for movement.

Another new study, reporting groundbreaking findings, determined that inactivity can detrimentally change your brain's structure and function. Dr. Patrick Mueller, a professor at Wayne State University and lead author of the study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, found like activity inactivity (not just activity, as previously thought) can change the shape of nerve cells, making them more sensitive to stimulation, which can disrupt their nervous system and contribute to increasing the risk of developing heart disease.

This study confirms my suspicion that something unique occurs physiological when we are sedentary.

The Meditation Contradiction
It occurred to me last year that people who meditate are usually seated and still! So what's the difference? Meditators are in a state of relaxation that restores and regenerates not only the brain but the entire body. They are in a very different state of being from your run-of-the-mill television viewer or sedentary desk worker. Perhaps the issue with being seated, then, isn't so much the lack of movement as it is the lack of true stillness.

Physical activity is protective of our health and so is spiritual activity. But there are people, like the Tibetan Buddhist monks, who meditate for hours on end to reach a state of samadhi, or union with the divine. And we know that the more they meditate, the better their brains function.

So the next time you're lying on your couch, or sitting at your desk, I'd recommend every hour that you are, I urge you to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and meditate for at least five to 10 minutes every hour you're immobile.