People who know me are aware of my interest in space. I’m a big believer in the direct and indirect benefits of space exploration. Given my proximity to NASA’s Ames Research Center, I have the privilege of knowing several cool individuals involved in these endeavors.
I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with Joan Vernikos, NASA’s last Director of Life Science. She had worked with many of the astronauts, studying the effects of weightlessness on their bodies. What most people don’t know is that lack of gravity takes its toll on the body. The symptoms resemble those of aging. Unlike aging, most of the negative effects of zero gravity are reversed once back on earth. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to reverse the process when it comes to years. But all the research on the impact of space travel has provided insights on how we can all improve our health.
The premise of her new book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals– is that a major factor in the overall decline of health in the US is our inactivity. [In 2011, the CDC found 66% of all adults to be unhealthy, up from 48% in 2004]. There’s a lot more to her research (and her book) but the primary directive Vernikos gave us was to stand up every 20 minutes. Surprisingly, she said this shifting position was more effective than walking.
She shared a story about a gentleman in a wheelchair who was at an awards dinner where she was honored for her books. Afterwards, he asked her what the secret to health was and she said- stand up every 20 minutes. Of course, she felt a little uncomfortable saying it- realizing it was not helpful for him. She told this to one her dinner companions, who was surprised that she hadn’t recognized that the man in the wheelchair was George Mueller who had been in charge of the Apollo program.
Several months later, that dinner companion contacted her to say he had had dinner at George Mueller’s home. Much to his surprise, George answered the door and helped served the meal, moving around without aid of a walker or cane. Surprised, the visitor asked George- what had brought about this remarkable improvement? Mrs. Mueller explained that he started to stand up every 20 minutes; after 3 months, he disposed of the wheelchair. How’s that for proof?
Okay- it’s been 20 minutes, I’m going to stand before editing and posting this!