The War On Sitting: Count Me In.

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on January 19, 2016 # Exercise

There are a variety of dangers present in this world at any given time. Things that readily come to mind are the proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorists, wildfires, earthquakes, mosquito-borne diseases and a full "laundry list" of devastating weather phenomena. We count on our government and its leaders to protect us from the first two dangers, and try to be as prepared as possible to survive the unexpected arrival of the other threats. Each year, in spite of those preparations, hundreds of people become victims and need to be rescued or to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of storms, fires, earthquakes, floods or other disasters.

Unfortunately there is a more sinister threat to our lives and those of our families that exists virtually everywhere, and we are doing little to stop it -- even though it is preventable. That threat is caused by sitting, especially sitting for prolonged periods of time.

The Mayo Clinic points out that "Unhealthy dietary habits, smoking and inactive lifestyles combine to create obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels." That Mayo Clinic website also points out that "Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer." That last sentence is something I can relate to, as can many of my friends.

Saratoga Cycle When you think about it, those of us who are paralyzed to the extent that we don't need to use our arms for motivation are the poster people of sitting. As one example, in my case I am sitting in this wheelchair from the time I get out of bed in the morning until I get back into bed at night. The only exception is if I have a medical appointment that requires transferring to an examination table, and fortunately that happens very infrequently. I eat, work, and even drive while seated in my wheelchair. The impact of that on my body is that I'm overweight, battle high blood pressure, must closely monitor my cholesterol and am in a constant war with my digestive tract to assure that it keeps working properly.

Other than range of motion exercises morning and evening that consist mainly of stretching, my lower body gets no type of exercise. To maintain some dexterity and keep up my strength for driving, I spend a few minutes a day using my arms to exercise on a Saratoga Cycle. For those of you who have never seen one, picture an exercise bike for the arms only. That does nothing for my legs, and has had minimal or no impact on the size of my waistline and my butt. Individuals who use manual wheelchairs due to amputations or paralysis, paraplegics in function, are able to get out and about while pushing their wheelchairs. For me, that only requires a flick of a wrist to move the joystick very slightly. Even when I make excuses, I know that that is not sufficient exercise. An article in the Washington Post on the health hazards of sitting points out that the average American who works at a desk sits for eight hours per day. Let me just say that most Americans are lightweights when it comes to sitting, as my time sitting in this wheelchair averages about 14 hours per day. I know it's nothing to brag about, but it is nice to be able to excel in something.

The irony present in some of the comments related to the dangers of sitting is amazing. For instance, Timothy Egan wrote an article in the New York Times about fear of what is most likely to kill us. In it, he quoted Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, about the impact of prolonged sitting who said “A lot of doctors think sitting is the new cancer." I guess it is fitting that the head of a company that invented the reasons that many people sit all day, and that employs thousands of factory workers and computer programmers who do that for a living, should be able to address the dangers of sitting. Other than advocating for standup or treadmill workstations for their employees who can use them, I haven't seen any of those chief executives coming up with battle plans that the rest of us can use for this war on sitting.

I might be losing that war, but I'm not going to go down without a battle. If it wasn't the middle of winter, I could get to a nearby beach or park to people watch. Paved trails or sidewalks would allow me to breathe deeply and enjoy the shifting around that is usually present when traveling over varied surfaces; in my mind , that suffices as vigorous exercise. Unfortunately my good intentions are blocked by cold temperatures, drizzling rain or snow that covers the ground throughout much of the country at this time of year.

Adaptive SkiingWhile I try to avoid cold, wet conditions, I do have friends who use wheelchairs and look forward to winter so they can get out and do such activities as skiing or hunting. While I admire their dedication and drive, that still doesn't make me want to go out and about during the winter.

Instead of outside activities, rolling around a nearby indoor shopping mall will have to do; it has plenty of people watching that almost, but not quite, makes up for the loss of the summertime views at the beach. The only challenges at the mall are a few ramps between levels and a need to avoid the food court or candy shops that give out free samples.

I am trying another tactic this year. In order to make up for my lack of exercise and in an effort to get my heart beating faster, I am focusing on watching only action-oriented movies this winter. To begin, I recently went to a matinee showing of The Revenant, which is a film guaranteed to keep your heart beating faster and your breathing deep during much of the 2 1/2 hours that it is on the big screen.

As you can see, I am a warrior when it comes to the war on sitting. The only difference between me and some of those who are fighting the same war is the fact that I am waging my battles in the war on sitting while sitting.

© 2016 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.