by Ram Rao
There are many types of disabilities including, but not limited to, those that affect movement, vision, hearing, memory and recall, learning, communication, mental health, and social relationships. People with disabilities are more likely to engage in sedentary activities compared to people without disabilities. However, research studies indicate that most people irrespective of their abilities or disabilities spend the majority of their time sitting. A typical adult in the U.S. sits for an average of ten hours per day.
Many research studies suggest that prolonged sedentary activities are associated with numerous problems including obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer, any of which may cause premature death. A sedentary lifestyle is one in which an individual, regardless of having a disability or not, sits for more than three hours each day and sleeps for extended periods of time. Prolonged sitting does the following:
- Decreases the activity of enzymes that help burn fat
- Reduces bone mineral density and blocks new bone formation thereby raising the risk of bone fractures
- Increases cholesterol levels and diminishes arterial structure thereby putting the individual at risk for heart disease
- Decreases insulin sensitivity and may trigger type-2 diabetes
- Has a negative effect on the structure and function of the brain
The ill effects of prolonged sitting can occur regardless of an individual’s physical activity. Those who exercise daily may assume that their vigorous training regimen protects them so they may conveniently engage in prolonged sitting. Unfortunately, even an intense activity will not undo the deleterious effects that come from sitting for eight to ten hours in a day. Too much sitting is harmful even if you're getting enough exercise. So even if you have a daily exercise routine, you will still be at higher risk of disease if you sit for long periods each day.
In today’s materialistic society, it is very easy to end up sitting twelve to fifteen hours a day. Studies now indicate that individuals who sit for more than eleven hours daily are forty percent more likely to die within the next three years than those who sit for four hours or less daily—even after their physical activity at other times of the day is accounted for. For people who engage in prolonged sitting activities, the risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking. Experts agree that even thirty minutes of physical activity is insufficient to reverse the harmful effects of eight hours or more of sitting. The negative consequences are so alarming that medical experts have started referring to the poor health outcome from prolonged sitting as “sitting disease.”
For people who are in wheelchairs, one option is to purchase a wheelchair that moves the sitter into a vertical alignment with support to allow for gentle movement; however, these chairs may be costly. Another option is to engage in ten minutes of stretching for every hour of sitting.
So how can we avoid the negative effects that are associated with prolonged sitting? The best solution is to drastically change your lifestyle. While standing for long hours is by no means the answer, most experts recommend a 50:50 sit-stand routine for optimal health. The suggestion is to interrupt sitting time as often as possible. One way to do this is to move or stretch for at least ten minutes for every hour of sitting time, as suggested for people who are in a wheelchair.
Another alternative is to do a little bit of yoga. You could try a short, mini practice that you can find in a blog site, yoga book, or DVD––here are some helpful links:
Yoga is a fantastic way to stretch and tone the body as it targets every muscle in the body. In addition, it calms the mind, releases tension, and reduces stress. For people with disabilities, engaging in an Accessible Yoga practice can benefit people of any age with physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, emotional challenges, and vision or hearing impairments so they too can experience the benefits of yoga. Irrespective of your ability level and what you do in daily life, make sure you are more active and just have fun incorporating a short yoga practice. You’ll be surprised at how rewarding it is!
Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
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