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“Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. … Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again.” Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working (Washington Post, June 2, 2015)

Get Up and Move Half of Workday, Health Experts Recommend

My Daily Moves

Get moving!

Sitting around between workouts is dangerous. Moreover, 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 5 days a week, as widely recommended, is simply not enough to keep us healthy. “Humans probably do best with multiple hours of [light activity every day],” Wade Smith, MD (University of Colorado School of Medicine) told us recently. Echoing this, a study commissioned by Public Health England called for sedentary workers to get out of their chairs at least two hours a day, with an eventual goal of four to half of working hours.

This is serious business, because workers who sit the most have over twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a 13% increased risk of cancer, and 17% increased risk of dying early.

Unfortunately, those who spend the most time sitting at work also spend more time sitting at home. More TV watching is adversely associated with mental health, well-being, and muscle strength. “More worryingly,” the experts wrote, “up to 95% of adults in the general population are classified as inactive.”

Compounding the problem, many health hazards of too much sitting are little understood. Let’s look at a few of them. (Prepare to squirm.)

Too much sitting causes organ damage. Here’s how. Muscles burn less fat and blood flow becomes sluggish, allowing fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Moreover, idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, causing the pancreas to flood the blood stream with insulin, which can lead to diabetes. Excess insulin also encourages cell growth, which can lead to various form of cancer.

It’s no surprise that too much sitting causes back problems, but the mechanics probably are. When we move around, soft discs between vertebrae expand and contract like sponges, soaking up fresh blood and nutrients. But when we sit for a long time, discs are squashed unevenly causing collagen to harden making discs less stable and herniation more likely.

It works the same for knees. Scientists believe that normal loading patterns are needed to maintain healthy cartilage. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health (March 2015) found that sedentary living speeds the loss of physical function in people with arthritic knees. Movement makes knees last longer.

Sitting for long periods also makes blood pool in the legs, causing problems from swollen ankles, varicose veins, to dangerous blood clots. Moving pushes blood back toward the heart.

For more hazards of sitting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/ )

Why 2 to 4 Hours a Day?

You are probably wondering how the experts settled on 2 hours a day—aiming for 50% of working hours. The movement goal is well supported.

The key support comes from two categories of research. First, long term Canadian and USA national health and fitness surveys found a threshold for “significant risk reduction” at more than 2 hour a day and the “greatest risk reduction” from getting up for 4+ hours a day. Secondly, a number of observational or interventional studies found “pronounced changes” in energy expenditure, blood glucose, insulin, muscle function, and joint sensation when the total accumulated time exceeded 2 hours a day.  

Another area of research deals with telomeres, the DNA “caps” which protect chromosomes and keep us young and healthy. A randomized controlled trial from Sweden put sitting squarely in the bull’s eye. Uppsala University professor Per Sjögren and colleagues found that less sitting, not more exercise, is most likely to preserve and lengthen telomeres. “In many countries formal exercise may be increasing, but at the same time people spend more time sitting,” the researchers wrote. “We hypothesize that a reduction in sitting is of greater importance than an increase in exercise time for elderly risk individuals.” (Subjects were 68 years old, sedentary, and overweight.) Exercise is of course important, but apparently we must get up and move around between workouts for maximum benefit. “Go hard and go home” may be the best approach—IF you get up and move around between workouts.

Productivity is another reason to stand up and move. (Standing still is almost as bad as sitting still; stand and move.) Key studies from Australia demonstrated that standing breaks and use of sit-stand workstations “improve work productive, quality, efficiency and [provide] a greater sense of collaboration among…employees,” the expert panel wrote. Professor James A. Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic (best known for his book Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It), says that productivity ticks up 15 percent when people stand and move more during the day.

And don’t forget the study showing that walking spurs creativity: http://www.cbass.com/walkingspurscreativity.htm 

NEAT Helps Keep Us Lean

Levine also says that lean people are on average up and walking 2 plus hours more than obese individuals. The explanation, he says, is "non-exercise activity thermogenesis" or NEAT, which is the energy expended for everything except sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. NEAT can account for as little as 15% of calorie burn in the very sedentary and up to 50% in very active individuals. A woman who burns 1000 calories lying still and another 150 calories digesting her food, may burn anywhere from 150 to 500 additional calories depending on whether she spends the time sitting at her computer or moves frequently throughout the day. Even fidgeting makes a difference.

Finally, our book Take Charge includes a chapter on “Too Much Sitting.”

Here’s how I keep moving during waking hours. Take what you can use, hopefully much of it, and leave the rest. The general idea is more important than the specific details. Do it your way, but do it.

My Daily Moves

My own experience is that movement promotes productivity, thinking, and general well-being. It feels good all over and helps keep me lean.

I start and end my day with movement—and move regularly in between.

My whole life has been built around goal setting. Carol and I both wear pedometers; my goals are 6000 steps on rest days and 4000 on workout days, hers are higher. The first rule of goal setting is to be realistic; I know from experience that 6000 steps a day is a goal that I can meet without making myself uncomfortable. I break steps into segments: 2000 in the morning, 2000 at midday, and 2000 in the evening. That’s keeps me moving at a comfortable pace, one that I can almost always meet and usually beat. The biggest portion of my 6000 steps comes in short walks (about 15 minutes) around our neighborhood, before breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner. I vary the paths to keep it interesting. Happily, we have made friends all over our neighborhood.

I also get up and walk around in the house when I’m working on the computer or at my desk. My desk and our computer are in different rooms, and I chalk up lots of steps walking back and forth. Many ideas come to me in the process. (I walked around the house before I sat down to write this section—and ideas started coming almost immediately.) I try not to sit still more than about 30 minutes at a time. My back and my body tell me in no uncertain terms that they don’t like sitting longer. (It helps that my work chairs provide excellent back support.)

I have numerous routes around the house that I enjoy; the nearby photo shows me pretending to be an airplane coming in for a landing in our kitchen. Sounds silly but it makes movement more interesting, fun. I also look for things that need to be done, such as filing or taking out the garbage.


(Photo by Laszlo Bencze)

That’s it; nothing complicated or onerous. Practical, fun, productive, energizing.

When I say I start and end my day with motion I’m referring to the “Morning Motion” routine described in Take Charge. MM doesn’t register on my pedometer, but it’s an important part of my daily moves. It takes 10 minutes or less in the morning and about half that for the shortened version before bed. It gets me going in the morning--gets blood flowing to my brain and lubricates my joints--and relaxes me in the evening for a good night’s sleep.

My morning routine is more extensive and vigorous than in the evening when I’m winding down for bed. I begin by opening and closing my hands, and then flex and extend my wrists and my elbows, rotate my shoulders and neck, and so on, until I’ve covered every part of my body. I devote extra time to my lower back, knees, and shoulders. I do overhead movements with a empty light bar. I end by doing squats with bodyweight, and then the bar—12 to 30 reps, whatever feels right. I skip the overhead bar movements and the bar squats in the evening. Importantly, MM is not a workout, there's nothing progressive about it. I'm constantly changing and adjusting as ideas come to me. I recently added 30 seconds of balancing on each leg in the morning.

Movement makes everything I do go better. Give it a try. Make it your own and get moving. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

*  *  *

You can read the entire Expert Statement on the sedentary office online: : http://press.psprings.co.uk/bjsm/may/bjsm094618.pdf

July 1, 2015

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