While sleeping used to be our most common "activity," today it is sitting. The average person sits for 9 hours a day. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for heart disease and creates health problems, including deep vein thrombosis (as can happen on planes and during long computer games). Athletes who exercise for one or two hours each day still need do more daily activity and not just sit in front of a screen all day. How about a treadmill desk or "desk-ercycle"?
While we may be sitting more than in past years, we're sleeping less: 80 percent of teens report getting less than the recommended nine hours of sleep; nearly 30 percent of adults report sleeping less than six hours each day. Not good. Sleep is a biological necessity. It is restorative and helps align our circadian rhythms.
Sleep deprivation (less than five hours/night) erodes well being, has detrimental effects on health, and contributes to fat gain. When we become tired, grehlin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry, becomes more active and we can easily overeat. Sleep deprivation is also linked with Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Sleep deprivation is common among athletes who travel through time zones. This can impact performance by disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing undue fatigue and reduced motivation. In comparison, extending sleep can enhance performance. A study involving basketball players indicates they shot more baskets and completed more free throws when they were well rested versus sleep deprived. For top performance, make sleep a priority.
In a few communities in the world, an unusually high number of people live to be older than 100 years. What happens in those communities that results in longer life? Some factors include choosing a plant-based diet, rarely overeating, having a life filled with purpose and meaning, connecting with others in the community, moving naturally and/or socially (as in bike commuting and walking with family and friends), enjoying alcohol socially, in moderation, and not smoking. If you want to join the centenarians, take steps to re-create those life-enhancing practices.
Creating that life-extending culture has been done, to a certain extent, in Albert Lea, MN. The "Blue Zone" project included improving sidewalks and building walking paths around a lake. Restaurants supported the program by not bringing a bread basket automatically to customers, and not serving French fries (unless requested) with meals. These and many other environmental changes contributed to a healthier lifestyle that resulted in a 40 percent drop in the city employee healthcare costs over two years. Impressive.
Athletes, as well as obese people, commonly struggle with the belief their body is not "good enough." This struggle gets too little attention from health care providers who focus more on the medical concerns of heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Yet, whether you are lean or obese, having poor body image often coincides with having low self-esteem. This combination generates poor self-care.
In a five-year study with teens, low body satisfaction stimulated extreme and destructive dieting behaviors that led to weight gain, not weight loss. The same pattern is typical among many seemingly "healthy" athletes. If you want help finding peace with your body, please seek help from a sports dietitian.
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