Noelle: Hello, everyone. What is up? I am so excited to be with you all here today, and I am just loving today’s topics. We will be discussing, is being sedentary truly bad for your health, and if so, what can you do about it? We’ll be talking about, are stand-up desks worth the hype or do they cause issues of their own? Lastly, is walking a legit form of exercise? We will be covering all of these topics with Zac Marshall, a dear friend, the best man in our wedding, and an exercise physiologist.
Zac, we are just thrilled to have you on the call. Thank you for being with us today.
Zac: Yeah, it’s great to be on the show. Thank you.
Noelle: I would love just to start with your story and then your education with how basically you got to where you are now. I just think that would be really cool for our clients to hear.
Zac: Definitely. My story involves being an athlete when I was young. When I was a kid, my family was particularly interested and involved with tennis, and I ended up developing a pretty good tennis career. I became nationally ranked in America, and my dream was to become a professional tennis player. At the height of my career, I was actually only 15 years old, beginning to play some professional tournaments, I developed a debilitating back condition, and that was the beginning of the end of my tennis career. I ended up retiring about a year and a half later.
What happened was, my life was kind of moved into about a decade of pretty significant pain, joint pain, and health challenges, so my own personal story led me into the profession that I’m now in, which is helping people with their health and wellness on a daily basis.
Noelle: Wonderful. Can you just share with us some of the education that’s helped you support your clients?
Zac: I’ve got a master’s degree in exercise science, or kinesiology, with an emphasis in biomechanics, which is the study of human movement. I also am a certified personal trainer and a certified health coach, certified fitness nutritionist, and also massage therapist.
Noelle: Jumping right into our questions here, we’ve all been hearing on the news how sitting is damaging, how it can lead to an early death. Can you fill us in on some of the research and science behind that? Is it really true that sitting’s so bad for us?
Zac: It appears to be. The research that we have on the topic, and let me give you a little bit of historical background, because I think this is helpful for the typical American. Up until about the 1950s, Americans didn’t really think about exercise like we think of it today. People had fairly physical lifestyles, physically active lifestyles, up until about that period of time, and the whole fitness industry, people going to gyms, becoming runners, and that sort of thing, that was not really the norm.
I sometimes share about my grandfather, who’s still living. He’s 96 years old and he grew up on a farm, and he’s never worn exercise clothes in his life. He’s never walked on a treadmill and gone to a gym, but he’s incredibly fit, because he has been on a farm, worked on a farm, for his entire life.
Zac: We have a different society now, and what happened was, in the 1950s, people were dying of heart disease and heart attacks at a very high rate. It was an epidemic in America, and so there was a search for solutions, and one of the solutions that was theorized was that exercise would help with this.
A lot of research came out of that time period in the 1950s and ’60s, and the research was focused on aerobic exercise. They were actually studying athletes by and large, people on sports teams and people even in the military, and the recommendations that came out of that were all focused around aerobic exercise. You need to get your heart rate really high. You need to do this for at least 20 to 30 minutes several times a week, and so that’s what the typical American thinks of when they think of being fit. “I got to go on a run. I got to swim, bike, ect.” this formalized exercise.
Well, what’s been lost and forgotten over that period of time is the fact that, for one, our society’s become increasingly sedentary, and nobody’s unaware of that. We’re at computers and in cars and in front of TVs all the time, and because of that change in society, what has happened is, our daily life has become full of being seated, being sedentary.
So even though some people go to a gym a few times a week or do their exercise regimen, the rest of their day is involved in an incredible amount of sitting, and so, the thing that happened over the last decade or so is, people started to wonder, is that an issue? Is it an issue to work out in the morning and then sit the rest of the day? Does that have negative ramifications for our health? The research that has come out of it seems to indicate that that is an issue. It does have negative health ramifications.
For example, a lot of the research looks at associations between the amount of time that a person spends seated and how they do with things like their cardiovascular health, diabetes, how long do they live, etc., etc., things like that. What they typically find is that people who sit for a significant part of their day, they consistently have lower health than people who are seated for less. Particularly the focus has been around cardiovascular health and type 2 diabetes, and then also just overall mortality, at what age do people die.
Noelle: Wow. Can you go ahead and just share some of the practical tips for what do you do if your job is sedentary. How do you start to incorporate more healthful choices throughout your day?
Zac: Yeah. Well, everything I’ve shared up to this point sounds like depressing news, but I actually think it’s good news in a way. Let me explain why I think it’s good news. A lot of people walking around in America, people in our society, have a lot of guilt around the topic of exercise.
Noelle: Yes, so true.
Zac: Especially people who have sedentary jobs. They feel like, “I’m just lazy. I’m not doing enough. I’m not in shape.” Etc. Etc. Not to say there’s not some truth to that, but I like to kind of come at it from a different angle. Let me explain what I mean. The guilt that people have around exercise is largely based on a paradigm that is prevalent in our culture that is limited, and it’s being actually repaired, you might say, or reconstructed, as we speak. The paradigm is, you need to work out to be healthy. You need to go to the gym. You need to sweat. You need to really be breathing hard with your exercise in order to be healthy.
Most people, that’s what they think about when they consider exercise, and so, they’re not doing that, which we know from statistics, that at least 50% of Americans are not doing that. They’re not working out on a regular basis. So the paradigm is being reconstructed, and here’s how it’s being reconstructed. There’s a quote that I’ll share from a mentor of mine that sums it up, and what he told me many years ago, which has a lot of wisdom to it, is, “Movement is essential. Exercise is optional.”
Noelle: I love it. Wow.
Zac: It sounds pretty heretical at first glance. Let me explain what I mean, because when you hear “exercise is optional,” it sounds like, “Who is this wacko telling me I shouldn’t exercise?” What is meant by that saying is, formalized physical activity. That’s what exercise means. It’s formalized. “I’m going to go to the gym to improve my health, to get stronger, to improve my heart health, etc., etc.”
Well, what a lot of us forget is that people did not do that by and large throughout history. My grandfather, who’s 96, did not exercise. He has theoretically never exercised in his life, in that formalized sense of, well, maybe a few times, but he’s never gone on a run or gone for a swim to be healthier. He has had physical activity incorporated into his lifestyle, and that has led to him being healthy. He has moved, and that is what people have done all throughout history and they’re doing all across the world to stay healthy, but we have lost that without hyperfocus on this unique form of physical activity called “exercise.”
Noelle: Wow. Yeah.
Zac: So, people are walking around saying, “I’m just not doing my body any good because I’m not going for a swim four days a week.”
Zac: Well, for people who are swimming four days a week, I’m not trying to stop them from doing that, but I’m more speaking to the people who, because they can’t do that more intensive form of physical activity, they’re not even meeting in the middle anywhere with all the other forms of movement they could be doing.
Zac: The new paradigm is all about movement. It’s about physical activity, and it’s about being physically active in whatever ways you are able to and whatever ways you enjoy. So, your question about practical tips, what I would share with the average person that has a desk job is, just move. Move in whatever ways you’re able to, whatever ways you enjoy, whatever ways are practical in your lifestyle.
The simple tips that someone can implement, number one, take regular breaks from being in a sitting position throughout your day and do some form of movement. That could involve simply, let’s say you work from home, that can involve getting up from your computer and cleaning a few dishes that were left over from breakfast. That can involve getting up from your computer and going and getting the mail or cleaning up the living room or doing a load of laundry for a few minutes, simple things that are underneath our fingertips, that we already probably are needing to do, and many people hire out others to do some of these things like, you know, clean their house and cook their food, and so forth.
But those are natural forms of physical activity that have been around since the beginning of existence, and our society tends to diminish their value because we think it’s only a value if I’m sweating and I’m really working hard, and so what we do is we forget the 99% of physical activity that people have done throughout history. It’s kind of bizarre when you think about it, but that’s how our thinking has gotten over the years and just through various means in our society. So I would just say move in whatever ways you can. Don’t think it has to be really complex.
Noelle: That’s helpful. Another question for you here is, what do you think of the stand-up desks or the walking desk or the cycling desk? Can you just give me some feedback on some of those?
Zac: Yeah. These are called moving work stations. It’s a very significant industry right now. It’s growing quite a bit from the research I’ve done on it, and it revolves around this idea that people are realizing we’re sitting too much and they’re feeling the effects. They’re feeling the shoulder tightness, the back pain, etc., and now the research is coming out to validate that. “Yes, there are issues with this.” So, now there’s a whole industry around this, which involves helping people move while they’re working.
There are a lot of different options. You have stand-up desks. You have cycling desks, which involve moving your legs in, like, this little cycle. There are treadmill work stations where you’re walking on a treadmill while you’re talking on the phone or working at your desk. You can sit on an exercise ball. A lot of different things out there nowadays.
My opinion on the topic is I think that in general, this is a great trend, but there are some things to keep in mind with this. It’s not simple. It’s not as simple as, “Okay, I’ve got a stand-up desk. I’m going to stand all day now.” That would be very limited, because you’re probably going to develop just as many musculoskeletal issues from standing all day as you did from sitting all day.
It’s kind of like with nutrition. Let’s say all you ever ate was broccoli. Broccoli would now become an issue in your diet because it’s all you’re eating and you’re eating too much of the nutrients in broccoli and too much fiber, not enough of the other nutrients.
It’s not like you say, “Okay, I’m just going to eat chicken all day now.” That would be like, “I’m going to stand all day now.” Okay, well, now you’ve got too much of the other types of nutrients. So what you want is a wide variety of movement nutrients.
Noelle: Wide variety.
Zac: I like to use that term. What that means is changing postures on a regular basis. So if you get a stand-up desk, what I’d recommend is, have a number of different postures that you can situate yourself in throughout the day. Sitting for some of the day, standing for some of the day, and maybe some other postures, like, maybe you have … You can lay down and work on your laptop, or just, like I mentioned before, take breaks on a regular basis. You’re walking. You’re bending down and picking things up off the ground. All of these are different nutrients in the movement world that are very important for maintaining musculo-skeletal health and other forms of health.
It’s super simple. It’s not rocket science, and that’s the good news of it. We’ve been feeling guilty because we can’t do this really complex exercise program, and the reality is, that’s like becoming an athlete. I always say, you know, if you’re going to stick to working out at a gym three or four or five times a week, that’s like taking a new hobby into your life, and with the level of business that the average person has in America, no wonder we have less than 50% of Americans being able to do this. How many people can take up a new hobby all of a sudden in their life and really be consistent with it for the long term?
But when you talk about movement, it doesn’t require a whole new thing, a whole new hobby in your life, because like you said, it’s already a part of life. It’s just a matter of being thoughtful about it, kind of enhancing it in little ways, little tweaks here and there, and realizing that what you’re doing … Some people are already doing this great amount of good for their body. They just don’t realize it.
Noelle: I love what you’re sharing there. Just to jump here to our next question before we run out of time, is, I would just love to get your thoughts on walking as an amazing exercise.
Zac: Walking is the quintessential human movement. Our bodies are designed to do it. When you look at the human body, it’s designed to do it. Kids do it without being taught. You have to teach a child how to do a lot of forms of activity, whether to play a sport or even swim or ride a bike. You have to teach them. It takes concerted effort. But walking is innate to being a human, and we should take notice of that.
What walking does … I mean, we could talk for a long, long time about this. I have a whole 45-minute class that I do on this topic. Walking works, first off, it works hundreds of muscles. So you want a whole-body workout? Walking is that. Walking is the most practical thing to do. You don’t have to wear special exercise attire. Let’s say you’re a travelling sales person. You can walk in the middle of your day. You can walk before or afterwards. You don’t have to take a shower afterwards. You don’t have to go to a special place for it. You can walk throughout the airport. You can walk in the hotel. You can walk throughout your house. I mean, it’s immensely practical. The health benefits are very profound.
I’ll share one example. There is something called the National Weight Control Registry. It’s the largest weight-loss research study in history, and it’s done out of Brown University. Over 5,000 people are in this study, and the average participant has lost 30 pounds and kept off that weight for at least a year. They do extensive surveying of these people in the research study, and what they’ve asked them is … One of the questions is, “What, if any, forms of exercise do you do?”
Now, the typical person might think, based on our society, “Oh, they must be working out all the time. I bet they’re doing, like, boot-camp classes every morning, running marathons.”
Well, they’re walking. By far, the most common exercise is walking. The stats are, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but a significant percentage of these people, all they’re doing is walking. The average amount of walking they do is about an hour, and that includes all forms of walking throughout the day, not just they’re walking for an hour and then. So these are people who have lost a significant amount of weight, and all they’re doing is walking. Now, I’m not saying necessarily walking is the reason they lost the weight. I would guess it’s probably related a lot more to nutrition than the walking, but walking did play a role in it.
The point is, that’s, if anything, what people think about in terms of exercise in our society. With two-thirds of people being overweight or obese, they think, “Well, I need to run, certainly, because I need to lose weight.” But yet the most biggest research study we have on the topic shows most of these people are not running. They’re walking.
There are other research studies that we could get into that really start to tweak the mind because they show … For example, there was one on type 2 diabetes where they showed the people who walked versus running actually had better results with things like weight management, blood sugar control, etc.
There is a lot more than the idea that the more high-intense forms of exercise are always superior. That idea is being questioned in a widespread manner in the world of scientific research, and I think everyday people are realizing that. They’re saying, “Hey, I ran for all these years and now my knees hurt,” and, “I have a chronic illness.” They’re realizing, “Maybe there’s more to it. Maybe I am not doing wrong by doing more modest forms of physical activity.”
Noelle: Thank you so much, Zac. It’s been really incredible talking with you and just hearing the wisdom and experience you have to share is such a blessing.
Zac: My pleasure.
Noelle: We will definitely include some of your contact info in the links below, and thank you so much for being on this, Zac, and we’d love to have you back another time.
Zac: Yeah, that sounds great, Noelle. Thank you so much.
Noelle: Thank you, everyone, for listening today. It’s been a joy to have you with us, and we will check back in next week. Bye!