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Running vs. sitting, abdominal bracing
by on Monday, July 28, 2014  (7 comments)

This week, no deep insights into how to race faster but I think some interesting research/thoughts on how to be more healthy.

Running vs. sitting

We all know running is good for our health and spending too much time sitting is bad. How do the two counteract each other, though? For a long time, people believed running would be like a bullet proof vest, protecting us from the harmful effects of being too sedentary. Then sitting became the armor piercing bullet that could negate all the effects of running and then some, basically making running meaningless if you sit the rest of the day.

Not surprisingly, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

According to a research team from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, each time unit of sitting cancels out 8 percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.

While that's hardly a pretty picture for runners who are sedentary during the rest of our lives, it's not quite the bad picture that was painted for us before (and I use "our" and "us" for a reason - I'm not nearly as active as I should be outside of my running life, I spend far too much time sitting).

Fortunately, there were some useful strategies to try to overcome these issues also given:

The team from UT Southwestern advises that office workers (and home workers) employ a number of strategies to avoid excessive sitting time. The list is becoming standard these days, and includes: walking up stairs at work rather than taking elevators; standing while talking on the phone; holding walking meetings; sitting on a fitness ball or using a standing desk; taking a lunchtime walk; and using pedometer to log your daily step count.

“We found that when someone’s sitting for a long time, any movement is good movement,” says co-author Jacquelyn Kulinski, M.D. “If you’re stuck at your desk, stretch, shift positions frequently or just fidget. They all improve fitness.”

Next time I'm fidgeting at work, it's not because I'm nervous or struggling with a concept. I'm doing it for my health. ;)

Abdominal bracing

How many of you have heard that, when you want to lift a heavy weight or do crunches or something like that, you should draw in your belly button to support your back?

Yeah, me too. That has always been the go to advice. Well, maybe it's not the best advice.

This article makes a very good case for abdominal bracing instead of pulling your belly button in, which the author calls abdominal hollowing. What is abdominal bracing?

Think about what you would do if you were to prepare yourself for someone to punch you in the gut. You would immediately tense and stiffen you core to brace for the impact. This is exactly what abdominal bracing is, a term first coined by Dr. Stuart McGill of Canada, a leading expert in spine mechanics.

That description is probably about as good as it gets. The case being made in favor of this is very convincing. Personally, I'm rethinking my beliefs on this one. It makes a lot of sense.

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I'll start by saying I haven't read the articles. But based on your summary, I still don't think even sitting 10 hours a day negates the health benefits of running for one hour by 80%. Based on activity guidelines for non-athletic people (people who don't want to or can't run for an hour or more at a time) 20 minutes of moderate activity, like walking, is considered sufficient for health benefit. If you compare the overall health of runners to non-athletic people of the same age, no matter how much the runners sit during the day, I'll bet the runners still have overall better health.

However, I definitely agree that moving around during the day helps enormously with recovery and eliminating stiffness, soreness and tightness! I have to make a conscious effort to pry myself away from my desk and move around. Sometimes I catch myself sitting for hours without moving and when I get up everything creaks and cracks and I feel stiff. This gets worse with age so it's even more important to get up and move around during the day! Reading this was a good reminder that I need to get up!

Staying "hollow" is something every gymnast learns early for good form and to prevent back injury. It means to tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your back straight. It works like support for your spine. Hollow means to hollow out your abdominal area to prevent your back from swaying keeping your abdomen tight. Drawing in the belly button only works if you do it while tightening the muscles. I'll have to read this now. It's kind of funny how renaming tightening your abdominal muscles to "bracing" makes it something new. He should have come to our gym in 70s :-)

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I think we have to keep the baseline in mind. A sedentary person who runs 1 hour a day is worlds ahead of a sedentary person who doesn't. However, what about compared to someone who is active all day but doesn't run? How are we compared to the person like my stepfather, who was on his feet all day long but never formally worked out? I would argue that, compared to someone like him, we might be giving back 80% of the benefits we gained through running. We'll still be marginally ahead of him but just marginally. In the meantime, we're worlds ahead of our coworkers who, like us, sit all day at work but, unlike us, don't get out for relatively intensive exercise an hour a day.

As for getting up and moving around, oh, how critical it is. Sometimes, after my run, I'm more mentally focused and I find myself getting lost in my work. Next thing I know, it's 2 hours later and I haven't moved. It's almost painful when I first get up at that point and I begin walking very gingerly. Fortunately, I get things loosened up relatively quickly but it's rough starting out and it's a reminder that I want to find an excuse to get out of my seat at least hourly. I've also been doing a lot of stretching lately, especially stretches to get my shoulders back and open up my chest.

Maybe this is a case where gymnastics coaches were well ahead of the scientists because I've always heard "suck in your gut" or "pull in your belly button". While it's always felt intuitive to me to tighten the entire core and I've usually done that without being prompted, it's not the advice I've usually seen given.

I've seen numerous instances where T&F/running coaches were years, if not decades, ahead of the scientists. I wonder if this is a case of gymnastics coaches doing the same.

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That is absolutely true, Ryan, about people who are active all day. My grandparents in Austria never "exercised." They never owned a car and walked, farmed and rode bikes every where. All my grandparents lived into their 80s and 90s and my father's mother is 101 years old. She was always very active just in her normal every day life, never sitting at a desk, always working, walking and for vacation she would go to the ocean and swim. She swam with her bathing cap on for miles along the coast of the beach. She just loved to swim in the ocean.

I was comparing a runner to what's considered a "normal" person in the US today. From wearing my Fitbit and and competing with my 10 year old son for steps I have learned that you don't need to be a runner to get fit! He beats Dave and me on steps every day running around playing and having fun even when we run 6 or 7 miles. It's kind of sad how unfit and sedentary our society is. I noticed it especially this past weekend in Bush Gardens. It's rare to see a thin or fit looking person. 90% of people are overweight and at least half are obese. Even so many children are overweight which is even more disturbing. I don't remember any fat children growing up.

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I think that's the problem a lot of us have. We have a new sense of normal that's just not a healthy state. It is the new normal but it's not something we should use as a baseline if we're striving for a healthy lifestyle.

I've seen what you describe with my 6 year old daughter. We don't have a Fitbit or anything like that but I can just see in her fitness. She can go all day. This past weekend, we went to the local high school track on Saturday so I could shoot a video and we ran 2x400 + 2x100. Her mom is hardly "normal" by today's standards but couldn't keep up with her. She wanted to go back so Sunday we went back and did another 2x400 + 3x100, then she did some gymnastics things, mostly balance beam on the bleachers. Again, mom who is hardly the average American couldn't keep up but she was just bounding around everywhere and it was only the rain storm bearing down on us that got her to leave. If not for the rain, who knows how long she would have wanted to stay? Just full of energy and extremely fit. I hope to encourage a lifestyle where that never changes but we all know the current we're working against as we try to do that.

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This issue reminds of a TV advertisement promoting exercise. The ad showed two guys playing a football video game with one of the kids running in a touchdown yelling and screaming "who's the man?". Then when he scores he gets up off the couch and starts dancing around pointing in the other guy's face bragging about his athletic skills. After five seconds he is bent over with his arms on his knees barely able to breath. The perfect example of the majority of today's "normal."

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It really hit me this weekend at Bush Gardens how many people are overweight. And not just 5 or 10 lbs. A lot of people are probably in the obese range, even teenagers and children. One ride even had a sign that said "No customers over 230 lbs." For the most part the only thin and fit people you see are very young people. Most people over 35 are overweight and look unhealthy. Maybe that's just the demographic of amusement park clientele, but when you look around most places, except maybe at the gym or at races, so many people are overweight. It's become so acceptable it's considered normal.

Being at Bush Gardens reminded me of the movie Wall-E. A sedentary, electronically brainwashed, fat society. The only things missing are those floating chairs and computer screens permanently affixed before our faces... Although arguably we already have the iPhone. If you haven't seen Wall-E, it's a good movie.

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I see it at a lot of places. Whenever you are out at public, unless you're at a place that attracts active people like a park where the primary draws are trails, just look around.

Jackie, I haven't seen Wall-E but what you describe is already here. Look up Google Glass.

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