Some years back, Dr James Levine, a Professor at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Arizona, USA, declared “Sitting is the new smoking”, a term that has become very popular since then. 37
This catchy and effective saying, if realized and acted upon by a majority, could dramatically bring down hospital revenues worldwide! It appears that just reducing the amount of continuous sedentary time through intermittent activities could make a significant difference to our health in the long run.
Until the last week of her life, amma was reasonably active for at least 8 hours every day.
I’m not entirely sure if some of the household activities she did were advisable given her overall health and weak heart. She had been told many times they were not.
Many times, she would lie down after some activity because she felt tired or had minor chest pains. Within minutes I would see her up and running again, trying to complete some trivial job. I had chided her so many times to take it easy and have a few more minutes of rest – but she simply could not. If she was not really tired, she had to be up and active.
At times, I deliberately allowed her to do some of these, because I believed that they played an important role in keeping her healthy.
Even today, my house does not have a washing machine or a dishwasher – both these activities are done manually. While we can easily afford both, amma was quite comfortable doing these manually. We had a maid to help her in these in the last few years, but she still involved herself to some extent in these activities until the very end. I was quite OK with it.
Allowing her to be active and being on her own was making a difference not just to her physical health, but also to her mental health – it seemed to make her feel motivated and independent.
At the time of her final hospitalization, she had a hemoglobin level of just above 4. An 81 year old lady with a weak heart and such a low hemoglobin level should have collapsed. But she had not – she was fully conscious and took care of most of her activities herself, with only some help from me, until her final day at home. 38
As I was planning to shift her to a larger hospital the subsequent day, she slept at home on the day she was diagnosed with acute anemia. That night, I was fervently hoping that she did not collapse or have a cardiac arrest.
I told her to wake me up when she went to the washroom, which she did 2-3 times every night, as I did not want her to walk alone to the toilet for her urination. She did not wake me up even once.
When I enquired the next morning, she said she felt guilty to wake me up as I had been running around the whole day on her behalf, and she wanted me to get a good night’s sleep. Besides, she asked, when she could walk on her own, why did she need someone else’s help.
For her, not being active and self-reliant was not being alive.
I still cannot believe how she could have died.
Fig 12: Sitting is the new smoking. The simple takeaway from the above chart? Just make sure you move about enough once every hour, or at least every two hours. At any rate, don’t be immobile for more than six hours at a stretch.
37. A Mayo Clinic analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. Now, you wouldn’t want to die a death similar to smokers and binge eaters, but without having enjoyed the pleasures of life they did, would you?
38. One thing that probably helped her was her relatively high level of oxygen saturation (96%). This represents the extent of oxygen carrying hemoglobin present in the blood. So, while she had lower hemoglobin, these were full of oxygen, thus providing her body with perhaps just enough oxygen to stay conscious.
Read Amma the fun way!
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