Full Transcript of founder of MySoulSeat.com, Pack Matthews’ TEDx Talk: Sitting is the New Smoking But You’ve Got Options at TEDxCoMo conference.
Pack Matthews – Founder, MySoulSeat.com
I want to thank, first off, Cale Sears and Keith Politte for the way they organized this whole TED talk is that the speakers got a chance to hear each other ahead of this event and the feedback that we got actually informed our presentations, and the presentations have evolved as a result of that.
Every one of you has a cell phone. And each one of you is a synapse of your own personal networks, your own social networks, and we’ll be talking more about thresholds and event horizons. And so you’re welcome if something grabs you enough that you want to tweet it during my presentation, you’re welcome to do that because it will help you see how the synapses in our networks work.
So, I chose this image because I like to mix metaphors. I mix a lot of metaphors in my kitchen of my mind, and really sweet things come out. So what you’re looking at is a sailing ship, and it’s a metaphor for the dance between gravity, all of our sinew and fascia in our body, and the rigid parts of our anatomy, our skeleton. So that sailboat and its rigging is a similar sort of dance, and a magic combination of flexibility and rigidity. The waterfall that it’s so improbably next to is a metaphor for gravity that’s all around us, and all the event horizons, seen and unseen. So we’re going to be talking about a way to amplify some particular event horizons in your life.
Now if you Google “point of no return” — this dates me, this was a cover of an album of the band “Kansas” from back when I was in junior high. So the popular idea, and I had this too, is that the point of no return is right on the edge of the waterfall. However, the point of no return is actually fairly far upstream.
I had the opportunity to see Niagara Falls for the first time travelling with my wife, she lived near there, where she grew up. And as we were driving along the Niagara River toward the falls, she pointed out a small, nondescript sign along the water there, and it said, ‘not a good idea to boat past this point; you might not be able to get back.’ That was the point of no return. It was miles away from the waterfall. Without that sign, there was no way to know that you were passing an inflection point like that, that you were passing an event horizon. So many of our event horizons don’t come with helpful signs like that.
Sitting is the new smoking. Not very good news, is it? How many of you have heard this phrase before? So, if you Google “sitting is the new smoking,” you’ll find lots of research, and I’ll be talking a little more about the research behind it in a minute. But you can think of it as a really bad thing, or you can think of it as a good thing, it means that we’ve moved our society health wise, upstream from some of these old event horizons. So we’re no longer so close to saber tooth tigers, or wounds without antibiotics, or smoking — we’re past smoking now — and now we’re floating along in the benign realm of sitting, right?
However, we are paying a high price for our sedentary lifestyle, and that’s what this phrase is about. I was saying this in jest just a year ago after I discovered how problematic sitting in chairs was for me, for maintaining the flexibility that I wanted to maintain, and my own mobility. And part of this research was done right here at MU by a professor named Mark Hamilton. What he discovered was that if you have a sedentary work-style where you’re sitting for eight hours a day, if you commute an hour each way, there aren’t enough hours left in the day, even if you spent them all at the gym vigorously working out.
And this research here was published last summer in the Lancet. It was a meta-analysis of studies done all over the world, primarily in first-world countries, of the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle which is as high as smoking, as high as obesity. So why is this? The reason that a sedentary lifestyle is so bad for us is because we weren’t designed to be sedentary at all. And we have this internal structure called fascia. It’s really an internal 3D printing machine. We’re printing this stuff all the time. It can print sinews that are very thin, cellophane-type little packets that surround and insulate muscles and nerve endings. It can be printed as steel rods that some of us can feel running up and down our spines — really, really strong, tensile strength. And it can re-form itself as well. But we have to manage it and we have to dance with it. It loves to be masterfully led in a dance.
But if we neglect it, it’s not going to wait for us, and it will grow like kudzu. How many of you know what kudzu is? It is a vine that was brought over from Japan, and it found it really liked the southern United States. And this is what it does when left to its own devices. And just like kudzu, our fascia will take whatever shape of inactivity that we put our bodies into or leave our bodies in.
So what do we do about this? Well, the great news is that I’ve been looking for a metric to see how we can measure where we are in relation to the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and it turns out, in the last year, some research has come out of Brazil. Some researchers followed 2,000 people for six and a half years. Every time they came into the clinic, they would have them sit down on the floor, unassisted — let me get a prop. They would give them a no-stick surface and as much time as they needed to get down to the floor. Thanks. So they’d ask them, “Just sit down, however you would get down to the floor.” So they might go like this. And that’s five points. Actually, it was four points because I put one hand down. And if I can get up without any support, another five points. So you get ten points total.
If you sit down as you see here with one hand, and maybe another hand, that’s two points. And if you clunk, that’s about a half a point for any instability. And if you need to move to a knee or hand to the floor — one, two and then three — so you get the idea; it’s very easy to test yourself. Great party fun, right?
So here’s a ten-pointer. Sit down. Notice how the body is this wonderful scissor lift when it has the right geometrics and the right flexibility. And then five points coming up. So what they found was that there’s a high correlation between your score and your longevity. And for every point in either direction, it’s about a 21% increase in longevity and quality of life. If you’re under 50 — this study was done mostly on people between 50 and 80 – so you want to try to keep this score as high as you can right throughout life.
And the good news is, if you have a low score, if you get down and you have to crawl over to something to get back up again, that’s not a death knell; you can actually improve your score by improving your flexibility, particularly the flexibility in your hips. The big culprit of tightness in our hips is the amount of time we spend sitting, the amount of time we spend in chairs, and we don’t expose our fascia to the gravity — the gravitational event horizon, which I like to call Vitamin G — we are insulated from gravity too much of the time. So we need to spend more time sitting on the floor.
Here is a friend of mine — I have a studio at Orr Street Studios and he’s just a couple of doors down, this is Scott Wilson. He heard me talking about these things a while back and he was really curious, he says, “What are you talking about, this fascia, and sitting is the new smoking?” And I told him a few things and he told me his story. He was working for Verizon as a lineman for almost 20 years before they promoted him to a desk job. But as long as he was climbing up and down the poles and stringing wire, he thought nothing of ending the day and then going out and training for his Triathletes. He got promoted to a desk job, and then he started having some health problems. We all know these stories for ourselves and friends of ours. So he started having problems with his feet and his knees. He couldn’t train as long. His recovery times got larger and larger, and he was really frustrated.
When he came to me he was wearing orthotics. I showed him two stretches, and taught him about how fascia responds to stretches of long duration but low intensity and gave him some tips about how to follow the sensation and keep the sensation moving. He came back three weeks later; he’d really taken this to heart. And he said, “Look, I’m not wearing my orthotics anymore.” He used to wear these big, clunky shoes. He was just thrilled. He’d moved his issues upstream from his knees and his feet up to his hips. And even six months later, he loves taking off his shoes and showing, “Look, I’m wearing these bendy shoes.” So it’s something that you can actively do something about.
So, my challenge to you is to think about your event horizons, and not all event horizons come with clever signs. Think about people floating along the Niagara River; let’s say they’re sitting in the boat and they’re arguing, and they don’t notice that they passed the point of no return. Or maybe they’re partying too hard. I want to encourage you to think about the canaries in the coal mines of our lives. The value of a canary is that when it stops singing, that’s when you start worrying. Think about when your body stops giving you signals, that’s when you need to really start worrying.
And think about all the event horizons that we as a culture are coming toward, and when the people around you start to wake up and see that we’re starting to pass points of no return, how will you respond to them? Will you start arguing with them about why did they miss that sign back there? Or will you welcome their support in helping us to answer these challenges that we’ve got coming? So I hope that we meet again many times, well upstream, where the waters are calm, and we can make lots of choices about the direction that we’re going.