Exercise may be bad for you. Hard to get past that headline in yesterday’s New York Times. Compound that idea by being in attendance at the annual American College of Sports Medicine Meeting (ACSM) where over 5,000 researchers, professors, and students all tout the benefits of exercise and I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance. More on this in a bit, we have more pressing (and fun) matters to discuss.
Yesterday the ACSM conference opened with hundreds of sessions and presentations to chose from. Over 1,000 where in attendance for a keynote lecture on physical activity and bone health. Fascinating. When I walked into the hall there were rows and rows and rows of chairs as you’d expect. The speaker was at one distant end while three large screens dotted the front of the hall. As I sat down I noticed a large gap in the rows of chairs as if the people arranging the hall had simply run out. I paid it no mind. Each session I walked into, whether a large hall or smaller room, had this gap. “They don’t know how to set up a room here in San Francisco,” I thought to myself.
Could I have been more obtuse and defined the stereotype I so loudly rail against?
Into an an afternoon session I went, this time a smaller room. Again the gap was there, so I decided to stand. Get that? I decided to stand. Actually, my decision was made for me as the chairs were full. “I think it’s great they gave people places to stand at each session,” I heard the person standing next to me say.” I simply paused, looked down at my feet and giggled. Engaging my standing friend in a conversation I soon discovered that the ACSM planned it this way, to have standing room available at every session. Brilliant. Wow, did I feel silly.
I have a standing desk at work, I exercise regularly, and I tout the benefits of standing at every turn with my students and anyone who will listen. Sitting is bad. Yet when I walk into a conference, a conference on health, fitness, and exercise no less, my habit is to walk into a room and find a chair. And to mutter complaints under my breath when I am forced to stand against the back wall because everyone has taken an aisle seat and I don’t want to fall over them to get to the oodles of empty middle seats. Here is ACSM practicing what they preach! Stand up during a session! Get off your butts! Yes! This is why I giggled, I was so focused on my habit that I didn’t see the change in seating arrangements as planned. For someone who spends a lot of time thinking about built environments and how they influence behavior, I had to giggle.
I giggled even more when I watched others come into the sessions to discover no more chairs. Now that I was I in the know I could act superior to those not yet enlightened. The last session of the day for me was a discussion of core assessment for runners. As people filtered in and the seats filled, the gap was a desert. No one would venture to the land that chairs forgot. Then, one brave soul did it. He walked into no man’s land. And sat down. On the ground. Within two minutes the entire empty space was full. Of people sitting. On the ground. Some complaining about it. I wonder how many people will sit on the ground for the sessions involving inactivity and the dangers of sitting? We exercise folk aren’t the brightest bulbs.
My guess is that some people will now fall back to the article that’s mentioned at the top of this post and say “I sit because exercise is bad.” Some new research, it seems, has found that about seven percent of the population that exercise experiences an adverse response to a marker of heart disease (i.e., insulin levels, HDL cholesterol, etc). Claude Bouchard and William Haskell are luminaries in our field, as are others quoted in this article. I’m not questioning their science. However, I bet both Dr. Bouchard and Dr. Haskell are bothered by the title of the article. Catchy though, isn’t it? They are here at the conference maybe I will track them down.
One suggestion from the article intrigues me. “If we are going to think of exercise as a therapeutic intervention, like all interventions there will be adverse effects,” he (Dr. Michael Lauer) said. Point well taken. I had never thought of this this way and my guess is many at this conference haven’t thought that way. There are some risks to exercise and they are still being ferreted out.
Conferences such as the ACSM meeting always make me think. They rev me up, charge me with new information and insights. I’ll share more in the coming days.
Stand up and go exercise.