Archive for May, 2010

Sitting Can Kill You

A 2003-2004 U.S. survey concluded that Americans spend more than half of their day sitting. That number may not be news, but the fact that all that sitting may actually shorten one’s life span is frightening information. Several recent studies have suggested that people who spend most of their day sitting may have shorter life spans. While the research is still in its early stages and experts have yet to determine how many hours a day is too much, it would be wise for all of us to find ways to break up long periods of sitting.

Canadian researchers published a study last year that tracked more than 17,000 people for 12 years. This study found that people who sat more had a higher risk of death, and that this was true even if they regularly exercised. In an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Jan 2010), author Elin Ekblom-Bak suggests that “after four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals” that cause the genes regulating glucose and fat in the body to shut down.

From an ergonomic and health viewpoint, the need for movement over the course of the day is not new information. Science has known that constrained seating is bad for one’s health for more than 40 years. Workers who use a fixed seated position all day experience more discomfort and chronic disorders (Graf et al, 1993, 1995). Health problems that can arise from long hours in a stationary position include arthritis, inflamed tendons, chronic joint degeneration and impaired circulation (Grandjean, 1987). As early as 1975, research indicated that workers over 35 that spend more than half their time sitting had a higher rate of herniated discs (Kelsey, 1975).

What does this mean to you? Stated quite simply, get up off your duff and move! Take mini-breaks, five minute breaks every hour or so. Change the seat angle, back angle or tilt of your chair throughout the day or better yet, leave the tilt lock off and let the chair move when you move. Use of a chair with a dynamic mechanism, such as the Humanscale Freedom Chair, Steelcase Leap, or Knoll Life Chair allow for regular position shifts without any active thought on the part of the user.

Better yet, stand part of the day. Research done by Dr. Mark Benden of Texas A&M University, suggests that standing at least two hours a day improves energy levels, productivity and can even assist in weight control. Standing two hours a day can burn up to 280 calories daily (depending on body size and other factors); over the period of a year, this can add up to a weight loss of 20 lbs.

Setting up your workstation so you can stand part of the day can be done in a number of ways. The most direct approach is to use an electric, height adjustable desk and just push your chair out of the way when you wish to work standing. Alternatively, a higher work surface can be used with a tall chair, or a standard desk can be used with a monitor arm and keyboard tray mechanism that offers enough height adjustment range to allow you to work sitting or standing.

References:

Graf, M, Guggenbuhl, U. and Krueger, H. (1993) Investigations on the effects of seat shape and slope on posture, comfort and back muscle activity. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 12 (1-2), 91-103.

Graf, M, Guggenbuhl, U. and Krueger, H. (1995) An assessment of seated activity and postures at five workplaces. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 15 (2), 81-90.

Grandjean, E. (1987). Ergonomics in computerized offices. London: Taylor and Francis. 96-156.

Kelsey J. L. (1975). An epidemiological study of the relationship between occupations and acute herniated lumbar intervertebral discs. Int J Epidemiology. 4(3): 197-205.

Sitting Can Kill You | The Human Solution.

Get Off Your Grass and Create an Edible Lawn

Americans currently spend more than thirty billion dollars, millions of gallons of gasoline, and countless hours to maintain the dream of the well kept thirty- one million acres of lawns. An estimated sixty-seven million pounds of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides are applied around homes and gardens yearly. Commercial areas such as parks, schools, playing fields, cemeteries, industrial, commercial and government landscapes, apply another 165 million pounds.

Lawn grasses are not native to the North American continent. A century ago, people would actually pull the grass out of their lawns to make room for the more useful weeds that were often incorporated into the family salad or herbal tea. It was the British aristocracy in the 1860’s and 70’s, to show off their affluence that encouraged the trend of weed-free lawns, indicating one had no need of the more common, yet useful plants. Homeowners were encouraged to cultivate lawns that would serve as examples to passersby. These types of lawns also lent themselves to the popular lawn sports, croquet and lawn tennis. From the 1880’s through 1920’s in America, front lawns ceased to produce fodder for animals, and garden space was less cultivated, promoting canned food as the “wholesome choice.” Cars replaced the family horse and chemical fertilizers replaced manure.

It has been estimated that about thirty percent of our Nation’s water supply goes to water lawns. In Dallas, Texas, watering lawns in the summer uses as much as sixty percent of the city water’s supply.

On weekends, we increase noise and gasoline consumption to mow down the grass we have worked so hard to grow. Lawn clippings are put into plastic bags and have been estimated to comprise between twenty to fifty percent of our country’s overcrowded landfills. Running a power mower for one half hour can produce as much smog as driving a car for 172 miles (E – The Environmental magazine, May/June 1992.) Bizarre customs, are they not?

The definition of a “good” lawn has come to mean, a plot of land growing a singular type of grass, kept mowed, maintaining a smooth even surface, uniform in color, with no intruding weeds. The United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Golf Association and The Garden Club of America have promoted this type of lawn. Lest a weed appear, it was to be destroyed at once. Manicured lawns have become an opportunity for rivalry between neighbors and an example of man’s domination over nature.

Pesticides are defined as any chemical designed to kill a living organism and can include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides. Pesticides enter the body via the lungs, mouth and skin. They are tracked into one’s home, and once inside can last for years. In a 1987 grant from the National Cancer Institute, it was revealed children were six times more likely to develop leukemia in households that used lawn pesticides. Children have faster metabolisms and more likely to be in the outdoors, and put their hands in their mouths, making them vulnerable.

The elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and chemical sensitivities are also at risk to having their immune systems further disrupted by exposure to lawn chemicals. A 1991 report issued by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that dogs, which lived where the lawn herbicide 2,4-D was applied more than four times yearly, were at a greater risk of developing canine malignant lymphoma.

Chemicals when sprayed, can drift to other neighbors, kill birds (who eat insects), and endanger precious water supplies. Pesticides can also reduce earthworm populations, which help aerate soil, by as much as ninety-nine percent, for up to twenty weeks. Many insects are beneficial in lawns. Ladybugs, preying mantises, and ground beetles all consume aphids, mites, mealy bugs, mosquito larvae and caterpillars. Honeybees provide valuable cross-pollination and without their help many fruits, vegetables and flowers would cease to exist. Substances designed to kill things are unlikely to be totally safe. Frolicking in one’s yard should not be a health risk to anyone.

What would happen if you stopped watering, fertilizing, pesticiding, and mowing your lawn? You would certainly have more free time. The grass would grow a bit higher or lower depending on weather conditions. And then the wild things, which are naturally adapted to be hardy, and require no special care, would grow. For two and a half years in the 1970’s, I lived in The Ozarks in a teepee, totally subsisting on all the wild edible fruits, roots, leaves and berries that was provided in the untamed wild. All without watering, fertilizing or spraying. It was a very healthy time.

We do not need to fear wild plants. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Dandelions look like rays of sunshine and have edible leaves and roots. The dreaded lambs quarter is really wild spinach and far more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. Malva and violet leaves are refreshing additions to the salad bowl. Even the prickly thistle can be dug up, its roots consumed, as Lewis and Clark once did when traveling. Purslane is one of the richest sources of heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. One should focus more on our education of “weeds” and less on eradication. It has been said that the average American recognizes over a thousand logos and the products they correspond to, yet less than five plants in their area.

A few ideas on environmental lawns:

1. Compost. Use organic fertilizers such as manure, rock dust, and wood ash. Do a soil test and find out what your land requires.

2. Choose plants that tolerate dry conditions.

3. Learn to use wild plants that are low growing, not water demanding and might even provide salad fare or herbal teas. Turn your lawn into a wildflower sanctuary specializing in sunny well-drained dry areas. Consider buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) chickweed (Stellaria media), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla species), clover (Trifolium pratense or T. repens), English daisies (Bellis perennis), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), penstemon (Penstemon species), pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), plantain (Plantago major), pussy toes (Antennaria neglecta), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetelosa), strawberries (Fragaria species), thyme (creeping, lemon and wooly) (Thymus species) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Periwinkle (Vinca species), speedwell (Veronica officinalis), uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and violet (Viola odorata), grow well in dry shade.

4. Mulch around plants, using grass clippings, shredded hardwood, dry leaves or wood chips to retain moisture.

5. Group together plants that require similar amounts of water. Use a drip system or soaker hose that waters a plant’s roots, rather than sprinkles the air. Frequent watering encourages shallow roots. Water in the early morning before the sun is hot, to give the plants more benefits. Watering during the heat of the day is wasteful, as the water quickly dries.

6. Collect water from washing vegetables. Recycle rainwater. An ancient Hindu proverb says, “If you have water to throw away, throw it on a plant.”

7. Don’t water, don’t fertilize and in many cases you won’t need to mow. Let the wild things grow and learn to use them. Learn to eat dandelion, malva, purslane and violet.

8. If you do mow, keep the mower’s height around three inches, or the highest setting. Have sharp blades. The taller the lawn, the more drought resistant it will be. Tall grass shades the soil and helps keep it moist.

9. Use a non-gasoline push mower. (Less noise and pollution). Leave clippings on the ground as mulch and fertilizer.

10. Use an organic landscape service. Find out what products they are using and tell them you want to look at the labels.

11. Boycott places of business that use lawn pesticides. Write them a letter and tell them why you are no longer giving them your business.

12. Those that live in condominiums and apartments can organize the neighborhood to create edible landscaping and community gardens. Let the maintenance managers know you would rather have a few weeds than be subjected to sprays.

A healthier environment begins with you. Businesses including parks, schools and industries need to set a better example and not buy into the harmful hype about a chemicalized lawn. Make all your actions conscious of conserving, nurturing and honoring the earth. Resist conformity and allow your ecological lawn to flourish, and flower, celebrating life and diversity!

via Get Off Your Grass and Create an Edible Lawn | Care2 Healthy & Green Living.

How to choose a water bottle: Go with glass

Plastic water bottles? SO last millennium. Stainless steel? Better, but early on some were found to have traces of unhealthy BPA. The next wave in safe beverage containers: glass beverage bottles from Lifefactory, an eco-conscious manufacturer. Covered with a grippy, completely nontoxic silicone sleeve and incredibly durable (I tested it out by dropping mine from about 4 feet up), these glass bottles are BPA-free, phthalate-free, and PVC-free, and have a wide opening, great for adding ice, citrus slices, tea bags, or whatever. And check out the fun colors! Another bonus: The whole thing can go straight into the dishwasher. Lifefactory already makes a glass baby-bottle version, too, and now these adult-size bottles are getting good buzz. Get one for yourself and a friend to stay hydrated this summer.

via Delicious Living Blogs » How to choose a water bottle: Go with glass.

Planting a Three sisters garden – corn, beans, and squash together

I love the idea of planting things together that actually benefit each other naturally. Let’s get back to some Native American traditions. They had it right the first time! 🙂