Monica Almendras and Erik Peper
Adapted from: Almendras, M. & Peper, E. (2021). Reactivate your second heart. Biofeedback, 49(4), 99-102. https://doi.org/10.5298/1081-5937-49.04.07
Have you ever wondered why after driving long distances or sitting in a plane for hours your feet and lower leg are slightly swollen (Hitosugi, Niwa, & Takatsu, 2000)? It is the same process by which soldiers standing in attention sometimes faint or why salespeople or cashiers, especially those who predominantly stand most of the day, have higher risk of developing varicose veins. By the end of the day, they feel that their legs being heavy and tired? In the vertical position, gravity is the constant downward force that pools venous blood and lymph fluid in the legs. The pooling of the blood and reduced circulation is a contributing factor why airplane flights of four or more hours increases the risk for developing blood clots-deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (Scurr, 2002; Kuipers et al., 2007). When blood clots reaches the lung, they can cause a pulmonary embolisms that can be fatal. In other cases, they may even travel to the brain and cause strokes.
Sitting without moving the leg muscles puts additional stress on your heart, as the blood and lymph pools in the legs. Tightening and relaxing the calf muscles can prevent the pooling of the blood. The inactivity of your calf muscles does not allow the blood to flow upwards. The episodic contractions of the calf muscles squeezes the veins and pumps the venous blood upward towards the heart as illustrated in figure 1. Therefore, it is important to stand, move, and walk so that your calf muscle can act as a second heart (Prevosti, April 16, 2020).
Figure 1. Your calf muscles are your second heart! The body is engineered so that when you walk, the calf muscles pump venous blood back toward your heart. Reproduced by permission from Dr. Louis Prevosti of the Center for Vein Restoration (https://veinatlanta.com/your-second-heart/).
If you stand too long and experienced slight swelling of the legs, raise your feet slightly higher than the head, to help drain the fluids out of the legs. Another way to reduce pooling of fluids and prevent blood clots and edema is to wear elastic stockings or wrap the legs with intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices that periodically compresses the leg (Zhao et al., 2014). You can also do this by performing foot rotations or other leg and feet exercises. The more the muscle of the legs and feet contract and relax, the more are the veins episodically compressed which increases venous blood return. Yet in our quest for efficiency and working in front of screens, we tend to sit for long time-periods.
Developing sitting disease
Have you noticed how much of the time you sit during the day? We sit while studying, working, socializing and entertaining in front of screens. This sedentary behavior has significantly increased during the pandemic (Zheng et al, 2010). Today, we do not need to get up because we call on Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google’s Hey Google to control timers, answer queries, turn on the lights, fan, TV, and other home devices. Everything is at our fingertips and we have finally become The Jetsons without the flying cars (an American animated sitcom aired in the 1960s). There is no need to get up from our seat to do an activity. Everything can be controlled from the palm of our hand with a mobile phone app.
With the pandemic, our activities involve sitting down with minimum or no movement at all. We freeze our body’s position in a scrunch–a turtle position–and then we wonder why we get neck, shoulder, and back pains–a process also observed in young adults or children. Instead of going outside to play, young people sit in front of screens. The more we sit and watch screens, the poorer is our mental and physical health (Smith et al., 2020; Matthews et al., 2012). We are meant to move instead of sitting in a single position for eight or more hours while fixating our attention on a screen.
The visual stimuli on screen captures our attention, whether it is data entry, email, social media, or streaming videos (Peper, Harvey & Faass, 2020). While at the computer, we often hold up our index finger on the mouse and wait with baited breath to react. Holding this position and waiting to click may look harmless; however, our right shoulder is often elevated and raised upward towards our ear. This bracing pattern is covert and contributes to the development of discomfort. The moment your muscles tighten, the blood flow through the muscle is reduced (Peper, Harvey, & Tylova, 2006). Muscles are most efficient when they alternately tighten and relax. It is no wonder that our body starts to scream for help when feeling pain or discomfort on our neck, shoulders, back and eyes.
Figure 2a and 2b Move instead of sit (photos source: Canva.com).
The importance of tightening and then relaxing muscles is illustrated during walking. During the swing phase of walking, the hip flexor muscles relax, tighten, relax again, tighten again, and this is repeated until the destination is reached. It is important to relax the muscles episodically for blood flow to bring nutrients to the tissue and remove the waste product. Most people can walk for hours; however, they can only lift their foot from the floor (raise their leg up for a few minutes) till discomfort occurs.
Movement is what we need to do and play is a great way to do it. Dr. Joan Vernikos (2016) who conducted seminal studies in space medicine and inactivity physiology investigated why astronauts rapidly aged in space and lost muscle mass, bone density and developed a compromised immune system. As we get older, we are hooked on sitting, and this includes the weekends too. If you are wondering how to separate from your seat, there are ways to overcome this. In the research to prevent the deterioration caused by simulating the low gravity experience of astronauts, Dr. Joan Vernikos (2021) had earthbound volunteers lie down with the head slightly lower than the feet on a titled bed. She found that standing up from lying down every 30-minutes was enough to prevent the deterioration of inactivity, standing every hour was not enough to reverse the degeneration. Standing stimulated the baroreceptors in the neck and activated a cardiovascular response for optimal health (Vernikos, 2021).
We have forgotten something from our evolutionary background and childhood, which is to play and move around. When children move around, wiggle, and contort themselves in different positions, they maintain and increase their flexibility. Children can jump and move their arms up, down, side to side, forward, and backward. They do this every day, including the weekends.
When was the last time you played with a child or like a child? As an adult, we might feel tired to play with a child and it can be exhausting after staring at the screen all day. Instead of thinking of being tired to play with your child, consider it as a good workout. Then you and your child bond and hopefully they will also be ready for a nap. For you, not only do you move around and wake up those muscles that have not worked all day, you also relax the tight muscles, stretch and move your joints. Do playful activities that causes the body to move in unpredictable fun ways such as throwing a ball or roleplaying being a different animal. It will make both of you smile–smiling helps relaxation and rejuvenates your energy.
It is not how much exercise you do, it is how long you sit. The longer you sit without activating your second heart the more are you at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes independent of how much exercise you do (Bailey et al., 2019).
Use it or lose it! Activate your calves!
- Interrupt sitting at your desk/computer every 30-minutes by getting up and walking around.
- Stand up and walk around when using your phone.
- Organize walking meetings instead of sitting around a table.
- Invest in a sit-stand desk while working at the computer. While working, alternate positions. There should be a balance between standing and sitting, because too much of one can lead to problems. By taking a short standing up break to let your blood pump back to the heart is beneficial to avoid health problems. Exercise alone, a fancy new ergonomic chair or expensive equipment is not enough to be healthy, it is important to add those mini breaks in between (Buckley et al, 2015).
For a holistic perspective to stay healthy while working with computers and cellphones, see the comprehensive book by Peper, Harvey and Faass (2020), TechStress: How Technology is Hijacking Our Lives, Strategies for Coping, and Pragmatic Ergonomics.
Bailey, D.P., Hewson, D.J., Champion, R.B., & Sayegh, S.M. (2019). Sitting Time and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 57(3), 408-416.
Buckley, J.P., Hedge, A., Yates, T., et al. (2015). The sedentary office: an expert statement on the growing case for change towards better health and productivity British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49, 1357-1362.
Kuipers, S., Cannegieter, S.C., Middeldorp, S., Robyn, L., Büller, H.R., & Rosendaal, F.R. (2007) The Absolute Risk of Venous Thrombosis after Air Travel: A Cohort Study of 8,755 Employees of International Organisations, PLoS Med 4(9): e290.
Smith, L., Jacob, L., Trott, M., Yakkundi, A., Butler, L., Barnett, Y., Armstrong, N. C., McDermott, D., Schuch, F., Meyer, J., López-Bueno, R., Sánchez, G., Bradley, D., & Tully, M. A. (2020). The association between screen time and mental health during COVID-19: A cross sectional study. Psychiatry research, 292, 113333.
Vernikos, J. (2021, February 25). Much ado about standing. Virtual Ergonomic Summit. American Posture Institute. https://api.americanpostureinstitute.com/virtual-ergonomics-summit-free-ticket?r_done=1
Zhao, J.M., He, M.L., Xiao, Z.M., Li, T.S., Wu, H., & Jiang, H. (2014). Different types of intermittent pneumatic compression devices for preventing venous thromboembolism in patients after total hip replacement. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 12. Art. No.: CD009543.
Zheng, C., Huang, W.Y., Sheridan, S., Sit, C.H.-P., Chen, X.-K., Wong, S.H.-S. (2020). COVID-19 Pandemic Brings a Sedentary Lifestyle in Young Adults: A Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 17, 6035.
 We even wonder if excessive sitting during the COVID-19 pandemic is a hidden risk factor of the rare negative side effects of blood clots in the brain, that can occur with the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccine (Mahase, 2021).
A couple of customers reported that they could eat our baguette even though they were gluten intolerant. –Clerk at a bakery that sells organic baguettes
When I was a little boy, allergies almost never occurred. I remember only one boy in our class of 38 who had asthma and allergies. –71 year old male
Fruit flies fed on organic raisins, bananas, soy, and potatoes, lived significantly longer, had much higher fertility and survived longer after starvation than those fed non-organic foods. —From Chhabraet al, 2013). For more detail see: Live longer-Enhance fertility and increase stress resistance-Eat organic foods.
After a year of practicing stress management and changing to a totally organic food diet, to my own surprise my nut allergy totally disappeared. –-25 young woman (Peper, 2015).
Many people report being allergic to gluten, nuts, cat hair, etc, or have hay fever or some form of autoimmune disorder. In our 2014 survey 36% of 264 students at an urban university (average age 24.5 years) reported having allergies (Peper and Del Dosso, 2015 unpublished). Over the last forty years more and more people are reporting allergies. Allergies are often dismissed because they are not a serious—just uncomfortable and may limit what you eat or where you visit (e.g., I can’t eat a morning bun or I can’t visit my aunt because she has a cat). In rare cases it may trigger life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). By injecting a single dose of epinephrine using an EpiPen,® it helps the body override the allergic reaction for a short period of time. This allows people who are suffering anaphylaxis some time to get emergency care. Epinephrine does NOT resolve allergic reaction. Other drugs, such as antihistamine and steroids, are required to suppress the reaction while the body metabolizes the allergen. This usually takes many hours and people typically have to stay in the hospital for 8-24 hours to be monitored for their safety.
Allergies and autoimmune illnesses have become so common that we forget that they may be markers of immune incompetence and may affect the ability of the body to optimize health. The increase in allergies is an early indicator that something harmful is affecting the body. People who have allergies, autoimmune illnesses, diabetes or other disorders are possibly the “canaries in the coal mine” for the rest of the population. In earlier times before carbon monoxide and other poisonous gasses could be measured with instruments, miner used a canary as a poisonous gas meter. If the canary died, the miners would exit the mine before they would die of the poisonous gasses.
There are many factors that contribute to the radical increase in asthma, rhinitis, allergies, Type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders. These include excessive hygiene, lack of breast feeding and introducing foreign foods too early in the first year of a baby’s life, ingestion of acetaminophen (Tylenol) by the pregnant mother and during the first year of baby’s life, low Omega 3 levels during pregnancy, increased exposure to plastics and other endocrine disruptors, stress, etc. Many of these factors are outside of our control; however, diet and the ingestion of residual herbicides and pesticides in food appear to be a major risk factors.
In the last thirty years there has been a radical change in our diet. The food may look and even taste the same, yet it is totally different. Almost all grains, corn, soy, processed foods, and meats contain low levels of Monsanta’s herbicide Roundup® and other herbicides and pesticides. Almost all grain, corn, soy and cotton are now genetically modified crops and herbicide tolerant to Roundup®.
Roundup® was first introduced in 1974 by Monsanto and is the most widely used herbicide for farm and urban use. The active ingredient is glyphosate with numerous other inert ingredients which may also be harmful to humans. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat has been treated with herbicides. It is also used on rice, seeds, alfalfa, dried beans and peas, sugar cane and sweet potatoes (Swanson et al, 2014). As Roundup® and equivalent herbicides are used more and more, numerous illnesses including food allergies have increased. For the correlation between celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and glyphosate use see Figure 1.
Figure 1. The correlation between increase in celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and increase of the use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) on the genetically modified grain (From: Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. 2013).
Presently, more than 95% of all grain, corn and soy as well as cotton is genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Adoption of GE crops in US to which glyphosate is applied. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.
In the USA glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide and about 250 million pounds are applied to U.S farms and even lawns every year. In addition, the common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup® several days prior to harvesting. This allow crops to dry down for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest (Swanson et al, 2014; Sarah, 2014). Glyphosate and the many other herbicides and pesticides are in our food, animal fodder and thus in the meat, clothing, water supply and even air. Almost all human and animal food now contains low levels of glyphosate and its inert but poisonous additional ingredients which may impact our health.
The increased application of glyphosate with the increase of chronic diseases over the last 35 years correlates highly (great than 0.9) and is highly significant for obesity (R=0.96), diabetes (R=0.98), end stage renal disease death (R=0.97), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (R=0.94), death due to intestinal infection (R=0.97), autism in children (6-21 years) (R=0.99), deaths from senile dementia (R=0.99), and death from Alzheimer’s (R=0.93). Figure 3 and 4 shows the relationship between diabetes, autism and glyphosate.
Figure 3. Correlation between age-adjusted diabetes prevalence and glyphosate applications and percentage of US corn and soy crops that are genetically engineered. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.
Figure 4. Correlation between children with autism and glyphosate applications. Reproduce with permission from: Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.
Correlations are not proof and similar correlations could be plotted between these illnesses and increased production of plastics, intake of high fructose corn syrup, computer use, cell phone use, antidepressant and ADHD medications. Correlations may suggest relationships that should be investigated.
Correlations may suggest possible relationship which should be investigated. It is very difficult to investigate the correlation because most people unknowingly have ingested glyphosate. When using naturalistic observations such as comparing people who eat organic versus non-organic foods, there are many other variables that could account for the differences.
Roundup® residues in food is harmful is from a biological perspective. The purpose of using glyphosate and its inert ingredients is to act as a herbicide and biocide to suppress weed growth and act as a drying agent to improve harvest. As human beings are biological organisms, glyphosate affects our cellular metabolism and especially our bacteria that live in our gut and are necessary for our health. As Samsel & Seneff, (2013) point out, ‘it kills the beneficial bacteria in our gut, leading to the steep rise in intestinal diseases.’ Specifically, Shehata et all (2012) found that “highly pathogenic bacteria as Salmonella Entritidis, Salmonella Gallinarum, Salmonella Typhimurium, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum are highly resistant to glyphosate. However, most of beneficial bacteria such as Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus badius, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Lacto-bacillus spp. were found to be moderate to highly susceptible” (Swanson et al, 2014).
Given the very strong correlations of increased disease with increased use of Roundup®, the demonstrated evidence that glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria balance, cellular metabolic processes, kills human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, and acts as endocrine disrupters, the recent decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), I strongly recommend avoiding glyphosate and other types of herbicide and pesticide contaminated foods. Use the precautionary principle and eat only organic foods.
If the radical increase of allergy and immune incompetence is linked to low level chronic exposure to glyphosate, than avoiding glyphosate and other pesticide and herbicide laced foods may reverse the allergy and immune incompetence. When people adapt an holistic lifestyle which includes stress management and eating organic foods, some report that their immune system became more competent and their allergies disappeared. For example, a 25 year old young woman who successfully reversed cervical dysplasia and eliminated high strains of HPV (her last Paps were normal and the HPV was gone) also found that her nut allergy disappeared (Peper, 2015). As she stated, “I was able to rid myself of a nut allergy that I developed when I was 19. I frequently had trouble breathing therefore I went to an allergist and they told me I had a nut allergy to peanuts (4 out of 4) and tree nuts (2 out of 4). This past July, knowing how truly healthy I had become and after noticing a little to no reaction when I accidentally consumed a nut, I decided to go back to the allergist. I got the test done, and no signs of a nut allergy came up. I believe it was due to this lifestyle change.”
In summary eat only organic foods when possible and follow the wisdom of numerous countries that have banned the use of Roundup®. This year, the Netherlands followed Russia, Tasmania, and Mexico to ban Roundup®. To understand more of the hidden dangers in our food supply from genetic engineering, herbicides and pesticides watch the following impressive videos by Robyn O’Brien presented at TEDxAustin 2011 and MIT researcher Dr. Stephanie Seneff describing in detail the politics and the harmful physiological impact of glyphosate.
Chhabra R, Kolli S & Bauer JH (2013). Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988
Peper, E. (2015). Thinking out of the box with biofeedback for the treatment of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, vulvodynia, and CIN III carcinoma in situ cervical dysplasia. Paper accepted for the 46th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Austin, Texas, March 11 – 14, 2015.
Peper, E. & Del Dosso, A. (2015 unpublished). Skipping breakfast a risk for blanking out on exams.
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary toxicology, 6(4), 159-184.
Sarah (2014). The real reason wheat is toxic (it’s not the gluten). The Healthy Home Economist, November 13, 2014. Retrieved January 10, 2015 http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/real-reason-for-toxic-wheat-its-not-gluten/
Saw, L., Shumway, J., & Ruckart, P. (2011). Surveillance Data on Pesticide and Agricultural Chemical Releases and Associated Public Health Consequences in Selected US States, 2003–2007. Journal of medical toxicology, 7(2), 164-171. http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/604/art%253A10.1007%252Fs13181-011-0152-8.pdf?auth66=1421018047_4db65b4e5f0e0349a608560a6c1392e7&ext=.pdf
Shehata, A. A., Schrödl, W., Aldin, A. A., Hafez, H. M., & Krüger, M. (2013). The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro. Current microbiology, 66(4), 350-358.
Swanson, N. L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37. http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/92/JOS_Volume-9_Number-2_Nov_2014-Swanson-et-al.pdf