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'Body Electric': Side effects of technology, such as sitting, are hard on our posture

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Everywhere we go, there's a common sight - people are hunched over their phones or slumped in their chair, typing away at a laptop. Maybe this is you. In fact, I'm pretty much sure it's you because it's me, and it's everyone else. TED Radio Hour host Manoush Zomorodi has been joining us every week to talk about her special NPR series, Body Electric, which looks at the relationship between our technology and our health. And today, she's here to talk about what our bad posture from all that sitting, typing and tapping is really doing to us. Manoush, tell us what you found.

MANOUSH ZOMORODI, BYLINE: OK. So A, yes, slouching and hunching will give you tight muscles, maybe a lower backache. But also, the position that we put our bodies in when we're on our devices can help explain why we often feel so stressed out and drained at the end of the day. I talked to Peter Strick, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. And a few years back, he was feeling very stressed out, and his kids suggested that he do yoga or Pilates to relieve some of his stress. And here's what he thought about that idea.

PETER STRICK: I thought they were nuts. I didn't think that there was any really objective data that suggested that yoga and Pilates have any real impact on stress.

ZOMORODI: Actually, A, Peter is a leading expert on the relationship between the brain and movement. So A, quick anatomy lesson - when we get stressed, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. So the adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys - which, if you put your hands around your waist, they're kind of there in your back, in your midsection. And until recently, scientists didn't think that the muscles around there - our core muscles - were involved with how the brain and these organs communicate. But Peter also happens to be the inventor of a method that can trace the signals that get sent between our brain and our muscles, and he discovered that those core muscles and the brain and the adrenal glands were all talking to each other.

STRICK: The muscles that control posture - our core muscles - have an impact on an organ that is involved in stress. That was sort of a wake-up call for me that I'd better do something about working on my core.

MARTÍNEZ: You know how many times, Manoush, I've been sitting up straight during our conversation? I've been doing it, like, 5 or 6 times already.

ZOMORODI: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: And I want to check in on how the study you were doing with listeners and Columbia University Medical Center is going. So tell us about that.

ZOMORODI: Yeah. Quick reminder - in the lab, researchers at Columbia have found that if you mostly sit all day, doing regular five-minute movement breaks every half hour is the best way to keep that lifestyle from causing all kinds of health problems. But we wanted to find out - are all those interruptions even possible in our screen-filled lives? Over 20,000 NPR listeners signed up to give it a try, and here's how some of them have told us it's going.

UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER #1: On the days when I got up and walked around, I had pretty consistent energy throughout the day. On the days when I didn't get up and walk around, I could feel my brain tightening, my anxiety increasing.

UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER #2: I wish it was easier to take care of my body without, then, simultaneously being late to respond to an email.

UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER #3: How can I work in five minutes of walking while driving?

UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER #4: I truly believe that this change of a lifestyle is hopefully a game-changer for me.

MARTÍNEZ: I could feel the stress in their voices...

ZOMORODI: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: ...So I'm glad you're doing this - everything that you're doing, Manoush.

ZOMORODI: Aw (ph), thanks.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Manoush Zomorodi, host of NPR's TED Radio Hour and also a special series, Body Electric. To hear more about what our technology is doing to our posture and other parts of our bodies, just go to the TED Radio Hour podcast feed or npr.org/bodyelectric.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Manoush Zomorodi
Manoush Zomorodi is the host of TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, and her work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity.