Wellness Team encourages university community to get moving


February 28, 2012

The evidence is substantial – sitting all day is detrimental to your health.

Consider these statistics: Download Full Image

• According to a recent American Cancer Society study, women who sat six or more hours a day have a 37 percent higher risk of death than those who sat fewer than three hours daily. The rate for men was 18 percent higher than those with a more active lifestyle.

• Another study from Australia published by the journal Circulation found that there is an 11 percent increased risk of dying for each hour of television watched per day, suggesting that there may be a connection between sedentary lifestyle and several indicators of cancer risk such as body weight, inflammation and insulin resistance.

• American workers have become increasingly sedentary with jobs requiring moderate physical activity falling to just 20 percent currently from about 50 percent in 1960, according to the journal PLoS One.

Battling the bulge and risk to health that results from too much inactivity is a primary goal of the Arizona State University Wellness Team, made up of personnel from throughout the university who work on initiatives to boost employee health. The team’s work is in line with the mission of ASU’s academic and research initiatives to bring about new healthcare models by moving to positive lifestyle choices.

Recent initiatives include encouraging NEAT activities that can counter the effects of sitting for hours on end. NEAT is a term coined by Mayo researcher James Levine for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” or simply moving about in daily life without undergoing a major aerobic workout.

Walking workstations have been set up in some university departments to enable employees to be more active while doing their jobs. Employees set their speed up to 2 miles an hour on a treadmill and can adjust the desktop to a comfortable height while they work and walk.

“Standing burns twice as many calories as sitting, and walking burns even more,” said Terri Shafer, associate vice president of Marketing and Strategic Communications in the Office of Public Affairs and a member of the University Wellness Team. “Answering email or doing other computer- or phone-based work for just two hours a day on a walking workstation goes a long way in offsetting the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.”

Shafer lost 15 pounds last year by changing her diet and boosting activities such as taking the stairs and using the walking workstation most days a week. She has noticed an increase in energy and productivity since becoming more active throughout her work day.

Encouraging people to move more at work is relatively easy and straightforward when employees incorporate practices such as going to a co-workers desk to talk rather than sending an email, holding meetings standing up, using exercise balls instead of chairs and taking theraband (rubber pieces used for resistance training) stretching breaks, said Jillian McManus, ASU director of Organizational Health and Development.

“Therabands can literally fit in your purse or desk drawer,” McManus said. “It allows you to do resistance training in five minutes right at your desk.”

Part of the challenge of creating a fit workforce lies in changing the culture of a workplace into one that doesn’t sit around. McManus suggests having walking meetings, making sure you have a pair of sneakers under your desk so walking is more comfortable and walking to meetings or appointments instead of taking a cart or driving.

“Every step counts,” McManus said. “There is a large amount of research that shows that activity has tremendous effects on health regardless of weight.”

Improving cardiovascular health and reducing risk factors for chronic conditions – diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression – are a few of the benefits of moving more, she added.

“Several conditions have co-morbid tendencies such as obesity and heart disease or depression and diabetes,” McManus said. “An effective intervention for all of these chronic conditions is exercise. It can have a profound impact with very few negative side effects.”

Taking the time to invest in your health becomes increasingly urgent when one takes into account the rise in obesity rates that have skyrocketed in recent years.

“The obesity trend is incredibly alarming. The majority of people in the United States will meet the criteria for obesity in the near future,” McManus said.

People who do start making activity part of their routine should see an increase in productivity, decrease sick time and lessen or reverse their chances of developing chronic conditions. And, it’s often a good idea to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, she added. 

ASU astrophysicist part of team that has discovered solid buckyballs in space


February 28, 2012

Sumner Starrfield, Regents’ Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, is part of an international team that has, for the first time, discovered buckyballs in a solid form in space. Prior to this discovery, the microscopic carbon spheres had been found only in gas form in the cosmos.

Formally named buckminsterfullerene, buckyballs are named after their resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. They are made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged into a hollow sphere, like a soccer ball. Space buckyballs Download Full Image

In the latest discovery, scientists used data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to detect tiny particles consisting of stacked buckyballs. They found the particles around a pair of stars called “XX Ophiuchi” that are 6,500 light-years from Earth, and detected enough to fill the equivalent in volume to 10,000 Mount Everests.

“These buckyballs are stacked together to form a solid, like oranges in a crate,” said Nye Evans of Keele University in England, lead author of a paper appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The particles we detected are minuscule, far smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of buckyballs.”

Buckyballs were detected definitively in space for the first time by Spitzer in 2010. Spitzer later identified the molecules in a host of different cosmic environments. It even found them in staggering quantities, the equivalent in mass to 15 Earth moons, in a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud.

In all of those cases, the molecules were in the form of gas. The recent discovery of buckyballs particles means that large quantities of these molecules must be present in some stellar environments in order to link up and form solid particles. The research team was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form.

Starrfield, who has been using Spitzer to obtain infrared spectra of a number of recent stars, including XX Ophiuchi, was involved in writing the proposal to conduct the observations with Spitzer. He also was involved in analyzing and interpreting the data. The team chose XX Ophiuchi because it was already known to be a puzzling system of stars. Although the researchers did not expect to find buckyballs, they performed an extremely careful analysis of the light emitted by this stellar system and were on the alert for any unusual signals.

Starrfield has been using Spitzer because “its infrared detectors are superb for studying cold objects in the universe, much colder than our own Sun. We had known that buckyball molecules had been discovered around a few other stars but never expected to find them collected together in small particles.” According to Starrfield, “We have now identified features in the infrared that convince us that solid buckyball particles exist. Astronomers can now search for these same features in other stars that emit infrared light and hopefully find a lot of these particles.”

Buckyballs have been found on Earth in various forms. They form as a gas from burning candles and exist as solids in certain types of rock, such as the mineral shungite found in Russia, and fulgurite, a glassy rock from Colorado that forms when lightning strikes the ground. In a test tube, the solids take on the form of dark, brown “goo.”

“Buckyballs were studied by Sumio Ijima, a solid state physicist in Japan who was actually at ASU from 1970 to 1982,” says Starrfield. “So, we were pleased to continue his studies in space. They have been under continuous study for decades with possible uses in drug delivery and armor.”

“The window Spitzer provides into the infrared universe has revealed beautiful structure on a cosmic scale,” said Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In yet another surprise discovery from the mission, we’re lucky enough to see elegant structure at one of the smallest scales, teaching us about the internal architecture of existence.”

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration