Sitting Is the New Smoking

Did You Know…health experts claim “sitting is the new smoking?”

You may not realize it, but the most dangerous activity in your entire day may very well be what you are doing right now: sitting.

According to experts, including Johanna Ralston, chief executive officer of World Heart Foundation, “sitting is the new smoking.”  The good news, however, is that even if you have a sedentary job or certain physical limitations, you can reduce the risks of sitting with simple steps that I’ll spell out shortly.  First, let’s examine the shocking health consequences of too much sitting.

The Severe Consequences of Extended Sitting 

The health harms of sitting have been grouped together under the umbrella term “sitting disease”—a term that evolved out of the research field known as “inactivity physiology,” an area of study pioneered by Marc T.  Hamilton of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Ample evidence suggests that chronic inactivity may be the wellspring from which our nation’s poor state of health originates.  Sitting for long stretches of time contributes to other problems, too, such as…

  • Back pain
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Certain types of cancer

Sitting also spikes your chances of developing cardiac issues.  “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” said Martha Grogan, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic.

Health Warning: Sitting Can be Lethal 

“Excessive sitting is a lethal activity,” Dr. James A. Levine, an endocrinologist and leading inactivity researcher from Mayo Clinic, told the New York Times.  Levine, who is also the author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot, was not exaggerating.

The American Cancer Society uncovered shocking effects of sitting with their 13-year study of 123,216 individuals (69,776 women and 53,440 men).  The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010, and it showed that:

Women who sat over 6 hours each day were 94% more likely to die during the study than those who sat less than 3 hours a day.

Men who sat over 6 hours daily were 48% more likely to die than those who stood more.

Overall, the findings were independent of physical activity levels—sitting had the same negative effect on people who exercised regularly as it did on those who were inactive.

Typing While Walking and Other Simple Ways to Stay Well 

So, what can be done to evade the consequences of sitting?  Dr. Levine invented, and advocates, the treadmill desk.  If typing while walking sounds daunting, working at a standing desk has also been shown to have a beneficial impact.

Of course, not everyone has the option to modify his or her work environment—but that’s no reason to lose hope!  You can still counteract the damage resulting from long hours logged in a chair.

Rebecca Mathis, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, advises the following steps…

Park your car further away from the entrances of buildings

Stand up and stretch at least every 30 minutes, and use a timer to remind yourself

Use stairs, not elevators

Don’t send emails if the recipient is nearby, walk over and talk face-to-face instead

You can also simply stand up and stretch every few minutes just to increase circulation and keep muscles slightly more active.  Remember that every movement you undertake during periods of sitting, no matter how micro, helps to counteract the startlingly negative effects of prolonged sitting with no movement.