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Really, Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Like many of you, I find most of my daily activities require me to be sitting. I sit in front of a computer screen most of the day, drive my kids to school and their various activities, sit down for meals, and sit to read or watch TV. Sound familiar? All this sitting isn’t good—and personally, it’s my biggest health issue. I love what I do, but it does come with this downside, and it makes me wonder whether sitting is the new smoking.

My profession doesn’t require a ton of athleticism—so I’m constantly trying to squeeze in some form of physical activity throughout the day. I know I’m not alone—and over time, I know all this sitting can really take a toll on one’s health.

Who Coined the Phrase “Sitting is the New Smoking”?

man sitting on a bench
(Photo Credit: LA Times)

The sensational headlines about “Sitting being the New Smoking” can be credited to Dr. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, who made this statement during an interview with the LA Times. “The chair is going to kill us,” he said. This idea stems from numerous studies that conclude sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, makes the body less sensitive to insulin, slows down your metabolism, slows down the breakdown of bad fats in the blood, and lowers good cholesterol levels. It’s estimated that we sit an average of 9.3 hours per day—even more than we spend sleeping. Some scientists believe that anyone sitting more than 6 hours a day is at a heightened risk of developing health problems and that this much continuous sitting, may be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk All Day

Even if you plan an hour of exercise daily, it can’t negate the marathon periods of sitting for long lengths of time. Some movement is better than none—but it’s important to spread it out throughout the day. Katy Bowman, a scientist and author of the book “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement” told Reuters, “You cannot offset 10 hours of stillness with 1 hour of exercise.” She goes on to explain that prolonged periods of sitting change your metabolism. “Metabolism slows down 90% after just 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off and after 2 hours, your good cholesterol levels go down 20%.” Just getting up and moving around for 5 minutes is going to get things moving and get the blood pumping again.

man sitting at a desk, using his laptop
Side effects of sitting all day. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

What can you do to counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

Luckily, you just need to get up and move more throughout the day.  Our bodies were not designed for being sedentary; they were designed to move. My wise late father-in-law who lived into his nineties once said “You got to move to keep moving,” as he left for his daily walk. Studies have shown that people who naturally fidget, are less prone to the harmful effects of sitting too long, simply because they just can’t sit still for long periods of time. Pay attention to how a toddler moves, and you’ll see how they get these quick bursts of energy, followed by some downtime—and you’ll see how they repeat that cycle throughout the day. As we age, the constant sitting becomes more of a problem. Take a lesson from the young ones—and incorporate cycles of movement into your daily routine. Do this, and you will counter the effects of sitting as the new smoking.

Standing Desk Benefits

Instead of sitting, a standing desk gives you the option to work from a more active position. This helps to lower the risk of weight gain and reduce the chance of developing back pain. By incorporating movement into your daily routine, you can counteract the health risks that come with sitting for extended periods of time.

Easy things to do to offset the dangers of sitting:

  • Make some rules. If you’re on a call, for instance, stand up and pace. 
  • Set an alarm and make a commitment to get up every 30 minutes to simply move around.
  • Always take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park in the furthest spot so you get a little walk before you enter a building.
  • Fold your laundry while standing up—while playing catch-up on a show.
  • When reading, get up and move after each chapter or article.
  • Schedule “Walk & Talk” meetings at work.
  • During TV commercials, use that time to tidy-up the house.
  • Print your documents out on a printer that’s a bit further away.
  • Meet your friends for walks or workouts instead of happy hour.
  • Don’t sit on the bench at the park; get up and play with your kids.
  • Walk to your coworker’s desk instead of calling or emailing them.
  • Stop asking your family members to grab this or that; get up and get it yourself.
  • Cook more at home.
  • Walk away from your desk and get a glass of water often.
Tips to Sit Less and Move More

Sitting is the New Smoking, But You Can Counter the Effects

As you can see, there are many ways to sneak in some movement throughout your day. Even if your coworkers think you might be a little strange by being so fidgety, it’s well worth the health benefits. Over time, all this additional movement will become second nature, and your body will reap the benefits.

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