Is Sitting the New Smoking?


I’ve got your attention now, don’t I?  We all know that smoking is terrible for us. Studies show direct connections with cancer and early death, and for obvious reasons.  So why in the world would I dare ask if sitting is the new smoking?  Surely sitting seems like a plate of veggies in terms of health when compared with smoking!

Truth is, sitting is just as bad for you as smoking.  In fact, it might actually be worse.

In this day and age there are so many people that pride themselves over their big time office job, where they make the big bucks by working long hours and being fully dedicated to their work.  Your dedication of being chained to your desk could come something major like a promotion…or diabetes, obesity, a slew of health problems, or even death.

Awhile back, this article from the LA Times came up in conversation on a Periscope broadcast of my online friend, Margo (writer of Nacho Mama’s Blog) and it really got me thinking.  The whole “sitting is killing us all” topic also came up a year or so ago when I led Weight Watchers meetings, so this is clearly a “thing.”  I decided to research further.

It turns out that googling “The effects of sitting on the body” has a ton of results, all preaching pretty much the same message. The Washington Post had an article titled “The Health Hazards of Sitting,” complete with a diagram and descriptions of what sitting does to your body.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Foggy brain from disrupted blood flow
  • bad/weak neck and back
  • poor leg circulation
  • Tight hips, mushy abs (yes, they actually use the word “mushy”)
  • Organ damage including heart disease, an overactive pancreas (hello diabetes), and colon cancer.

This just touched the surface, and it sounds pretty terrible, doesn’t it? I also found an infographic that illustrates more effects of sitting.  A few highlights from that:

  • People who watch more than 3 hours of TV/day are 64% more likely to die of heart disease.  64%!!!!
  • As soon as you sit down, activity in the legs stop (obviously), and you drop down to burning a whopping 1 calorie per minute.  Your fat burning enzymes also decrease by 90%.

So why is this being brought to our attention now? Because now, with 60+ hour work weeks at a desk, binge watching on Netflix, increased obesity rates, and sitting being at an all time high, it’s actually becoming a legitimate problem.  The human body was built to move.  When hunted, gathered, walked, worked on farms and did hands on labor that kept us moving all day, obesity was much less of an issue.  Now, there is a huge percentage of us (and I am totally including myself in this) that simply do not get up and moving nearly as much as we should, and our health will be paying for it.

Remember the scary statistic that every cigarette you smoke costs you 11 minutes of your life?  Well, according to a study mentioned in the LA Times article, one hour of seated tv watching can cost you 22 minutes.  That’s TWICE as much as that cigarette.  **By the way, this is in NO way me trying to tell you to take up smoking.  That is still incredibly bad for you.**

Here’s another fact, for those of us who pride ourselves on having a regular workout regimen: If you go and bust your butt at the gym every day before work, but then go into the office (or retire to the couch for a hot date with your favorite tv show) and sit for hours on end, it’s basically like that workout never happened.  Yeah, you heard me.  Bye bye 45 minute elliptical session..

So, what can we do to solve this problem?

As with everything, there needs to be balance.  Trying to stand all the time could result in a slew of other body related problems, so lets not take it to quite that extreme. There are, however, a handful of things you can do to help yourself out of the sitting health trap.  All of them, of course, involve standing more.  Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Set an alarm every hour-90 minutes and get up to take a 5-10 minute walk, even if it’s just around the office
  • Those who are more ambitious and are in an office setting can consider a standing desk or even a treadmill desk.
  • Don’t fast forward through commercials.  Instead, get up and walk in place, or go up and down the stairs a few times.
  • Go for a walk after dinner
  • Before you start shopping, take a walking lap around the mall.
  • Instead of a lunch date, consider a walking date with a friend or your spouse.
  • Take a minute or two every hour to stretch out and move your arms and legs around, even if you can’t get up.
  • Use a balance ball chair in place of your office chair. At the very least, this engages muscles while you sit that wouldn’t engage in a regular chair.

Basically, the answer is to move more, both in quantity and especially in frequency.

What are your thoughts about the dangers of sitting? I know this is a hot topic in health right now, and I want your opinions.


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