Is Sitting The New Smoking?

What are you doing as you read this?  Having a cup of coffee?  Taking a break from work?  Getting ready for bed?  Whatever you’re up to, chances are you’re sitting down.  We get it, your feet are tired!  That chair is comfortable.  What are you supposed to do—standon the subway?

Most of us have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” referring to the growing epidemic of sedentary lifestyles in the United States.  But is this true?  Is sitting in a chair that bad for you?  We decided to find out.

THE FACTS

  • Over 25% of American adults sit for more than 8 hours every day. 44% of those people get little to no exercise.
  • The average American watches approximately 3 hours of television every day.
  • The average American is active less than 20 minutes every day.
  • 60-75 minutes of moderate activity (steady walking) can counter the effects of too much sitting.

A 2011 study documented 800,000 people and their sitting habits.  The study found that people who sit the most, compared to people who sit the least, have a greater risk of disease and death:

  • 112% increased risk of diabetes.
  • 147% increased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.
  • 90% increased risk of death from cardiovascular events.
  • 49% increased risk of death from any cause.

THE SCIENCE

Sitting can be so relaxing.  Why is it so bad?  Here’s what happens when you spend too much time sitting:

  • Blood flow slows down.  This can allow fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels, leading to heart disease.
  • Sitting for extended periods of time, regularly may lead to insulin resistance which can cause type 2 diabetes and obesity—2 major risk factors for heart disease.
  • A 2018 study found that 82% of people who suffer from blood clots, sat for a significantly greater amount of time than the remaining 18%.
  • Your body’s ability to process fats is slowed.  When you sit, your body’s production of lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme essential for breaking down fat) drops by about 90%.  When your body cannot break down fat, it is stored instead.

THE SOLUTION

Sitting is inevitable! Here’s how you can ward off any negative side effects:

  • Set a timer. Get up every hour and move. Stand, walk around, stretch.  You can even download apps onto your phone to remind you!
  • Watch your posture.  Poor posture can lead to bone damage, decreased blood circulation, fatigue, and loss of muscle strength.  If you must sit, keep your shoulders back, your chin tucked, and your stomach pulled toward your spine in order to keep muscles engaged, bones aligned, and circulation flowing.
  • Take a stand. If you’re able, why not opt for a standing desk?  Not only will your heart thank you, but standing desks have been proven to increase brain function, creativity, and productivity.
  • Work it out. Commit to exercising every single day. Go on a walk during lunch.  Plan to attend a fitness class.  Choose the far parking spot.  Every minute of physical activity counts!

In recent years, it has been said that “sitting is as bad as smoking”.  While, yes—sitting and smoking both have their negative effects on health, it is impossible to compare them.  The difference between sitting and smoking is that society has outcast one of them, and completely expanded upon the other.

It’s wonderful to take a rest.  In fact, it’s necessary.  But at what point does “taking a rest” turn into a living a sedentary life?  Take a look at the hours in your day.  How many of them are spent in a chair?  Honestly.  While sitting at your desk might not be the equivalent of hanging out in the smokers’ lounge, it very well could yield the same results.

References:

Beaumont Health: https://www.beaumont.org/about-us

Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2016/16_0263.htm

JustStand.org: https://www.juststand.org/the-facts/

The Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005

University of Leicester: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2012/october/new-study-finds-that-sitting-for-protracted-periods-increases-the-risk-of-diabetes-heart-disease-and-death

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