Why is sitting considered the new smoking?

Sitting is the New Smoking

Smoking is bad for your health.

There’s nothing controversial about that statement. But twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case. Smoking indoors, in cars, in schools, and in shopping malls was a normal part of life. As decades went by, we learned that smoking can kill and society as a whole changed its behavior towards cigarettes.

In this millennium, there’s a new culprit on the horizon and although its effects aren’t immediately as obvious as smoking, it might still be just as bad for your health. It is sitting.

All the time we spend parked behind a steering wheel, slumped over a keyboard, or kicked back in front of the TV is affecting our health. Research now shows that the list of ills associated with hours of uninterrupted sitting includes things like obesity, high blood sugar, and excess body fat around the waist1. Additionally, too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer1.

What sitting can do to you

Sitting for long uninterrupted periods of time makes your muscles switch into a “dormant” mode and compromises their ability to break down fats and sugars. Crucially, studies also show that even exercising before or after these long periods of sitting isn’t enough to counteract its effects. So even the runners, gym buffs, and cyclists amongst us aren’t immune. Sitting all day is harmful no matter how fit and active you are2.

Over the past few years awareness of the problem has grown and we’ve seen new inventions like height-adjustable desks pop up but many of the proposed solutions still run into the same stubborn problem: workplace culture.

Sitting habits are ingrained in office routines. It’s what we all do, and it’s a difficult habit to break. After all, if your boss sees you getting out of your desk every 30 minutes to wander around the office floor, that doesn’t look good. But health psychologists have found that the key to changing work place attitudes is that workers are less likely to feel awkward if everyone around them is doing the same thing.

Steps you can take to break the cycle

Depending on your workplace, you might have more freedom to move around every so often. If so, here are a few tips you can use to break up the long periods of sitting:

Things to do3

  • Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
  • If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk—or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • If you are sitting at your desk all day, then make sure it is set up properly. Ensure that your desk and computer are at the right height, that your back is well-supported by your chair, that you have enough light in your workspace, and you’re able to stretch out your legs
  • Try to take a walking/stretching break every 20 minutes. If that’s not possible, then at least once an hour
  • Do not sit in the same position for 8 hours straight!

Long periods of sitting are more harmful to our health than previously thought. Even if you’re physically active outside of working hours, that doesn’t protect you from its effects. Use some of the tips above to break up your periods of sitting and help reduce the risk of developing negative health outcomes in the future.

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1- Mayo clinic. What are the risks of sitting too much? James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005

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