Sitting is the New Smoking?

You might have heard “sitting is the new smoking” lately (or seen the hashtag #sittingisthenewsmoking), and if you haven't, it’s probably time to research it for yourself and make decisions with the facts it mind.

To compare sitting to smoking may seem like a harsh comparison because 480,000 people a year die from smoking, and you might be thinking “Are 480,000 people really dying a year or will be dying per year from sitting?”

Well… No. Not exactly, but perhaps we should all start reflecting on how many sedentary hours in our lives we can begin to modify.

For a brief time in my life I had a personal trainer who always steered me in the right direction. One day he asked me who had a better metabolism: middle school teachers or individuals who spent two hours at the gym every night? Anticipating the plot twist, I firmly stated “teachers” with as much false confidence one could have with fingers spread in high plank and watching beads of her own sweat fall to the mat 90 seconds in.

“Right, but do you know why?” He asked, and of course, I didn’t. Collapsing onto my belly he instructed me to roll over on my back and then began talking about my spine. I grew up in dance classes so I naturally pull my shoulders up and back and down but then we proceeded to talk about how this was not a luxury available to most people: the average person knows nothing about spine and the dangers of not knowing how important posture is.

In the minutes that followed, he challenged me to think of a middle school teacher I really liked and then it hit me that this was a woman with eyes on her all day long, always up in front of the whiteboard tying together concepts for us and constantly buzzing around the classroom to answer questions. It then hit me that by having an audience, teachers are automatically put in a position where it would be in their best interest to stand erect and hold good posture and that the importance of image is working to their benefit in a hidden fashion.

Another added bonus of teaching as a profession is that by constantly bouncing around and staying on their feet for the whole day, teachers are building their metabolism and most likely saving their spines too.

That conversation took place six years ago and although I can’t recall the exact study that detailed this the sentiment stuck: even if I didn’t want to become a teacher, I would want to build my life around a career I could do standing.

If the argument from common sense isn’t compelling enough consider this excerpt from a recent piece from James A. Levine on

“Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

One study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:
  • A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause

  • About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack.”

Part of the answer may involve a standing desk. In addition to helping avoid lower back issues, last month the Chicago Tribune reported on a study that showed that standing desks improve productivity.

If standing is not an option for you at this time, consider ergonomic alternatives to traditional office chairs, and see what could work for you. Get creative and try to find a way to reduce your sitting time by at least 71 minutes, and you will reap the potential health benefits.

"71 minutes, why that's a very precise number," you say. "Where did you come up with that?" you ask. Glad you asked! Our buds at the International Journal of Epidemiology released the results of a new study showing a reduction of 0.61 percentage points in body fat percentage for those who (you guessed it) reduced daily office sitting by at least 71 minutes.

We'd love to hear you ideas on how you swapped sitting time for standing and "moving around" time, and what employee wellness ideas you like too!

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