Sitting Is The New Smoking: Should You Be Concerned?
You may want to sit down for this news. Or maybe not!
It’s a relatively large claim to compare sitting to smoking of course, so is everyone alarmed over nothing or is there actual cause for concern? Unfortunately, sitting is the new smoking is turning out to be pretty accurate, essentially if you live a sedentary lifestyle – you reduce your lifespan.
Sitting is the new smoking has come about as a way to shed light on the sedentary lifestyles we are all now living. We sleep for 6-10 hours in our beds, if we’re lucky we walk to work or otherwise we sit in the car. We trundle a few more steps to the office where we sit for 8 hours, before getting in the car and heading home to start it all over. Now, if we’re being good – maybe we’ve thrown in some physical activity, ie a gym session or run in the mix. Unfortunately, much of the population is missing out on this and are becoming subject to the health risks.
What Are The Health Risks Of Sitting Too Much?
Long periods of sitting or lack of physical activity can create problems all through your body unfortunately, as humans are built to stand upright.
We are designed to be standing and are meant to be wandering around, foraging, hunting and exploring new lands. Of course we’ve now shaped our environment to negate this and are doing ourselves harm, some of the following health risks are the reason people have been saying sitting is the new smoking.:
A nice one to start with! Bowel function is actually much better when we’re standing. While recent studies have tried to identify exactly the extent to which standing improves bowel function, we know it can make those movements more regular.
A recent study also notes also appears aid in gas movement, so you will feel less bloated and uncomfortable.
Depression & Anxiety
The exact links between anxiety & depression and sitting for long periods is yet to be fully understood. As these aren’t strictly physical symptoms, they can be harder to quantify and analyze.
But it has been established that the risk of both anxiety and depression is higher in people that sit more. This may simply be because people who are sitting all day are missing their dose of exercise, which creates endorphins and other positive benefits.
Excessive sitting and lack of physical activity is obviously going to make weight gain much easier. Obviously when we are sitting, our muscles aren’t moving and we are burning calories at the lowest rate possible. This means our body will store excess energy as fat.
Strangely enough, even if you do engage in exercise, but you then spend a large amount of time sitting, you are still risking health problems, such at metabolic syndrome.
Latest research suggests that you should be getting about 60-75 minutes per day of exercise in order to help fight the effects of too much sitting time.
Your Hips & Back May Suffer
Back and neck pain may come as no surprise, but the hips?
Turns out that hip problems do quite often originate from too much sitting time. Excessive sitting leads your hip flexor muscles to shorten and even tighten. This can unbalance your hips and lead to further problems.
Sitting for long periods and sedentary behavior can cause problems with your back. Of course this is exacerbated if you have poor posture or are using a cheap chair or desk. We are obviously big fans of standing desks and ergonomically designed furniture here, so these are a great way to help offset some of these issues.
You Legs & Glutes (not the booty?!)
Quite obviously, excessive sitting means you’re not using your legs. This means that the large muscles in your legs are not being used and can begin to waste away and weaken. These are obviously important for walking and general mobility, but can make the possibility of falls more likely.
Emerging studies suggest that the dangers of excess sitting include increasing your chances of developing some times of cancer, lung, uterine and colon cancers. While there is a link, the reason behind this is not yet fully understood.
Sitting for long periods is linked to heart disease unfortunately. A recent study looking at mean who watch more than 23 hours of television a week. They have a 64% higher risk of dieing from cardiovascular disease than mean who only watch 11 hours. Now there could be some correlation here rather than causation, as people who watch that much TV are potentially not doing any exercise either.
Some experts report that people who are inactive unfortunately have a 147% higher risk of sudden a heart attack or stroke. So if you’re sitting down wandering if you’re in this kind of category, maybe finish reading this article while standing up!
Type 2 Diabetes
Recent studies have brought to light that even 5 days of lying in bed, can lead to an increase of insulin resistance in your body. The result of this is that your blood sugar levels increase above a healthy level.
Unfortunately, research has found that people who spend more time sitting have a 112% higher risk of diabetes. A poor diet and lack of other exercise can generally make this much worse of course & greatly reduce our public health generally.
Varicose veins are those prominent, thin spidery looking veins that can develop around your ankles and feet. When we’re sitting, the blood will tend to pool at our lower extremities, ie feet. So the risk of varicose veins or the extent to which they develop is increased when sitting too much.
These aren’t really a health danger, however people do tend to become self conscious of these.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Most of us a pretty aware of DVT being a bit of an issue on long plane trips, where we’re strapped to a seat for a substantial amount of time. It’s essentially a blood clot that develops in the legs. While the risk of this developing at work is lower, it is still possible for long periods of sitting to cause this.
DVT is much more serious than varicose veins, because the blood clot can travel through your veins into your heart and could become life threatening.
How Do We Know If We’re Too Sedentary?
So the previous list has probably raised a few eyebrows and maybe caused some concern. But how sedentary is our lifestyle and do these health risks actually pose a threat to you?
Physicaly inactivity contirbutes to over three million preventable detahs worldwide each year, which equates to about 6% of all deaths. This makes it the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases. That’s a rather alarming figure from a public health perspective.
How can We Be More Active?
Well it’s alot of the usual suspects isn’t it. We need to:
- Eat Healthily
- Exercise Regularly
- Avoid Sitting for 8 hours a day
One of the ways that people have been combating sitting is new smoking, is by getting a standing desk. Obviously we are big fans of this idea at standupdesk.org. But a standing desk can help to break up the extended periods of excessive sitting.
You can create a routine for yourself, where you are standing for 1 hour, for every 2 hours spent sitting. Doing this may not be enough though and it’s recommended to add in some stretching, deep breathing and minor exercises to your standing desk routine. That way you get the body moving and reduce the risks associated with prolonged sitting.
Some other tips to reduce sedentary behaviour:
- When you’re tidying up, put items away in small trips rather than taking it all together.
- Set the timer on your television to turn off an hour earlier than usual to remind you to get up and move.
- Walk around when you’re on the phone.
- Stand up and do some ironing during your favourite television shows.
- Rather than sitting down to read, listen to recorded books while you walk, clean, or work in the garden.
- Stand on public transport, or get off one stop early and walk to your destination.
If you work in an office:
- Stand up while you read emails or reports.
- Move your rubbish bin away from your desk so you have to get up to throw anything away.
- Use the speaker phone for conference calls and walk around the room during the calls.
The Bottom Line:
It’s not a pleasant thought and some of the side effects are legitimately scary, there are definitely health risks associated with sitting for too long. So it looks like sitting is the new smoking, is becoming more and more true. The Covid situation has of course made all of the factors much worse and makes it even more important to engage in physical activity to save public health generally.
The good news, is that these are largely reversible or preventable. There are so many health benefits associated to living a more active lifestyle, hopefully this articles has helped you become a little more likely to adopt better habits.
Of course if your looking to get a standing desk, you can have a look around here and compare some of the best standing desks on the market to reduce your sitting time. If you’re interested in learning more about standing desks, check out our standing desk benefits article for more.
- Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO, 2002, World Health Organization.
- Having desk job ‘doubles risk’ of heart attack, 2012, NHS choices.
- Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA et al. 2012, ‘Sedentary
- time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular
- disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis’, Diabetologia, vol. 55, no. 11, pp. 2895–2905.
- Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ, et al. 2016, ‘Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women’, The Lancet, vol. 388, pp. 1302–10.