Is Sitting the New Smoking? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 12, 2014

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Sitting all day raises the risk of disability, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Sitting all day raises the risk of disability,
diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Everyone knows that smoking tobacco is bad for your health and that it can cause cancer. But is there something else you’re doing every day that is negatively affecting your health? Something all of us do without even thinking about?

You might not want to sit down to hear this news: research now shows that sitting may be the new smoking. Sitting for long stretches of time, even if you exercise regularly, can be bad for your health and even deadly. Yes, really.

It doesn’t matter where the sitting takes place – what doctors are concerned about is the overall number of hours that you’re on your butt. Similar to smoking cigarettes, sitting all day raises the risk of disability, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Studies show that for every two hours spent sitting, the average person raises his or her risk of colon cancer by eight percent, of endometrial cancer by 10 percent and of lung cancer by six percent.

Experts haven’t yet been able to establish why sitting for so long is associated with these health problems. One possibility is that sitting for a long time causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly. And both can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other problems.

They also haven’t yet figured out which comes first: Does too much sitting trigger poor health or is it the other way around?

Unfortunately, even if you exercise regularly, spending prolonged periods of time sitting is still harmful. That means that even if you run for an hour, it may not undo the eight hours you spent parked at your desk that day.

If you exercise every day, but still spend a lot of time sitting, you might benefit more from your exercise if it’s spread out throughout the day, rather than in a single session.

Some other changes you can make in your daily routine to break up long stints of sitting include:

  • Using a standing desk at work.
  • Reminding yourself to sit less. When you’re at home, use a commercial on TV as your signal to briefly get out of your chair. At work, try using a smaller coffee cup or glass so you’ll be getting up to refill them more frequently.
  • Taking a standing break while you’re on the phone or eating lunch.
  • Walking laps with your coworkers instead of assembling in conference rooms for meetings.
  • Positioning your work surface above a treadmill with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk. This way, you can be in motion throughout the day.

Changing your daily life to include more movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. First of all, you'll burn more calories, which can lead to weight loss and more energy.

Secondly, the muscle activity you need for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within your body. When you’re sitting, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick those processes back into action.

And once you start sitting less throughout your day, you might find you’re more open to the idea of moving more and being more active.

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