Four Reasons Sitting Is The New Smoking
You might have seen the headlines:
"Sitting Is The New Smoking"
But what exactly does this mean?
Here are four ways that sitting for long periods of time is like smoking:
1. Harmful Even if You Exercise
Let's say Sally hit the gym every morning, but when she left the gym, she lit up a cigarette and kept lighting up throughout the day. Well, going to gym might have helped Sally's arms look more toned, but her overall health still is taking a hit with each hit of a cigarette. In other words, smoking is bad for Sally even if she exercises. Now let's say that Sally went to the gym every morning and headed straight to her office. She then sat in a chair for about 8 hours. She went home and sat some more while catching up on her TiVo. Sally skipped the cigarettes, but all of that sitting also can have terrible health effects - even with Sally's trip the gym. Studies have confirmed the dangers of prolonged sitting independent of exercise and even diet. One study found that women who sat the most were 3 times more likely to die from heart disease as those who sat the least, regardless of exercise level. As humans, we were built for activity and movement and one hour of it a day followed by hours and hours of sedentary activity is not cutting it. The more you sit, the greater the risk of suffering negative effects, including heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
2. Stealthy Killers
They look so alluring. Everyone is doing it. They promise to make you feel good. And then, BAM! They move in for the kill. Yep, we're talking about cigarettes and chairs. Yep, sitting is the new smoking. A few decades ago smoking was an accepted part of the culture. Celebrities made smoking look sexy, and commercials promised that smoking would make you feel good. Lots of folks puffed away, but few realized that cigarettes were stealthy killers. In a similar way, sitting for long periods of time has become accepted as part of our daily routines. We are sitting more than ever between cars, computers, and the couch. Our chairs can look inviting, but until recently few appreciated that all of that time on your backside can have terrible health effects.
Smoking used to be very commonplace in America. In 1965, about 42% of adults smoked. Not until the year 2000 did that percentage fall under 25%. As for sitting, of course, humans have always sat down. But it's the amount of time spent sitting that has risen dramatically. In 1997, a National Health Interview Survey showed that 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. never - yes never - "engage in any exercises, sports, or physically active hobbies in their leisure time."
In addition to spending less of our leisure time doing something active, we are spending less time at work on our feet. According to the Mayo Clinic: In 1970, 2 in 10 working Americans were in jobs requiring only light activity (predominantly sitting at a desk). By 2000, 4 in 10 adults were in light activity jobs. In 1970, 3 in 10 jobs required high-energy output. But by 2000, only 2 in 10 were high-activity jobs.
On average, we are sitting about 9 hours per day. When you consider that we also sleep for 8 hours, that's a lot of time not moving!
4. Devastating Consequences
As we now know, smoking is not fun or sexy or exciting. It is just bad for you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that "[t]he adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for more than 440,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States." Perhaps surprisingly, sedentary lifestyle, including sitting for long periods, is having similar devastating effects on people's health.
As Mayo Clinic Cardiologist Martha Grogan explained: For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking. One study conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that for 20% of deaths of people 35 years and older were attributed to a lack of physical activity. For that population, the figure was higher than the percentage of deaths attributed to smoking. That study also found that the risk of dying from cancer rose 45% for men and 28% for women due to lack of physical activity. The risk of dying from heart disease went up 52% for men and 28% for women.
Other studies have linked prolonged sitting to a greater likelihood of developing heart disease, certain cancers, and strokes. And the news keeps getting worse.
Blood clots can form after sitting for too long and too rigidly. These can become dangerous and travel to your brain. Sitting too much raises the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and obesity. Sitting also may be associated with sleep apnea, which is fluid that collects in the legs can move to the neck and cause problems during sleep. Then there's back pain and leg pain that many suffer from due to being stuck in a chair.
Now that you're scared out of your chair, here is the thing that sitting and smoking do not have in common. You don't have to quit sitting forever to avoid these health consequences. You just need to find ways to sit less.