By EDUARDO GONZALES, MD
I heard a television health commentator say in passing that sitting is the new smoking. What does he mean by that? —firstname.lastname@example.org
A study conducted in 2012 showed that people sit 64 hours a week or nine hours each day. No surprise really, because sitting is so comfortable and restful that we have designed our daily lives to enable us to sit as long as possible. During a typical day, we sit when we commute to and from the office, work in the office—often in front of the computer, attend meetings, eat meals, and watch TV before and after dinner. But recently, scientists have found out that prolonged sitting, much like smoking, is really a very bad habit that increases our risks for many diseases. This has led to the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Of course, smoking is far more deleterious to health than sitting, but the trendy phrase highlights the fact that sitting is also bad for our health.
Diseases associated with prolonged sitting
A meta-analysis of 47 scientific studies whose findings were published in the January, 2015 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that prolonged sedentary time (i.e., sitting) significantly increases ones risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, regardless of physical activity.
We have known for some time now that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and obesity, but what we didn’t know until this is that the health risk associated with prolonged sitting are not cancelled out by exercise. Further, the longer one sits, the higher the risk of chronic diseases. People that sit still more than four hours per day have a 40 percent higher risk than those that sit fewer than four hours per day. The risk is highest among those that sit still more than five hours per day.
In other words, contrary to longheld belief, exercise is not the antidote to prolonged inactivity. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for chronic disease, independent of hard exercise and body weight.
Incidentally, a subsequent study by the American Cancer Society (2018) showed that prolonged sitting not only increased one’s risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, but also for kidney disease, suicide, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.
Allowable sitting time and how to achieve it
Experts suggest that we should limit our sitting time to three hours a day, lest we contract “sitting disease.” So what can we do to decrease our sitting time?
At work, we could
• Get up from our chair for a few minutes every half hour. Or better still, use a standing desk.
• Stand up and if possible, walk or pace when we talk on the phone.
• Walk to the printer every time we print something.
• Walk to the office or part of the building where our colleagues are when we need to confer with them instead of emailing or calling them.
• Stay out of the conference room and hold moving meetings instead.
• Walk the halls or take a walk outside intermittently
At home, we could
• Get up regularly from our computer.
• When watching TV, walk around or stand up and stretch, or do some chores during commercial breaks.
(Note: Email inquiries on health matters to: email@example.com)