This was a very interesting question raised at a recent conference that I went to. The general consensus is that yes, sitting can be considered the next smoking. You may ask, how are these two things related and what the heck do you mean?
By now you should know that smoking is bad for you. No shocker there. If you don’t believe me, then you might as well stop reading this. Smoking has been directly linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer. When these disease are attributable to smoking, they are considered ‘preventable’. Because of this, there has been a lot of successful work geared towards both smoking prevention and cessation.
The same thing goes for sitting. I am not just referring to sitting on the couch and watching television (although this is a problem as well). With the rise in technology, our culture has become increasingly sedentary. It is not uncommon for people to sit in a car for an hour driving to work, sitting at a desk for 7-8 hours with infrequent breaks, sitting an hour to drive home and then spending the evening on the couch. Does this sound familiar? Well, unfortunately, prolonged sitting has been linked to a plethora of maladies. This includes: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, vascular disease (including blood clots), and low back pain. Sounds an awful lot like the smoking examples from the previous paragraph, doesn’t it? Once again, these conditions are considered preventable.
BUT, you may say “Yes, I sit all day, but I go to the gym for an hour every day after work”. That is great. There are plenty of health benefits which can be attributed to daily exercise, HOWEVER data is coming out to suggest that episodic working out does not offset the damage done by prolonged sitting. Kind of discouraging, eh?
The best thing you can do is to get up every 20-30 minutes for literally a minute or two and take a walk. I am not taking about going outside for a walk around the block. Maybe walk around your office, or even just walk around your desk. If you are reading something, stand up and read for a few minutes. Some institutions are even being generous enough and installing standing desks, which theoretically offer a large amount of benefit with minimal intrusion into work flow. Personal activity trackers, such as the fitbit, jawbone, apple watch, smart phones, etc. can also help by showing you how many or few steps you have taken during the day and help to get you up and moving.
So, by now you should see the parallels between smoking and sitting. In an ideal world, the smoking breaks of the past will be replaced by standing or walking breaks in the future. This can potentially offer a world of benefit, it is just a matter of having employees and employers sign on.
- Copeland JL, Clarke J, Dogra S. Objectively measured and self-reported sedentary time in older Canadians. Prev Med Rep. 2015;2:90-5. PubMed PMID: 26844055