Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?

You may have heard that researchers are coining the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”.

We all know smoking is bad for our health, really bad. We are ingrained with the knowledge that smoking is a killer. So, when these new studies come out claiming that sitting is as bad as smoking for our health, its almost hard to believe.

Sitting has become a normal part of our everyday culture. Millions of people have careers which involve a lot of sitting. From preschool through to university, we are taught that sitting many hours throughout the day is normal. It is also not uncommon for us to spend a few hours relaxing on the couch after a long day at the office. But, is it normal for us to sit so many hours of the day? No, its not. Our bodies are made to move. We have over 360 joints, and over 700 skeletal muscles to allow for easy fluid motion. Our blood and lymph depend on movement for proper circulation throughout the body.

Our sedentary habits may seem normal to us, because it is what we grew up with. But for two million years, our ancestors spent most the day foraging for food, hunting, moving, and walking. Up until a couple generations ago, we were very active.

But I workout at the gym everyday to offset my full day of sitting! 

Apparently this doesn't matter. Although exercise is very healthy, researchers have found that working out does not offset the negative effects of sitting all day.

A study posted in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that adults who sat for more than six hours a day had a 40 percent greater risk of death over the next 14 years, compared to those who sat for less than three hours a day, regardless of whether or not they exercised. Their recommendation is to include physically activity, and reduce time spent sitting. (1)

How does sitting damage our bodies?

Most people curve their back and slump their shoulders when they sit for extended periods of time. This puts uneven pressure on your spine, causing strain, wear and tear on your spinal discs, as well as the ligaments, joints and muscles connected to the spine. When your back is hunched, the space in your chest cavity compresses, allowing little room for your lungs to expand into. This limits the amount of oxygen flowing into your lungs, and therefore into your blood.

Extended sitting also reduces blood flow to the brain. Your brain won’t function at top capacity when it is supplied with too little blood carrying too little oxygen. Your concentration will most likely dip, and your brain activity will slow the longer you sit.

Sitting for long periods of time reduces the activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme in the walls of your capillaries which helps to break down fat in the blood. When the function of LPL is impeded, you do not burn fat nearly as well. (2)

Too much sitting raises blood pressure, as well decreases the diameter of arteries. These both increase your chance of developing heart and cardiovascular disease. (3)

Excessive sitting can raise the risk of bone fracture. Too much sitting decreases bone mineral density without increasing bone formation. (4) In one study, researchers analyzed X-ray images of thigh bones from modern humans, as well as those from humans who lived thousands of years ago. The researchers discovered that compared to our ancestors, “low levels of physical activity contribute to reduced bone strength, and consequently increased fracture risk, in contemporary human populations.” (5)

What can you do to about this?

  • You can incorporate more non exercise physical activity into your daily life with these easy tips:
  • Invest in a standing desk. Perch, an affordable and versatile sit-to-stand desk coming out on the market, is perfect for the home or work. Or you can make-shift a standing desk at home using your regular desk and wooden crates.
  • Turn your treadmill into a walking desk.
  • When you drive somewhere, park a block or two away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • If you have a desk job, set an alarm to remind you to get up to walk, move and stretch for at least two minutes out of every half hour. You can download an app that will remind you to get up; Time Out for Mac, or Workrave for PCs.
  • Stand at your business meetings. You will be the sharpest attendee, and will be an inspiration to others! If your co-workers ask why you are standing, show them this blog.
  • Get a handsfree headset and stand or walk while talking on the phone. When you do sit at home, train yourself to sit on a yoga mat on the floor rather than in a chair. You will wiggle, stretch your hamstrings, and use your core. And you will be able to play with your children or grandchildren!

What about your Kids?

If you are concerned about your children’s excessive sitting in school, you can talk to their teacher about incorporating more standing throughout the day.

A study that researched school children using sit-to-stand desks versus sit desks, found that children who used the sit-to-stand desks burned 32 percent more calories than the children who sat. This could help combat the childhood obesity epidemic. ( 6)

More importantly, a teacher who instructed the standing group stated “when standing, the students were more focused, and I could keep their attention for longer… . I have one student with severe ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], and this really helped him academically.” (6)

I would like to hear from you.

How have you incorporated more non exercise physical activity into your day? Have you noticed any benefits? Visit my personal blog (Reclaim Your Personal Health & Vibrance!) for more information, to ask questions, or to simply let me know your thoughts. Better yet, email me at: [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Lindsay Rusk, R.Ac. - Woodgrove Pines Clinic

Lindsay Is a registered acupuncturist, health investigator and blogger.

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