Sitting is the New Smoking (Take Two)

Busy partnersIf you haven’t heard already, sitting is the new smoking.  More and more research is being conducted that demonstrates just how devastating sitting is on the body.  So, although I’ve written about this before, I think it merits a second glance. Recently, the results from combining 18 studies and 800,000 participants reveals that people who spent the most time in chairs had a 147 percent increased risk of a cardiovascular event, a soaring diabetes risk, and a 49 percent greater chance to die earlier of any number of conditions.  And, even more, if you sit too long every day, regular exercise at night once you get off work doesn’t reverse the damage.

James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., is the man that you will hardly ever see sitting.  He coined the term NEAT which stand for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which represents the energy we expend doing ordinary normal activities during the day.  Dr. Levine has studied how we can reverse the damage from sitting by standing and other physical movement during the day.  For instance, in an article he was interviewed for in a recent Vogue magazine he says, “Standing should be your default mode—when you’re on the phone, texting, even watching TV.”

The obvious answer to the problem is to stand up more and take regular breaks throughout the day to walk and stretch.  What I have discovered as I’ve tried to encourage people to do this is we just aren’t used to standing up.  We sit everywhere–at our desks, at meetings, in waiting rooms, at the movies, at church, at our child’s soccer games, etc.   When I suggest to people that they stand up during my presentations (and I tell them why,) many people still sit and my guess is that a lot of the reason has to do with the way we’ve been trained.  We live in a culture that promotes sitting, it’s culturally safe, and it’s a hard-wired habit.  It feels weird to stand up and people don’t like doing something new and different, even it will save their health.

We need to change the culture and it starts with you.  Encourage co-workers to stand up during presentations, in classes, and in meetings.  Stand up when you’re on the phone.  Stand up when you’re visiting with a co-worker.  Or better yet, have “walk and talk meetings” with your colleagues.

There are many sit/stand desks available and walking work stations are slowly beginning to show up at the workplace.  These ergonomic solutions come in a variety of sizes and costs.  However, if you really want to stand up and work, there are options available. If you have a sit/stand desk, wear comfortable shoes and stand on a rubber pad for more comfort.  When you use a walking workstation, don’t walk faster than 2 miles per hour.  And, try not to get distracted while you’re walking and working. I did once and fell off the back end.

If you have other solutions to the “sitting” problem, add a comment below and let me know about it so I can share it with others.

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One Response to Sitting is the New Smoking (Take Two)

  1. Not sure many people know this but if you go to stores that sell office chairs — such as Office Depot — they have begun attaching a rating card for how long during a day one should be sitting in each model per day. Turns out that most chairs are only designed to be used for 2 or fewer hours a day — but I was able to find two designs that were rated for 8 or more hours. In any event, being convinced that the ratings do make a difference I purchased one of these “8 hour” chairs for each of my faculty and staff a few years ago. When you consider that our prior supply of office chairs had come from MU surplus at ~ $10 each, the improvement was indeed significant! Regards, Glen

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