Sitting All Day Just as Unhealthy as Smoking?

smokingSmoking isn’t the only unhealthy habit that doctors are urging Americans to overcome. According to a variety of studies, sitting all day can be every bit as dangerous for people as inhaling tobacco smoke straight into their lungs.

An increase in sedentary jobs and sedentary pastimes at home is reportedly responsible for killing people at a rate similar to the death rate attributed to smoking. Multiple studies have demonstrated that sitting for long periods of time is linked to “increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even early death,” much like smoking. A recent study has shown what most people probably already know, that an increase in physical activity and a decrease in time spent sitting is linked to better quality of life and “excellent” health.

A physician and researcher from the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center has said “sitting is the new smoking.” He cites a study in support of his position that found that for every cigarette a person smokes they take approximately 11 minutes off of their life; compare that to the reported 22 minutes taken off of a person’s life for every hour of television taken in.

Doctors recommend an obvious solution to the sitting problem, get more exercise, but for many it just isn’t quite that easy. Busy schedules and a dislike for hitting the gym can be significant hurdles to overcome on the track to good health. However, one cardiologist, Dr. Dermont Phelan of the Cleveland Clinic, says that even small bursts of physical activity can help alleviate the adverse effects of sitting for too long. He suggests that those with sedentary lifestyles or jobs that require them to sit all day start with just three brisk 10 minute walks each day to avoid suffering the unhealthy effects of sitting that rival those of smoking. Other studies have suggested that just two minutes of activity for every 20 minutes of sitting can cut the risk of the development of disease as well.

For those who can’t avoid sitting at a desk all day for work, doctors suggest taking a few minutes each hour to step away and briefly walk around or visit the restroom. Standing up while completing portions of work that allow for an upright position may also help to combat the problems associated with spending too much time in the chair. Some employees have even gone so far as to use so-called “treadmill desks” at work to get moving, though for many space and expense will likely put such a solution out of reach.

Doctors explain that too much sitting can result in the accumulation of plaque deposits in arteries and the inflammation that accompanies such accumulation. Since the human body was designed to walk, run and move, exercise helps to alleviate these effects. Regular breaks for exercise can also help to avoid the extra pounds that may result from the overuse of one’s seat and lead to an increased risk of a number of cardiovascular diseases. Sitting has also been linked to the development of insulin resistance and is therefore associated with diabetes as well.

Smoking may be getting the majority of the negative attention today, but with more research piling up to indicate that sitting all day may be just as unhealthy, the prescription for improved health is likely to include people getting off of their butts in addition to putting them down.

By Michele Wessel


CBS New York

LA Times

Runners World

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