Smoking Safer Than Sitting?

Sixty years ago, smoking was all the rage. It was a sexy, fashionable social pastime that, according to the Washington Post, over 40 percent of all Americans participated in. Smoking was allowed pretty much everywhere – in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, even airplanes – and was constantly dramatized by ever-popular mascots such as Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. In 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry shocked the ciggie-loving world when he released a report linking cigarette smoking to a number of deadly diseases, including lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and laryngeal cancer. Terry’s report spurred a 50 year fight against the lethal horrors of smoking and, today, about 18 percent of Americans still indulge in smelly death sticks. But recent research has uncovered troubling information about a sneaky silent killer that may make smoking look equally safe by comparison: Sitting.

Ask everyone in America to rate their levels of daily activity, and about 65 percent of them will tell you they are active. But studies measuring activity levels suggest that only about five percent of Americans are truly active, leading medical professionals to believe that most people have no idea how sedentary they actually are or how dangerous sedentary living can be.

A recent report from CBS New York highlights the hidden dangers of habitual sitting, suggesting that sitting for prolonged periods of time can be as unsafe as smoking and that sedentary lifestyles can kill just as quickly as lighting up.

“Smoking certainly is a major cardiovascular risk factor, and sitting can be equivalent in many cases,” Dr. David Coven, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, told CBS New York. USA Today echoed Coven’s sentiment when it reported that sitting too much could increase the risk of heart failure.

Sedentary living can increase a sitter’s risk of diabetes by 112 percent, cardiovascular disease by 147 percent, and all-cause mortality (death by any cause) by 49 percent, according to Healthy Living How To, an online health resource. HLHT refers to a recent phenomenon called the “exercising couch potato” to describe those who spend a short time every day engaged in physical exercise but sit for the majority of the rest of the day, stating that even those who exercise on a consistent basis are not immune to the dangers of prolonged sitting.

This news is anything but new. A report published in 2000, nearly a decade and a half ago, by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, noted that physical inactivity was the second leading cause of death in America, yet the majority of Americans continue to indulge in dangerously unhealthy sedentary habits.

The good news? It is relatively easy to mitigate risks by engaging in straightforward activities to support healthy blood flow. Health experts suggest taking multiple breaks throughout the day, about once an hour, to get up and move around, even if for just a few minutes. Taking three ten minute walk breaks each day, wearing an activity tracker like the Fitbit, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further from the door than usual, standing up during conference calls, and scheduling movement reminders are just a few quick and easy body-moving activities that will also help mitigate the dreaded “office butt” syndrome.

At the end of the day, engaging in sedentary habits like prolonged sitting can be as detrimental and unsafe as smoking. Reduce the risks of this sneaky silent killer by moving and grooving for a few minutes every hour. Except for during sleep, of course.

By: Katie Bloomstrom


CBS New York
Center for Disease Control
Healthy Living How To
U.S. National Library of Medicine
USA Today
Washington Post

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