In the health field, there is a term that’s been going around for a few years now. I’m sure most of you have heard it as well. That term is “sitting is the new smoking.” This term has been gaining traction for a good reason too. Dr. Levine, a professor at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona State University, is credited with coining the term when quoted saying “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death”. The question becomes how? How is something so relaxing, so dangerous? I’m going to address these questions in a little series. In this first part, I will explain why sitting can become so hazardous to your health. I will follow up with the next post on why it impacts your hip mobility and how that leads to back pain. And finally, in the third post, I will provide practical reasons on how to implement change to switch up your daily sitting habits.
So why is sitting so detrimental to your health? The biggest reason: inactivity. It might seem nice for the time being, but it’s not worth it in the end. Inactivity is linked to high blood pressure, some forms of cancer, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. More than just being healthier though, your quality of life can be improved if you spend less time sitting. As many people know at least one person who is affected by chronic pain, they know that quality of life is not optimal when living with chronic illness.
You might think, “Hey, I don’t sit that often!” but think about your day for a second. You probably sit while taking in every one of your meals, driving to and from work, watching tv or spending some time sitting and browsing your smartphone. Most people sit during their work as well which does not help their case. They say the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting you have a problem. The World Health Organization states that between 23-35% of adults are too sedentary and that 81% of adolescents aged 11-17 are inactive. Is it possible that you fall into one of these groups?
A study looked at the correlational effect between sitting time and health risks and found that less than 8 hours per day spent sitting, along with engaging in the recommended moderate-intensity aerobic activity decreased your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer. The current recommendation for adults to engage in moderate-intensity aerobic activity is 150 minutes. If you want any further benefits from exercise, you can increase this time to 300 minutes. If not physically active enough and not meeting the requirements by the World Health Organization accounts for 20-30% of the deaths worldwide!
So how does this happen? Our physiology changes when we are not active. “Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function, resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity, which appear to be at least partially mediated by changes in lipoprotein lipase activity. It has also been suggested that sedentary behavior affects carbohydrate metabolism through changes in muscle glucose transporter protein content." (van der Ploeg et al., 2012)
I hope this post has inspired you to start moving more often. To stand up and maybe go for a quick walk before returning to whatever you were doing before reading this. If you have any other questions regarding sitting, please do not hesitate to ask.
Dr. Ken Alexander
“First move well, then move often”- Gray Cook
1. van der Ploeg H, Chey T, Korda R. Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(6):494.
2. Physical activity [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2017 [cited 27 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs385/en/
3. Sitting Is the New Smoking: Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle Is Killing You [Internet]. The Huffington Post. 2017 [cited 27 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-active-times/sitting-is-the-new-smokin_b_5890006.html