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Educational health information to improve your well-being.

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

September 22, 2017 | By Kristen Printy
Published in: Fitness

Business man working at a computer

How much time have you spent sitting today? If you're like most Americans, between working behind a desk, driving a car, and relaxing – you're spending a lot of time sitting down. Sitting is now under fire as a potential cause of increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression. In fact, some research suggests that sitting may be as bad for your health as smoking. However, not all medical professionals agree. Is sitting the new smoking, or has sitting gotten a bad rap?

Downsides of Sitting

Boy sitting on the couch

One study reported by the Mayo Clinic links a staggering 50% increased risk of death, and 125% increased risk of cardiovascular disease symptoms from sitting for four hours or more a day. The study suggests that extended periods of sitting is linked to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure just like smoking. Sitting also seems to stall the processing of fats and sugars, making you more susceptible to weight gain.

Is Sitting Really So Bad?

A recent study in Britain dove deeper into the science of sitting. The study compared different types of sitting and their impact on type 2 diabetes risk. The sitting habits of nearly 5,000 healthy participants were tracked for 13 years. Of the 5,000 participants, 402 developed diabetes during that time. After adjusting for other variables, the study suggests that only sitting while watching TV increased diabetes risks, especially in people that are already overweight and inactive.

Interestingly, watching a lot of TV is linked to poor eating habits, decreased mental health, and a lower socioeconomic status. These combined factors contribute to poor physical activity and barriers to receiving adequate health care. The type of sitting you do may have more influence over health risks than previously thought.

If In Doubt, Work It OutMan hiking

One thing researchers do agree on is the importance of consistent physical activity to maintain good health. Experts suggest that 60-75 minutes of exercise per day can eliminate the cardiovascular disease risks that come from sitting. Thirty minutes of exercise a day is a great starting point if you've been inactive for a while. You can even exercise in brief 10-minute bursts throughout the day to achieve the full-time goal. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends doing both aerobic activities and strength training. Alternate moderate and vigorous aerobic activities for maximum results. Try some of these ideas:

Moderate Aerobic Activity

  • Walking
  • Recreational swimming
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Gardening
  • Dancing

Vigorous Aerobic Activity

  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Jumping Rope
  • Hiking
  • Sports
  • Fast bicycle riding

Strength Training Activity

  • Weight machines
  • Resistance bands
  • Water paddles
  • Rock climbing
  • Using your own body weight (push-ups, sit ups, squats)

Some companies offer employees standing desk options at work. While this is a step in the right direction, standing desks aren't proven to eliminate the harmful effects of too much sitting. Some other ideas to reduce sitting and increase daily activity include:

  • Park further away from your destination
  • Set an alert at work to remind you to get up and move around
  • Take the stairs when possible
  • Opt for a bike ride or walking instead of driving when you can
  • Track your steps per day with a pedometer

More research is needed to fully understand how bad sitting is for us. One thing everyone agrees on is consistent physical activity is vital to maintaining good health. A goal of 60 minutes of exercise a day, even if broken into smaller time increments, can keep you on a healthy path. The team at the Augusta Health Fitness is ready to help you achieve your fitness goals! We'd love to be part of your fitness journey.