Wellness & Education

Is Prolonged Sitting the New “Smoking”? 

If you have the impression that prolonged sitting is the new smoking, it’s understandable. Like smoking before the cancer link was discovered, prolonged sitting is a health risk that has been around long before the consequences were recognized. The dangers of sitting: why sitting is the new smoking – Better Health Channel Now that its link to increased risk of “all-cause mortality” (or early death) has been brought to light, it’s time to get up out or our chairs.  

There are two harmful aspects to prolonged sitting. One is the lack of sufficient physical activity in general. The more you sit, the less likely you are to be getting the exercise you need to stay healthy. Fortunately, scheduled exercise time can make up for this aspect of prolonged sitting. 

The other aspect of prolonged sitting is harm done by prolonged sitting itself. This can’t be “fixed” by scheduled exercise. The only solution is to get up and move, so that your prolonged sitting is frequently interrupted by movement.

Unfortunately, people usually sit for long periods for a reason. They are in the middle of work. Their tv show or movie is playing. Their video game character is in peril. It takes deliberate intention to stop work or pause the show or game. In the long run it may be good for your health, but in the short run the interruption can be irritating. Without a fitness app to remind you, it can also be difficult to remember how long you’ve been sitting.  

One way to overcome this irritation is simply to build more activity into the natural interruptions that occur in your working, watching or gaming. If you work on the first floor, take your bathroom break on the second floor and use the stairs instead of the elevator. At commercial breaks, power walk in place or touch your toes a few times (if you can’t reach them, that’s another health issue). If you really can’t stand to be interrupted, then try using a variable height desk so that you can stand and sit in place. 

There are also non-health-related reasons to interrupt sedentary activities. Taking a “movement break” can help you stay awake without the negative effects of caffeine. It can help you return to work with a fresh eye, which can actually increase productivity. As an added bonus for your employer, studies have shown workers who move more have a lower rate of absenteeism. 

Whatever your strategy, the first thing you try may not be what ultimately works for you. Don’t give up. If you make movement a priority, eventually you’ll figure out what works.