Wellness & Education

Is Prolonged Sitting the New “Smoking”?

If you’re getting 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. 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 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 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week that is recommended for good health. If you have a sedentary job or hobby, scheduled regular exercise such as walking or biking to work can make up for this aspect of prolonged sitting.

The other aspect of prolonged sitting is the negative health impact of uninterrupted sitting itself. This can’t be “fixed” by scheduled exercise outside of the time spent sitting. Only periodic movement that interrupts long periods of sitting will help.

The problem, is that 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. Take a bathroom break in the bathroom on another floor and take the stairs. 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 stand to work or game using a variable height desk.

There are also non-health related reasons to interrupt sedentary activities. Taking a break to move around can help you stay awake without the negative effects of caffeine. It can also help you return to work with a fresh eye, which can actually increase productivity. Studies have also shown that 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.