Sitting is the new Smoking

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Image: Shutterstock: Sergey Nivens

In the past decade, researchers have begun to explore the effects of sitting at a desk for extended periods of time – something that most desk-job Americans do.  The findings?  Well, many experts say that sitting is killing us.  In fact, some research indicates that sitting can be as bad for your health as smoking.   Cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are all linked to prolonged sedentary time (defined as 5+ hours per day on your tuches).    So while many of us have elected to start a brave new diet/exercise regimen for the new year, as it turns out, simply getting rid of the desk chair could be the most effective solution to getting healthy.  While this may sound like a lot of hype, here’s a little more info on exactly how SITTING is killing us:

Dr. David Alter, a senior scientist at the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, said:

“More than one-half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary — sitting, watching television or working at a computer… Our study finds that despite the health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, this alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for disease.”

Researchers looked at 47 additional studies looking at how exactly sitting may be, in fact, killing us.  According to these findings, published Jan. 20 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine,  people who sit for long periods were 24 percent more likely to die from health problems during the studies, which lasted between 1 and 16 years, compared with people who sat less.  People who sit for prolonged periods of time are at an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and shorter life spans, even if they exercise.

The Solution

While this information is disheartening to many of us, take comfort in knowing that the answer is relatively simple.  Get rid of the chair and walk more!  Jaume Padilla PhD of University of Missouri School of Medicine explains that just 10 minutes of walking can help restore vascular health after sitting.   But standing up every once in a while may not be the ultimate solution.  Many desk-job workers are tossing out the chair completely.  A home-based marketing specialist told me last week that she has moved a treadmill into her home office and elevated her laptop station so she does not sit at all during work hours.   I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m guessing it’s one of these numbers:



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Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic (and author of the book, Get Up) also shares stories of individuals who have forfeited the chair and lost weight without doing much else.

Thomas B. Trafecanty of gives a few pointers to those planning to ease into a standing regimen:

  • Start slow – Don’t try to go from six hours of sitting to zero overnight. As mentioned earlier, aim to sit just three of your waking hours each day. So start with just 20 minutes at a time at your standing desk, then add on time as you get used to the setup. Standing doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but when your body is used to sitting most of the day, you will strain your body by standing too much, too fast.

    Use a mat – Take it easy on your knees, hips, and ankles by using a gel mat where you plan to stand. Take it a step further and wear non-slip, supportive shoes, too.

    Get your work done – If standing is too distracting, use your sitting times when you need that extra concentration. You may find the standing desk a little distracting at first, but you’ll likely adjust and learn to refocus with time.

    Set it up rightYour computer screen should sit 15 to 30 inches from your eyes, with your eye level even with (or slightly below) your screen. Keep your wrists flat and your elbows at a 90-degree angle. If you feel like any part of your body is straining while you are standing then you need to make adjustments to make it more comfortable.

    Move, too – Standing does burn more calories than sitting, but to really see optimal health benefits make sure you are walking throughout the workday, too. The American Heart Association suggests 10,000 steps per day at a minimum. Buy a pedometer or a fitness tracker and add in steps where you see fit during the day. Look for creative ways to do other exercises during the workday, too, that stretch your muscles and keep your circulation and metabolism going.