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Is Sitting The New Smoking?

Posted by Beth Beth Pirnie, M.S., MCHES

For several years now, we have been promoting the numerous benefits of physical activity - Depending on the source, the advice as varied throughout the years, from specific types of exercise to exercising at particular times of day, and for those who are turned off by the word 'exercise', there has been a large emphasis on simply finding ways to be physically active within the normal daily routine. The overall goal of the ongoing messaging is to encourage us to move our bodies on a regular basis, as that is what we are meant to do - Move. We will always have a focus on the specific recommendations surrounding physical activity and exercise; however, lately, the attention has turned a bit to the actual pitfalls if INACTIVITY.

No one is surprised to hear that Americans spend more time working than any other activity..and for many people, working equates to sitting. Some folks are beginning to adapt walking meetings, but the majority of the time, business matters are usually still discussed around a conference room table of some sort, or at a desk while on a series of conference calls. So, while we're spending time working...we're spending time sitting. We even sit more than we sleep! We average 9+ hours of sitting per day, compared to around 7 hours of sleeping. I'm just as guilty as the next guy - Get wrapped up in a project at my computer, time flies by and I'm shocked to realize how long it has been since I have taken a break to walk around. In addition to the time we spend sitting while working, we also spend time sitting during leisure time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, one recent study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:

• A nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause
• About a 125% increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain or heart attack. In addition, the increased risk was separate from other traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking or high blood pressure.
• The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall, and your health risks increase.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this research is that spending a few hours each week engaging in moderate or vigorous activity doesn't seem to offset the risk significantly. The true solution seems to be simply - less sitting and more moving - on an ongoing basis. So, how do we do this? Here are a few tips to help us get moving..and keep moving!

• Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
• If you have a desk job, try a standing desk, or create a make-shift desk with a high table or counter.
• Even better, find ways to walk while you work:
o Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings
o Position your work surface above a treadmill, with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand. Or, even utilize a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk. This allows you to truly be in motion throughout the day.
• Another idea is to place reminders on your electronic calendar - Prompting you to stand up and walk around several times throughout the day. Even a movement break of just a few minutes can make a healthy difference!

If we all embrace some of these tips and create new habits, we may see change over time..much like we did with tobacco use in our society. I have always been fascinated by cultural norms, and the ways those norms impact our health-related decisions and habits. Is sitting so prevalent that we don't really even consider the dangerous effect it could be having on us? As a public health professional, I have seen the cultural norms slowly change over time, surrounding smoking and tobacco use. Is sitting the new smoking? Are the cultural norms slowly changing, surrounding the human need to be physically active, and build more movement into our day? Our stress levels, waistlines, and cardiovascular risk factors sure hope so!

Sources: Gallup, Mayo Clinic, and National Institutes of Health