3 REASONS WHY SITTING IS THE NEW SMOKING AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Our lives have changed since the mid-1950’s in terms of how we work and how we move around during the day. In short, we sit too much.
Whether it’s sitting in a car or bus on the way to work, sitting in front of a computer all day, or watching TV in the evening, we spend a lot of time sitting. According to Nilofer Merchant, entrepreneur and Stanford lecturer, we’re spending on average 9.3 hours per day sitting versus 7.7 hours sleeping.
WHY WORRY ABOUT SITTING TOO MUCH?
The decision to spend this much time sitting comes at a cost. The consequences include:
1. REDUCED ABILITY TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
When you sit, you automatically limit yourself to the type of activity that uses little energy. When sitting, you simply cannot perform the types of multi-joint, multi-muscular movements that will yield long-term benefits in terms of energy use and muscle development. Energy use is important for maintaining a healthy weight and body-fat percentage. Natural, full-body movement is what our bodies are designed to do.
What’s worse is that a daily workout cannot offset the effects of prolonged sitting. According to Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement states: “Actively sedentary is a new category of people who are fit for one hour but sitting around the rest of the day… You can’t offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise.”
2. INCREASED RISK OF MORTALITY (DESPITE EXERCISE BREAKS)
Even when adult populations meet general activity requirements, prolonged bouts of sitting carry increased risk of premature mortality. Specifically these risks include:
- 54% increase in lung cancer
- 66% increase in uterine cancer
- 30% increase in colon cancer
3. INCORRECT POSTURE
Your spine will always be in search of stability. If part of your body is incapable of contributing to your spine’s overall stability, it will re-adjust to restabilise.
Your lower body muscles are an important contributor to the stability of your spine. When you sit too much your lower body essentially switches off. When this happens, your body will readjust in an attempt to restore the stability in your spine. This readjustment results in rounded shoulders and a forward neck position, otherwise known as kyphosis.
WHAT YOU CAN START DOING RIGHT NOW
What is crucial in terms of making changes is to develop healthy habits that stick. By looking at your current activities and making slight, progressive changes, you can improve your health and improve your life quickly and permanently.
ADJUST YOUR WORK DAY
There’s a few tweaks you can start doing straight away to break the sitting habit.
- The Pomodoro Method: I use this when I’m writing or spending a bunch of time in front of a lap top. You turn it on, and the timer will run for 25 minutes. You then receive an audible alarm telling you it’s time to take a break, which lasts 5 minutes (these variables can be programmed). Make sure you stand for that 5 minutes, and then return to your task knowing that your lower body has been given a brief wake-up call
- Standing/Walking meetings: choosing to hold standing or walking meetings not only improves your circulation and gets you moving more – it also improves your productivity and creativity by encouraging attendees to be:
- Faster: according to Melissa Dahl of New York Magazine, meeting standing up decreases meeting length by 34%.
- More focused: when you are standing you are less likely to respond to an email or text message, if for no other reason than standing over a computer and responding looks too obvious.
- More creative: according to a Stanford study, we are more creative when we walk then when we sit. By making your meetings mobile you have a better chance of a shorter, more focused, and more productive session.
ALTER YOUR COMMUTE
One of the easiest ways to increase your activity is to include more activity in your commute.
This can take several forms, but the point is to inject increasing amounts of activity into your morning travels. This can include:
- Park farther away from your office to encourage more walking
- Get off one tube or bus stop earlier to increase your activity going into work
It will mean leaving a few minutes earlier, but the long-term benefits associated with this small change far outweigh the short-term inconvenience.
It’s still up for debate as to whether or not sitting is the new smoking, but standing and walking are most definitely the way forward.
ABOUT JAMES STARING
James Staring is a personal trainer based in Clapham. James focuses on building the best version of you and inspiring you to new levels of health and fitness – regardless of your current ability or age.
James is always keen to share the tools he uses to assist others in achieving their goals and has contributed to publications such as Your Fitness, Healthy and Hello! magazines.
Kyphosis image: https://skindisorders1.wikispaces.com/file/view/kyphosis.jpg
Merchant, N: Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation: Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2013/01/sitting-is-the-smoking-of-our-generation
Starrett, K: Standing Up to a Sitting World: Victory Belt Publishing, 26 April 2016, 727
Dr. Mercola: Are Your Sitting Too Much? http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/05/08/sitting-too-long.aspx
Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2010;38(3):105-113. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2.
Taparia, N: Kick The Chair: How Standing Cut Our Meeting Times By 25%: See the full article here
Dahl, M: Work Smarter: meetings Are 34% Shorter If You Stand Up: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/05/work-smarter-for shorter-meetings-stand-up.html
Wong, M: Stanford Study Finds Walking Improves Creativity: http://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/