Sitting is the New Smoking: Time to Change It Up for Better Health — May 2015

Sitting is the New Smoking: Time to Change It Up for Better Health — May 2015


A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in January revealed that prolonged sitting increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, even for people who exercise regularly.

Say what? If you aren’t active, you probably know that you’d be healthier if you were, but what if you already exercise? Yes, it’s true. The above risks are 30 percent less for people who exercise than for non-active people, but they still exist if the rest of the day is spent sitting. Being chronically inactive—sitting at work, driving/riding in a vehicle, TV watching, other screen time—is the culprit.

Prolonged sitting, like smoking, can increase your risks for disease and early death. David Alter, MD, PhD, said that people should try to cut two to three hours of sedentary time from their day, everyday.

The hazards of lengthy sitting were first discovered in a 1950s study of the London Transport Executive and Post Office employees. Researchers found that more active workers (bus conductors and postmen) had lower death rates from heart disease than their less active counterparts (bus drivers and switchboard operators). It has since been considered that it was not only increased activity, but also less time spent sitting that influenced healthier outcomes.

Prolonged sitting is a particular issue for those with diabetes or at risk for developing it. When we sit, we don’t use our muscles and don’t metabolize glucose as effectively. This is risky for those already experiencing some level of insulin resistance where the body does not use the natural insulin hormone effectively to keep blood sugar levels steady. Studies have shown that people who walk very slowly after a meal have 24 percent lower glucose levels.


The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study in June 2014 of more than 4 million people showing the relationship between physical inactivity and higher risk for colon, endometrial and lung cancer. The risk for these conditions increased 6-10 percent with each additional 2 hours of sitting time per day. TV watching was linked most strongly with colon and endometrial cancers, possibly because soft drinks and other “junk” foods, which have the potential to increase the risk of cancer, are often consumed while watching TV.

Screen Time

The average person spends more than half of their waking time engaged in sedentary activities.  Time spent by children and adolescents watching television, playing video games, and sitting in front of a computer has concerned parents for some time, but it is equally a concern for adults. A study published in a 2011 issue of BMC Public Health showed that Belgian adults watched 128 minutes of television and spent 44 minutes using the internet daily. The amount of TV watching increased with age, higher body mass index and the belief that TV watching was not harmful. The larger the television, the more time spent watching, and the more computers in the home, the more time spent onscreen.

It’s Harder Than Ever

  • Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950.
  • 69% of adults are obese or overweight.
  • Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of our workforce.
  • The average work week is longer (47 hours).

Source: American Heart Association

Reducing Sedentary Time

The lead author of the Annals of Internal Medicine study, David Alter, MD, PhD, said that people should try to cut two to three hours of sedentary time from their day. He also said that exercising for an hour a day does not replace the need to avoid prolonged sitting. He suggests taking one to three minute breaks every half hour and to stand or exercise while watching TV.

Dr. Alter also advises that sitting less will help anyone whether they currently exercise or not. Just small amounts of regular activity can make a big difference. Here are some tricks for becoming less sedentary:

  • Standing uses more muscles and burns more calories than sitting so take frequent breaks from sitting. Stretch, fill your water bottle, and visit the rest room.
  • At work, you may be able to use a standing desk or wireless headset (or one with a long cord) for standing phone calls. Some managers encourage “walking meetings” to encourage movement.
  • If you don’t already have an exercise plan, gradually add one to your routine.
  • Take a walk after meals and while you talk on the phone.
  • Wear a pedometer to count steps and work up to 10,000 steps or more per day. Taking the stairs, walking the dog, pacing the sidelines at your kids’ athletic will help add up the steps.
  • When watching TV, stand up during commercial breaks, fold laundry, exercise or neaten the room.
  • Engage in other kinds of activities such as bowling, gardening and cooking, that have you moving about.

Naturally, it makes sense to discuss physical activity and your risk factors with your healthcare provider to ensure you adopt safe habits. Please also contact KnovaSolutions for information about the risks of sedentary lifestyles and for other ways to change up your lifestyle. Call 800/355-0885.

The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

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