Sitting … the new smoking!


I don’t want to make you scared of your chair right now … but you might want to stand up while you read this!

Apparently sitting is as bad as smoking!  Maybe worse. Alongside overeating, alcohol and smoking, sitting joined a hit list of lifestyle behaviours that could shorten your life (and impact your quality of life before you get one foot in the grave!).  In recent years, dozens of studies have linked prolonged sitting with higher risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and more. Some researchers have gone further, saying sitting is worse for your health than smoking and kills more people than HIV.  Even more depressing, hitting the gym a few times a week, may not cancel out the negative impacts of sitting!  Good bye movie time ….  Adieu surfing the web after work …. Farewell desk job … Aufwiedersehen driving everywhere!  All sounds a bit sit!

Since the initial studies came out, the response has been to stand more; accompanied by a mini-wave of tools to help you do this.  Standing desks. Treadmill desks. Fitness watches prompting you to stand.   The thing is, medical science is just beginning to understand the impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on health.  And standing for extended periods of time is also bad for you!  Prolonged standing can cause back problems, muscle pain, physical fatigue, cardiovascular problems and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

But a new study published in October 2015, offers a sliver of hope to all couch potatoes out there.  It throws some cold water on the original claims, by suggesting  sitting for extended periods of time is not associated with an increased risk of death. The real problem is lack of movement.

“Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself.” University of Exeter’s Melvyn Hillsdon, a study author, said in a statement. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

There seems to be broad agreement across studies: sit less and move more.  Moving has obvious benefits; increasing metabolism, using different muscle groups and most importantly reducing the load on the lumbar spine.  But how much sitting and standing is ok?

Researchers have now come up with guidelines for how much we should sit and stand throughout the day.  It could dramatically change your work life and daily habits.  These experts say, if you have a desk based job, you should start standing up at work for at least two hours a day – and work your way toward four (half of a typical 8 hour work day).  They also warn about the negative impacts of substituting sitting for simply standing … you need to walk about a bit when you get up.  And although only a starting point, the guidelines are designed to give people some kind of research-based target, rather than rely on the claims made by the manufacturers of treadmill and sit-stand desks that are becoming all the rage. (More than 90 percent of workers in Scandinavia have access to them.)

So how can you add movement to your day … without looking weird at work or spending a small fortune?

Take your calls standing. Walk around. Pace. Hold standing meetings. Have walking meetings. Walk over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an e-mail. Use the stairs instead of the escalator. Take a lunch break.  Set up a reminder on your calendar to move.  Park further away from the shops.  Drive less. Simple stuff.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down … at least we will tone our derrieres and thighs in the process!


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3 thoughts

  1. Great post. I always think balance is key. Exercise, relax, and move when you need to. Our friend has a desk job so every hour he gets up and does a bunch of push ups. By the end of each work day, cumulatively, he’s done a lot of them! And he feels more energized and clear headed than if he’d just sat all day.


    1. Thanks. I definitely agree, balance is key! I love the fact your friend gets up every hour to do a little burst of exercise. I definitely find that if I stay sitting for ages my back seizes and I get tired … leading me to rummage in the kitchen cupboards for a pick-me-up! A downward spiral!


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