Is Sitting as Bad as Smoking?

A few simple changes in your day could add years to your life. Here’s how.

 Group sitting at a table having a work meeting

People have long been searching for the fountain of youth, and science has finally found a simple solution (kind of)—move more, sit less. Sitting, it turns out, is lethal. The importance of daily exercise is no secret, but even getting 30 minutes of cardio every day won’t make up for a day of sitting at a work desk.

One study covered that 5.3 million deaths could be avoided every single year if people sat less. Those who spend three hours or less sitting every day live two years longer than the average life expectancy, according to the online medical journal, BMJ Open.

Related: Effective Ways To Workout At Work

How long do you sit?

The average American worker sits for about 10 hours a day, but experts recommend sitting for no more than four hours of an eight hour work day.

Why is sitting so bad for you? These are just a few of the problems it causes:

High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and heart disease

When you sit, your blood flow slows down, making it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. Those who have large amounts of sedentary time are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who are more active.

Greater risk of breast, colon, and endometrial cancers

Although the reasons are unclear, studies show a link between extensive sitting and higher risks of certain cancers.

Increased weight gain

In 1999, Dr. James Levine and his team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota conducted a study based on one simple question: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight?

According to the New York Times, the participants were all given an additional 1,000 calories a day. Some were heavily impacted by the additional calories, while others gained hardly any weight. The difference was not what the researchers expected.

Those who kept the weight off simply moved more. They didn’t exercise more—that was not allowed—but in their daily life, they instinctively moved more. Those who packed on the weight sat an average of two hours more per day than those who didn’t. 

Related: Is Sitting as Bad for Our Health as Smoking?

Countless other risks

Sitting also increases the likelihood of developing back problems, shortens hip muscles (which makes you inflexible and decreases your quality of life as you get older), damages disks, encourages bad posture, and permanently strains vertebrae. Scientists still likely don’t know all the consequences that come from our sitting-centric lives, but there can be serious consequences from this habit.

Ideas to help you get moving

Julie Roberts, a nurse practitioner at Intermountain Health says, “You can ‘work out at work’—take stretch breaks every 30 to 60 minutes, or incorporate some desk exercises such as wall squats, desk marches, or chair dips. Even better, instead of standing in a line for lunch, spend that first 10 minutes of your break taking a brisk walk before you eat a packed meal from home.”

She continued, “It’s also important to just get up and move regularly. Stand up to listen to conference calls. Walk to the far printer in the office. Visit someone’s desk rather than call them on the phone. Schedule a walking meeting. Find an excuse to move every half hour or so during your work day.”

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