Sitting: The ‘New Smoking’

Excessive sitting contributes to a host of health issues

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

You may not have a pack-a-day tobacco habit. But too much sitting can also cause and exacerbate numerous health issues.

James Levine, physician and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, developed the concept that “sitting is the new smoking,” referring to excessive time in a seated position, whether driving, working or watching a screen.

Of course, working out for an hour three times a week is good for you. But the medical journal Circulation states that it’s not effective in undoing hours of sitting. It’s about sitting less and breaking up sitting sessions, not about working out longer.

“A sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity and can also lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, along with high cholesterol,” said Jill Murphy, co-owner of Mission Fitness. “Also, a sedentary lifestyle causes one to lose muscle or atrophy, and if the muscles around the joints are not strong, the integrity of the joints become compromised.

“Living a sedentary life can eventually decrease one’s quality of life, leaving them with the inability to do what they were once able to do: go for a walk with family or friends, shovel, rake, mow the lawn, move things around in the house and carry the groceries. I love the quote ‘a body in motion stays in motion.’ There is so much truth to that.”

It’s important to stand and move throughout the day, in addition to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, performing one or two sessions of strength training, plus stretching.

“We have had clients who have two, one-hour sessions and sit the rest of the week,” said Randy Sabourin, certified personal trainer and owner of Metro Fitness in Syracuse. “They have back problems and wonder why. You would get metabolic benefit to moving more during the day.”

He encourages walking and stretching during the day to increase flexibility, burn calories and increase circulation.

Taking a brisk, 10-minute walk at each work break can help. Although it may not always be advisable in bad weather, walking the hallways can also get more steps into the day.

If possible, consider varying your workday so you can stand for a period each hour. Sabourin recommends setting reminder alarms to get up and move each hour.

“If you have a raised computer platform on your desk, try doing some of your work standing,” Sabourin said. “It gets your spine in a good position.”

Keeping hand weights or resistance bands at your workstation can also help you get in a few sets of exercises during the day.

Ask your primary care provider before beginning an exercise regimen.

Remedies to Excessive Sitting

According to the Mayo Clinic:

• Five minutes of standing activities (walking the dog, folding laundry or taking out the trash) for every hour of sitting is sufficient to combat sedentary behavior.

• Set alarms on your phone to remind you to stand up and move every hour.

• Walk around while talking on your phone.

• Stand up during television ads and walk around the room.

• A short walk (10 minutes) after each meal reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

• Take the stairs when that is an option.

• One simple lifestyle change: reducing the time you spend sitting is the key to a dramatic difference to your physical and mental health. You have the key.