Sitting is the New Smoking…Even if You’re Active
You’ve heard “sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a pretty upsetting claim.
Especially because you’re sitting while you read this. I’m sitting while I write this.
Most of us have jobs that require a lot of sitting.
Meetings. Emails. Meetings. Emails. Sitting. Sitting. Sitting.
It’s a bummer. But you’re healthy, right?
You read this blog! You eat clean! You drink green juice on occasion. You hit the gym twice a week – certainly that counteracts all the sitting.
Well, actually, no.
Sitting is worse for you than you think. And even if you’re active, you’re not safe. Here’s what you need to know, and how to save yourself.
Part I: Why Sitting Is So Bad
- It reduces circulation, slowing blood flow and nutrients to key parts of the body
- It depresses LPP1.
This key gene (LPP1=lipid phosphate phosphatase-1) prevents blood clotting and inflammation. When you sit for long periods of time, production of this enzyme slows and stays suppressed, even after exercise. Here’s the study.
“The shocker was that LPP1 was not impacted by exercise if the muscles were inactive most of the day,” Hamilton says. “Pretty scary to say that LPP1 is sensitive to sitting but resistant to exercise.”
-Dr. Genevieve Healy for Runner’s World
- It lowers serotonin: slow circulation means fewer feel-good hormones like serotonin reach the brain.
Sitting Increases the Risk of:
A study of 3,757 women found that for every two hours they sat in a given work day, their risk of developing diabetes went up seven percent, which means their risk is 56 percent higher on days they sit for eight hours.
–Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews
- Heart disease
Men who reported more than 10 hrs/wk riding in a car or more than 23 hrs/wk of combined sitting had 82% and 64% greater risk of dying from CVD than those who reported less than 4 hrs/wk or less than 11 hrs/wk, respectively.
–Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
The risk of cancer increased with each 2-hour increase in sitting time, 8% for colon cancer, 10% for endometrial cancer, and 6% for lung cancer.
–Journal of the National Cancer Institute
Women who sat >7 hours/day and women who did no physical activity were more likely to have depressive symptoms than women who sat ≤4 hours/day.
–American Journal of Preventative Medicine
You Exercise? You’re Still Not Safe
In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that on average people sit for more than nine hours a day, whether or not they exercised.
And on days that you exercise, you’re more likely to spend more time sitting after you’re done at the gym. Runner’s World reports that, “people are about 30 percent less active overall on days when they exercise versus days they don’t.”
“It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23 and half hours.”
-Dr. David Alter, on Science Daily
In a 12-year study of more than 17,000 Canadians, researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died—regardless of age, body weight, or how much they exercised.
MedPage Today put it succinctly: “mortality is higher in those who spend a lot of time in chairs, irrespective of exercise.”
Part II: How to Stop Sitting So Much
If you’re at a computer all day, the ultimatum “stop sitting” seems discouraging, and also impossible. Standing desks are nice and all, but there’s no way you can expense report that.
So where do you start?
Make Tiny Changes
Start with a microhabit. It’s so easy you can’t not do it.
- Stand up or move for one to three minutes every half hour.
- Stand during commercials when watching TV.
- Track your steps (with Fitbit or similar) to quantify your progress and stay motivated.
Stop Stressing About Exercise…Just Move
The key to not sitting is movement, not gym time. We’ve already learned that 30 minutes at the gym isn’t enough to counteract your desk job. Instead, just move around more.
Tom Rath, a leading author on optimizing life for health and happiness, has some great advice:
“Stop worrying about exercise. Sitting less and taking a few more steps each day is a better place to start.”
In an interview with Daniel Pink, Rath recommends:
- Pace when you’re on the phone.
- Stand when you’re on your laptop (ex: at the coffee shop or countertop).
- Choose the first parking spot you see instead of circling the lot for a closer one.
Rath says that once you have added enough activity to hit 10,000 steps a day, then worry about daily cardiovascular exercise. Rath’s new book Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life is full of other awesome recommendations.
Walk for Two Minutes
Take a two-minute walk. Yep, just two minutes.
This study found that participants who replaced two minutes of sitting with a short walk or stroll increased their life span significantly.
That sounds like a microhabit we can all commit to, right?