Is Sitting the New Smoking?

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Health experts are claiming that the risk of heart attack for people who sit all day is equal to smoking.

Smoking!

Sitting & The Increased Risk for Heart Attacks

is sitting the new smoking?According to Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, people who sit most of the day have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and increased mortality risk compared to those who sit very little during the day. And we aren’t talking a minor health risk – but an increased risk of up to 54% depending on how many hours one sits on a daily basis.

When I first learned about this research, I remember thinking that I was in the clear since I would go on a 30-minute run before heading to work. But according to the National Institute of Health even those who exercise 150 minutes per week – but then proceed to sit between 6 and 11 hours on a daily basis – are just as susceptible to the same negative health effects as those who sat most of the day and did not exercise.

At the time I learned this I was sitting over 8 hours a day between meetings, computer work, client sessions, and commuting so even though I exercised in the morning – once I arrived at work I lived a sedentary lifestyle.  Not good.

This research clued me in to the fact that I needed to make a conscious effort to incorporate more movement – or at the very least – less sitting into my day. If you find yourself in the same boat – sitting most of your day due to work, school and/or leisure activities – the good news is that there are a few simple ways in which to decrease time spent on the ‘tush.

3 Tips for the Active Office-Style

1 Get a stand-up desk.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that the more you stand versus sitting during the day, the better it is for your health. This research shows that standing does not equate to being sedentary as once believed, but is in the ‘moderately active’ category based on the positive effect on one’s telomeres.

Telomeres are caps on the end of DNA strands that shorten and fray with disease and lengthen in the presence of a healthy lifestyle. Apparently, standing positively impacts the health of these telomeres by lengthening them which fosters longevity.

I have been using a stand-up desk for two years now and it has made a significant difference in how I feel after my work day – and in fact, three of us at Green Mountain now use stand-up desks. If you want the option to sit or stand during your day, there are affordable workstations that allow you to lower or raise your computer and keyboard based on sitting or standing.

2 Incorporate more activity into your work day.

If you have a long commute followed by a desk job, the key is to be creative at work around how to incorporate breaks that interrupt long periods of sitting.

Not sure on how much you are moving (or not moving) during the day? Strap on a pedometer as a way to measure what your current activity level is and then as a way to understand how a little movement goes a long way.  It’s not necessary to wear one long term (unless you want to) but in the beginning it might help you to gain a better understanding of your current activity level on your typical day.

At Green Mountain we recommend getting an idea of your average activity level first (if you are using a pedometer, then how many steps you average per day) and then incrementally increase your activity level at a pace that honors your body along the way. Some ways to incorporate more activity into your work day include taking the stairs, conducting walking meetings, taking a short walk over your lunch hour, or taking hourly micro-breaks (a few minutes of standing, walking, and/or stretching) to break up sitting duration.

3 Get regular moderate physical activity.

According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death throughout the world.

This is a sobering statistic considering most of us have control over our activity level. Now, this doesn’t mean we have to be training for a marathon in order to be in the ‘active’ category. Quite the contrary.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. This 30 minutes per day does not need to be high intensity movement or even done all at one time, but can be at a moderate intensity and broken up into increments if that works better with your schedule.

Some ideas on how to be more active are focusing some of your social gatherings around movement instead of food and/or drinking, taking evening walks before watching television, walking the dog a couple times per day, parking further away from entrances when running errands, not taking the escalator but walking instead. Breaking up long periods of sitting with any kind of movement (even standing!!) makes a huge difference. Still need more convincing? Check out this creative video on the health benefits of walking 30 minutes per day.

When it comes to physical activity, one of our mottos at Green Mountain – coined by our Senior Fitness Specialist, Lynn Ann Covell – is that “Something is Better Than Nothing”. Often we believe that the road to health and fitness is sacrificial, but this research shows that little adjustments in physical activity can go a long way to ensuring optimal health. Simply assess how much you currently sit, and then use one or all of these tips to sit less and move more during your day for optimal health.


6 responses to “Is Sitting the New Smoking?”

  1. CARLA says:

    YES YES YES IT IS 🙂
    here I no longer do ANY social media (tweeting etc) while sitting.
    standing and walking for the win!

    • Erin Risius says:

      Carla – what a great idea…!

    • Lisa pharris says:

      I used to heat up just from standing – thanks to GM I no longer do. Yes, I still sit, but the awareness for motion and mindfulness to get something in makes such a difference on how I feel. Another thing I’ve learned is it takes time to take care of me – but I’m worth it! Erin, thank you for sharing what you know to help me get there 🙂

  2. Lisa C. Briggs says:

    Erin… I remember the first time you equated the sitting to walking when I worked at GMFR and it’s stuck with me since. That said, I am still not using a standing desk but there are days that I have to hike my laptop onto a counter and stand for awhile as it’s just too much sitting and I start to feel achey in lower back and just antsy overall. Helpful to know that daily workouts don’t really offset a day of sitting. About to click on link for standing desks… Hope you’re well… Bet the mountain is gorgeous with foliage this week. xox Lisa

  3. Erin Risius says:

    Yes, it’s beautiful out here…! Glad you are ordering a stand up desk, I couldn’t work any other way anymore… Hope all is well with you too…

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About the Author

Erin Risius, MA, LPC

Erin Risius, MA, LPC, is a former program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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