Have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking.

It’s not news that the health risks of smoking are serious and life-threatening.  We’ve known for years that cigarette smoking has been linked to heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer and early death. There’s a new behavioral villain on the rise though, and research is revealing that it could be as costly to our health as smoking. Have you heard?  Sitting is the new smoking.

Sitting—or sedentary behavior—is characterized as any waking activity that requires minimal energy expenditure such as sitting at a desk, working on a computer, watching television, driving or playing video games. With the help of mobile technology, we can do our work or be entertained from virtually anywhere and we don’t need to expend much energy to do so.  As a result, Americans are spending more time than ever before—up to 10.2 hours a day, according to the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)—engaging in sedentary behavior.

Sitting may seem harmless, but emerging research shows that people who sit for prolonged periods of time significantly increase their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and early death.  This risk is substantially greater for people who sit for more than 7 hours per day, which doesn’t even encompass a full day of work for some students and working professionals!  The risk of prolonged sitting impacts people who exercise, as well.  Research suggests that, while exercise plays a significant preventative role in protecting from certain chronic diseases, exercising 30 minutes per day does not diminish the negative impact of sitting for 7 or more hours a day.

So what’s the solution?  We’ve got to sit less and move more, and we’ve got to instigate a cultural re-boot.  As a culture we have evolved to associate sitting time with productivity and we naturally gravitate toward convenience at any cost.  We’re paying a high price, though, and it’s time to stand up and make a change. Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Strive to meet the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)’s minimum recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week.
  • Stand when you can. When your phone rings or someone stops by your office, stand up for the conversation.  If you’re folding laundry or reading a magazine or an email, consider tackling the task on your feet.
  • Instigate change in the workplace. If you are in a position of authority, allow the people you lead the opportunity to stand.  Create an environment where a person’s productivity isn’t tied to the amount of time they spend in their seat. Encourage workday activity such as walking meetings or midday stretch sessions, and be sure to model the behavior yourself!

Kendra Rorabaugh is a certified personal trainer and supervisor of Group Fitness and Aquatics Programs for the Prisma Health Life Center.

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