UHA Worksite Wellness

Sitting is the New Smoking: Tips on Cutting Back

Written by Valerie Davison on February 23, 2015. Posted in Activity & Exercise, Post

Years ago, people became aware of the enormous health hazards of smoking but today researchers are alerting us to a new danger: prolonged sitting leads to disease. Sitting is the new smoking. Here are some important tips to change how we use our desks and chairs.


1. We’re sitting ourselves to death. Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative has studied the effects of sedentary lifestyle for years and has concluded, "Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.” Prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing various cancers (specifically colon, endometrial and lung), heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A study of people who sit for extended periods concluded that those who sat the most were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who sat for the least amount of time. A recent study that controlled both diet and exercise found that the only difference in whether people maintained or gained weight was whether they moved around during the day.

2. Muscles are healthiest when they are used. Sitting for eight or nine hours a day at a desk may seem like a productive use of time but can actually result in impaired circulation and weaker muscles which can lead to stiff muscles and mobility issues.

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3. Exercise doesn’t erase the effects. While physical activity is obviously important, studies have found that sitting for extended periods, followed by exercise, doesn’t actually counteract the negative effects created by prolonged sitting. Standing to work, using a treadmill desk or taking frequent opportunities to get up and down are far more beneficial, particularly when it comes to enzymes that break down fat into energy. If you have the choice of taking the elevator or the stairs at work, taking the stairs builds in additional movement in your work day.

4. Get your blood going. Many of us have had the experience of getting cold after sitting too long in one position: we need to move to get our circulation going. But being warm isn’t the only benefit of moving around: boosting our circulation through activity allows oxygen to get to our brains and bodies so we are more energized, and it also promotes the circulation of ‘feel-good’ hormones that stave off depression.

5.Get moving now. And an hour from now. Set a timer and make sure you get up at least once an hour—whether it’s to walk to a water cooler for a quick drink or to stop by your supervisor’s office instead of sending an email. Instead of saving all your filing until Friday, do it twice a day—the simple act of reaching and bending can have surprising health benefits.

6. Netwalk to network. Many people who are convinced of the health value of simple movement have stopped holding meetings in coffee shops or board rooms. Instead, they walk and talk together, often outdoors. It’s a great way to multitask.

7. Make sure to be active after work. Too many people sit at a desk all day and then sit in front of the television all evening. While it’s important to move about more during the day, it’s also vital to build physical activity into your leisure time. If you have kids and grandkids you drive to and from the soccer or baseball field, take in a walk or run while the kids get in their workout.

Getting insufficient activity can lead to all sorts of illnesses and even premature death but the good news is that simple steps can lead to substantial and important health benefits. You could go for a short walk and think about that.

Valerie Davison

Workplace Wellness Manager; Vice Chair, Hawaii Health at Work Alliance (HH@WA) Board of Directors

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