Is Sitting Truly the New Smoking?

by Aleisha Fetters
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Is Sitting Truly the New Smoking?

Sitting is a part of life, yes. But we’re sitting so much these days, and it’s catching up to us. “In recent years, more and more attention has been brought to the potentially harmful side effects of spending too much time in a seated position,” says Justin Russ, a strength and conditioning coach for IMG Academy in Florida. “Excessive sitting can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.” A recent study even compared sitting to smoking.

Unfortunately, for many of us, whether we work out or not, we’re spending relatively equal parts of our days on our rear ends — in the car, at our desks, on the couch, you name it. Research from Northwestern University shows that women who regularly exercise spend just as much time sitting as do women who are inactive. And a 2015 meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that time spent sitting, regardless of exercise, is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

So, is there any way to counter the ill effects of sitting? Or are we doomed?

New research suggests that it is possible to counteract “sitting disease.” The thing is, it requires more activity than what organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association recommend.

For instance, a 2015 Circulation review of 12 studies involving more than 370,000 men and women found that those who followed the AHA’s 30-minute daily guidelines were associated with “modest reductions” in heart failure risk. However, those who spent two and four times that amount enjoyed a “substantial risk reduction” of 20% and 35%, respectively. Basically, the more you move, the less risk your desk job poses to your health.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study of more than 1 million adults published in The Lancet found that exercising one hour for every eight hours spent sitting results in a significant reduction — and in some cases, elimination — in the risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and some cancers associated with sitting.

The news gets better: Fortunately for all of the time-strapped people out there, that hour per day doesn’t have to happen in one chunk. You can spread it out, according to researchers: in the gym, at the office, on the way to pick your kids up from school, anywhere.

Here are five tips to help you exercise your way out of the negative effects of sitting, no matter how many hours you spend each day on your rear end:

1. Steer clear of the exercise machines.

“What do 90% of exercise machines have in common? They place the exerciser in a seated position,” Russ says. He recommends swapping out exercise machine workouts for functional free-weight workouts centered around basic human movement patterns like the squat, deadlift, lunge, pull and rotate.

2. Take hourly mini breaks.

“If you sit at a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., try to move every hour throughout the day,” says Tonya Dugger, an American Council on Exercise-certified trainer and group fitness manager at Equinox in Chicago. She notes that moving even two to three minutes every hour can get blood moving to keep your body healthy. Try downloading an app that lets you set it so that every hour, your screen dims, a “break” theme appears and you’re encouraged to get up. Try performing one round of a body-weight circuit in your cubicle every hour. (We promise that you won’t get too sweaty.)

3. Watch your “active minutes.”

Many fitness trackers display not just steps taken per day but also “active minutes,” which can help you gauge your active undertakings that don’t involve putting one foot in front of the other. After all, pushups won’t count toward your step totals, but they will certainly help you combat sitting. “Take advantage of the data to motivate yourself to hit new numbers,” he says.

4. Schedule walking meetings.

Apart from getting you on your feet, walking meetings are actually more productive than those held in chairs, says Kathleen Hale, founder of Chair Free Project. Start with holding meetings with co-workers whom you believe would be receptive to the idea,” she says. “As others see you happily walking and chatting, the movement just might catch on.”

5. Name one task a standing one.

“To remind ourselves to get out of our chairs, we need a cue,” Hale says. “Pick a task that you can do while standing and make it your ‘get up’ cue. Maybe it’s talking on the phone, reviewing documents or even checking social media. When it is time to perform whichever task you picked, stand up to get the job done. Even these short breaks from sitting can really make a difference.”


  • Evie

    I don’t agree with the first tip “Steer clear of the exercise machines” I can only think of 2 or 3 types of sitting machines off the top of my head and I avoid those because it doesn’t feel like working out to me and I have no trouble standing. However, I like to spend 30 to 60 minutes at a time on an eliptical or treadmill and I get the majority of my steps and “active hours” each day on an eliptical.

    • Vi

      I agree! I use my elliptical 2 times a day for 15-20 min a time and then I also walk and do weights 2-3 times a week. On the days that I missed a walk or there is inclement weather, I just hope on the elliptical and I really get a great cardio workout. Very good machines!

  • ReadYourSources

    Everyone sits, not everyone smokes. This study is an impact on global health, not on an individual health. Sitting has no were near the negative health impact of smoking, not even close.

    • Theresa Henderson

      obesity ( in large part due to inactivity ) has a higher death rate than smoking .

  • Joy

    I am in the process of transitioning to a stand/sit desk I am currently standing for 60 minutes and sitting for 20. I plan to change the time sitting as I progress I am getting more steps and can tell I am moving more as well.

  • Sloan William

    the reason it is bad to be in a sitting position for long durations is because it is detrimental to blood circulation,, it also increases stress.. Rich people have known about this for at least the past decade. Rich people and super rich can afford these zero gravity chairs and zero gravity chair workstations.. Although you do not need a zero gravity chair, a simple La-Z-Boy recliner in a laid-back position will do the trick nicely..

    I disagree with telling people to exercise more often and to stand more often. Everything in moderation.. It is a scientific fact that even exercise contributes to stress. In my humble opinion, exercise is good as long as you follow it with relaxation time while sitting in the zero gravity chair or La-Z-Boy recliner.

    Over the past 48 days I have lost 25 pounds simply by reducing stress by being in a La-Z-Boy recliner.. Also the food I eat which is tortilla chips or multigrain bread and lean baked chicken also helped me to lose weight. Drinking hot water also helped me to lose weight.. Drinking peppermint tea and chamomile tea also help me to lose weight. Eating corn on the cob at night before bed also helped me to lose weight.. The foods I eat have a good amount of resistant starch. I eat perhaps every 3 to 4 hours, about 300 cal per meal.

    La-Z-Boy recliner’s have the same benefits as zero gravity chairs. They improve blood circulation,, the relaxed muscles in the body,, they decompress the spine,, the make it easier to breathe especially while sleeping at night although you do not sleep in a La-Z-Boy recliner..

    • Are you a Lay-Z-Boy salesman or company executive? 🙂

      • Sloan William

        Why would that matter?

        • Kay

          Really? Why would it matter? Go push your crappie furniture elsewhere.

          • Sloan William

            you must be a Donald supporter. Doesn’t affect me in the slightest….and no I am not selling anything.. I was simply offering advice that has truly helped me out and is backed up by science.. .now take your crappy attitude and go troll somewhere else, loser

  • I have been using a standing desk for 3 years and it has definately imporved by circulation and stress. The first few weeks of standing much of the day is difficult because you are not used to it, but after that it is natural. But standing 8 hours a day is not idea, either it is all about varying your position. “The best position is the next positioon” a wise personn told me!

  • davedave12

    Sitting is the new smoking —-I work from home mostly, on a computer, in my chair. I find taking notes while walking difficult and typing at a stand up desk less efficient that typing while sitting. A serious meeting probably involves some paper work

    I use a kitchen timer. I set it for 50 minutes then I get up and take a smoke break