Is sitting the new smoking?

When Dr. James Levine, the director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions and the inventor of the treadmill desk first coined this phrase people thought it was barmy.
But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. We spend most of our day sitting down at the office, in a car, at the dinner table and even whilst exercising. Add another 7 hours of sleeping time and most of us spend just a third of our day on our feet. Even from an evolutionary standpoint, sitting is a position to be assumed for short periods of relief, not for prolonged hours.

Why is sitting so harmful?
Research in the 1950s revealed that bus drivers were 1.5 times likelier to develop heart disease compared to conductors who spent most of their time standing. Contemporary research over the last fifteen years has also reported similar findings. Researchers have suggested that ill effects of sedentary lifestyle are related to a myriad of health problems like cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, lower back issues, deep vein-thrombosis and depression. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer, ahead of obesity.

In a groundbreaking study done by the Columbia University Department of Medicine in 2017 established a link between sedentary lifestyle and early death. The authors reported that the total
sedentary time and the length of sedentary behavior were the key reasons for early mortality.

Participants who sat for 13 hours per day had a 2-fold greater risk of death compared to those who sat for less than 11 hours per day. Also participants who frequently sat in stretches for less than 30 min had a 55% lower risk of death compared to those who sat for more than 30 min at a stretch. There is also a suggestion after taking into account other factors such as age, sex, education, smoking and high blood pressure that the health problems associated with sitting are not reversible through exercise and healthy eating habits.

What do you do then?
The same study found that those who took frequent breaks from sitting were at a lower risk to early mortality. But as there are no official guidelines on sitting the lead author, Keith Diaz based on the results of this study, recommends a 5 min break of brisk walking or standing for every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting.

Instead of a treadmill desk a more practical solution would be an adjustable sit-stand desk, which allows you to alter the height and work while sitting down or standing up. Such desks are a
common sight in the Scandinavian workplace and could be used as a preventative measure rather than a treatment tool for patients with back problems.

What about exercise?
The WHO recommends an adult should do at least 150 min of moderate intensity exercise a week. Most of the exercises that you see in a traditional gym are done in seated position either on the bench or machines. Cardio on rowing machine or cycling also has an element of seating in it, which has less carryover to daily activities. Functional workouts conducted at XFITT? get you up and moving for the entire duration. Our exercises are best described as ‘anti-sitting’. Even for the basic exerciser, these exercises will reduce and rectify the metabolic and musculoskeletal compromise brought about by prolonged sitting.

Take home message
- Ensure you take frequent breaks during periods of prolonged sitting. Eg: 5min of walking or standing for every 30min of consecutive sitting.
- Invest in a sit-stand desk depending on your finances and logistics.
- 150min of weekly exercise which incorporates functional movements and minimal sitting.
- Make small changes in your daily life like taking the stairs instead of the lift, walk to work and ditch the phone and email and actually walk and speak to your colleague in the same office.

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