Is Sitting The New Smoking?

I’ve seen this headline a few times now and every time I see it, I get bothered.  I’ve never smoked so I’m not concerned with that, however I do sit quite a bit when I’m at work, and I don’t like it.  I’m lucky in that I work in a building where I need to get out and about, and walk across campus for meetings and things.  But I still find myself seated at a computer more than I would like to be.

More and more research as of late is finding that, even those people who get the recommended amounts of physical activity daily can still be affected by the hours and hours of time spent sitting each day.  An article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine examined over two-hundred thousand people. The research demonstrated that how we spend our “waking week” even outside of our time spent exercising is very important to our health.  The same article cites several sources which suggest that all-cause mortality is adversely associated with television viewing, recreational screen time, sitting during leisure time, sitting in a car, sitting during main activities (eg, work, school, and housework), and occupations that involve prolonged sitting.

So, for some of us, we are already working with a sedentary population and are trying to increase their physical activity as it is. However, many of us might work with an athletic or active population.  These clients may ask, “isn’t their workout enough?”.  And even still, some others who are active may feel as though they have earned some laying / sitting around time because they already got their structured activity for the day.  You might ask some of them if they would take up smoking, because we are beginning to learn that sitting just might be as dangerous.

As far as addressing the problem, this is where I feel “recreational” types of physical activity come into play.  We as professionals need to recognize sitting as a problem for everyone, not just the sedentary.  In addition to our traditional “fitness” approach to exercise, we need to be encouraging recreational and daily life activity as well.  What could we be encouraging and promoting our clients and patients to do in their free time that makes them move?  How can we be incorporating socializing, fun, play and exercising at the same time?

We all know that we have pretty much worked physical activity out of our society.  I can’t  have my kids walk to school, even if I wanted them to. There aren’t any sidewalks to do it.  So, keep this in mind:  when you hear, “take the stairs” or “park further away”, that isn’t just for the sedentary or obese – this applies to active people too.  We have to be educating those we work with that moving their bodies must be done outside of the clinic, gym or athletic setting. We are built to move – all the time, everywhere – not just in a structured setting.

So, although you may not have ever smoked, you might find yourself sitting a lot throughout the day.  It might be worth re-examining how your day is structured and how you  choose to spend your time even when you aren’t “working out”.  I think we are going to be seeing and hearing more about this and related research – and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be good.

Van der Ploeg, H.P. et al .  (2012)  Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222,497 Australian Adults.  Archives of  Internal  Medicine, 172 (6), 494-500

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