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Is Sitting the New Smoking?

At first glance, sitting may not have anything in common with smoking, but once you delve a bit deeper you'll realize they're a bit more alike than you'd expect.

We've all heard the buzzphrase "sitting is the new smoking". It's become highly trendy in the last few years, which is why standing desks, Walkstations, and even stability ball chairs are all the rage. But what does it really mean? How could sitting down be anything like smoking cigarettes?

Well, take a look at the health repercussions of smoking. Aside from the risk of lung cancer, there are secondary side effects, including high blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, arterial stiffness and narrowing, higher cholesterol, and many other dangers. At first glance, sitting may not have anything in common with smoking, but once you delve a bit deeper you'll realize they're a bit more alike than you'd expect.

Sitting down isn't what's going to cause health problems — it's long-term periods of sitting mixed with a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for more than 6 hours per day can lead to a number of health problems, including:

  • Cancer – It may sound odd, but you have a higher risk of endometrial, colon, and perhaps even lung cancer when you spend a lot of time sitting down. Even daily physical activity isn't enough to mitigate the risk, which increases for every additional two hours you spend sitting.
  • Heart disease – Men and women who sit more than 6 hours per day have a higher mortality rate than those who don't. The risk of cardiovascular death is much higher (54 percent) if you spend more time sitting.
  • Decreased posture – Poor posture (from slouching or slumping in your chair) can lead to skeletomuscular deficiencies, or it could cause your movement to change (for the worse).
  • Slower metabolism – The more time you spend sitting, the less time you spend moving around. Less movement = fewer calories burned = slower metabolic rate.

Sitting may not be as bad as smoking — God knows lung, throat, and oral cancer are far worse than any of the effects of sitting — but it's still dangerous for your health. The health problems caused by spending more time sitting make it clear that you need to get up and move around as much as possible.

You may be wondering, "How can I move around more? I have to spend all day working at my desk, so how can I possibly spend less time sitting without investing in a fancy Walkstation or standing desk?"

Good question, and one that's pretty tough to answer. For the majority of the professional workforce, it's not possible to avoid hours spent sitting. You have to work at your computer, which means you have to be seated.

However, there are times when you can get out of your chair and move around: when on the phone, when talking to your coworkers, or reading printed documents. Even just the act of standing while you talk can help to decrease the negative effects of sitting.

Also, try to take a break every 30-60 minutes. Get up out of your chair and move around for a few minutes. Walk to the watercooler to drink more water, or do a few exercises to counteract the muscular weakening effects of sitting. The more you move around every day, the better!

[Image via Shutterstock]

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