Is Sitting the New Smoking?
I spend most of my life sitting down. Whether it’s staring at a laptop screen for most of my day during university, eating, mindlessly watching TV, or scrolling on my phone. Particularly during the pandemic, many of us now live from a desk. Being forced to give up socializing and our hobbies, even our daily walks to and from work and school, has also pushed many of us into living an incredibly sedentary life.
The effects of this sedentary lifestyle have led some scientists to call sitting the new smoking. Spending most of your day sitting increases the likelihood that you will be overweight, that you will develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease, and that you will suffer from depression and anxiety. This is because sitting for long periods slows the metabolism, hindering the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. Physical inactivity contributes to over three million preventable deaths worldwide each year. That is 6% of all deaths.
The health risks of prolonged sitting are not new discoveries. In the 1950s researchers found that bus drivers were twice as likely to have a heart attack as bus conductors. This was because the drivers spent most of their working day sitting down, whereas the conductors got up, moved around, and climbed stairs throughout their day. Unfortunately, just because we have had this information for a long time doesn’t mean we are effectively combatting our inactivity. Sedentary behavior is increasingly common as more of us work from desks, travel in our own cars, and spend more of our leisure time on the internet. According to the World Health Organisation, there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001, and in high-income countries inactivity has increased by 5%.
There are two things we should change about our behavior if this information concerns us. Firstly, we need to reduce the amount of time that we are sitting throughout the day. This can be done by increasing time spend doing light or moderate activity, like walking. Secondly, we must break up our time when sitting more effectively. For example, when watching TV, we should try to move around during ad breaks, or stand up to do the dishes after an episode. If we have been sat working for hours, we should get up and walk around for ten minutes.
Most of us are inactive, even if we exercise. The plus side of this is that people who hate exercise do not need to worry any more than anyone else. A recent Instagram post by the Guardian shows us that it is not unusual for humans to find physical exertion difficult, our body’s instinct is to hold on to all calories. The remedy for inactivity is not very intense exercise, instead, it is consistent, moderate movement. Getting 10, 000 steps a day is something anyone can do, no matter their fitness level, because it can be done at their own pace and can be broken up to fit their schedule. Walking is free, quick, and it gives us fresh air and a break from our screens. If lockdown after lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that a daily walk can be a lifesaver in stressful times.
We could decide to walk somewhere that we normally drive or get public transport too. We could try home workout videos, or learn dances. We could actually take a lunch break, and use it to get a breath of fresh air and ten minutes of yoga outside. It doesn't really matter what we do, as long as we're trying to move a little bit more every single day. It could literally add years to our lives.