Over the past few years the phrase by Dr. James Levine, “Sitting is the New Smoking,” has been floating around numerous news and blog sites. From what we know about smoking, it has huge health risks that can be life-threatening. Ever since we were at a young age we’ve been taught that smoking is bad for you. When we were young we had our parents tell us to go outside and play, but now that we are adults, we sometimes forget that we need to also get up and be active. Growing up, we were never really taught that sitting also had its health risks. The real question is, is sitting as bad for you as smoking? In order to dive into this statement, there are many factors to consider.
In order to determine if ‘sitting is the new smoking,’ we must look at the side effects for both. By looking at the side effects, we are able to tell if sitting compares to the known side effects of smoking.
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Sitting Is The New Smoking Links
- Sedentary Side Effects
- Smoking Side Effects
- Additional Health Risks
- Comparing Sitting Disease with Smoking
- 7 Tips To Combat Sitting Disease
- Overall Thoughts
Is Sitting The New Smoking Video
Sedentary Side Effects
Sedentary behavior (prolonged sitting) is something that people do almost every day. In recent studies, they have found that wealthy populations are more sedentary and spend 70% or more of their awake hours sitting. That brings us to the risk factors for sedentary behavior.
Heart diseases can include heart attacks, heart failure, coronary artery disease, vascular disease, and many other heart-related diseases. A study from the 2015 Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting for long periods of time lead to increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Another study from The University of Queensland, Australia found that less sitting and more standing can lower levels of blood sugar, blood fats, and cholesterol which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
A large contributing risk factor for type 2 diabetes is the lack of physical activity, especially for those who are overweight/obese. Being inactive slows down your metabolism, which can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, interrupting prolonged sitting with brief light walking or simple resistance activities, significantly lessens postprandial glucose, insulin, C-peptide, and triglyceride responses in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Long, uninterrupted periods of sitting can increase your risk for certain cancers. Breast and colon cancer are the most influenced by physical activity. Therefore, if you sit for long periods of time, your risk for these types of cancers can increase.
Sedentary behavior has been known to create low moods. People who are inactive have a higher risk for depression, compared to those who are active. Alternatively, people who have depression are more likely to exhibit sedentary behavior. Adding light activity to your day can stand between you and the risk of depression.
Back and Neck Pain
Sitting all day can take a toll on your body, especially your lower back and neck which can lead to disc damage. Sitting can cause a lot of stress on your spine. When sitting at your desk for long periods of time, you may exhibit bad posture which can cause your lower back and neck to hurt. By standing and taking breaks to move around, you are able to elongate your spine and stretch to help reduce neck and back pain and prevent further injury.
Smoking Side Effects
Smoking comes with a long list of health risks. Smoking is harmful to almost every internal organ of the body and can lead to many diseases. In order to fully understand the side effects of smoking, we must look at the risk factors.
When I think of smoking side effects, the number one side effect that comes to mind is the risk for cancer, particularly lung cancer. Around 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States can be attributed to smoking, with about 80% being lung cancer deaths. Although lung cancer is the highest risk, smoking cigarettes can increase your risk for cancer almost anywhere in your body. This includes your bladder, blood, cervix, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, pancreas, and many other areas.
Smoking can increase the risk for many diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. People who smoke are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or coronary heart disease, all of which can lead to death. Smoking cigarettes can also harm your blood vessels. It makes your blood vessels clot and grow narrower which makes your heart beat faster and blood pressure increase.
There are other lung diseases that can be almost as harmful as lung cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is a long-term lung disease comprised of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD and the risk increases with the number of years you have smoked. There is no cure. In addition to COPD, smokers have a higher risk of getting pneumonia, asthma, and respiratory tract infections.
Additional Health Risks
In addition to the health risks above, smoking can harm other internal organs. Smoking can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus by 30-40%. Because smoking is inhaled through your mouth, it can affect your gums and teeth which can lead to tooth loss and gum disease. Smoking can also affect a woman during pregnancy with risks such as stillbirth, early delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome.
Men who smoke can cause potential risks in a woman’s pregnancy when it comes to their sperm because it can increase the risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Smoking is also highly addictive and hard to quit which puts smokers at risk for certain health conditions.
Although data can’t confirm the number of deaths due to sitting, there are more than 480,000 deaths every year in the United States that can be attributed to cigarette smoking. Smoking cigarettes is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. If you combine the deaths caused by HIV, alcohol use, illegal drug use, vehicle accidents, and firearm-related incidents, smoking still has more deaths each year.
Comparing Sitting Disease with Smoking
It is clear that there are harmful health risks involved when it comes to both sedentary behavior and smoking. When you compare the side effects of smoking to sitting for more than eight hours a day, smoking has significantly more health risks than sitting. It is hard to compare the two when smoking is an actual dangerous, addictive activity, while sitting isn’t considered dangerous, nor addictive. There isn’t enough factual data on sitting disease to back up the statement, “sitting is the new smoking,” especially when smoking is attributed to almost 500,000 deaths per year.
In comparing sitting and smoking, they both increase your risk for certain cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. However, the risks of smoking are significantly higher than for sitting. According to Dr. Terry Boyle from the University of South Australia, “While people who sit a lot have around a 10-20 percent increased risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease, smokers have more than double the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease, and a more than 1,000 percent increased risk of lung cancer.”
Even though I wouldn’t say that sitting is the new smoking, we cannot overlook the numerous health issues that arise when we exhibit sedentary behavior for more than 17 hours a day. Sitting all day is not healthy and can increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, back and neck pain, and even certain cancers.
7 Tips to Combat Sitting Disease
The easiest way to prevent sitting disease is to do the opposite of sitting. Standing is the best solution and will give you the most health benefits. Having an even mix of sitting and standing is the most beneficial solution. There are numerous ways to help you prevent sitting disease.
- Set an alarm to remind you to stand or go for a short walk.
- Use your lunch period to go for a walk.
- Park further away from your building to get some extra steps.
- Do some simple office stretches or exercises like squats, lunges, or mimic jump roping.
- Eat healthy and prepare your meals for the week ahead of time.
- DIY a Standing Desk, or get yourself a standing desk converter or a complete standing desk.
- Standing for part of your day will help you burn more calories than sitting.
The saying, “sitting is the new smoking,” may feel a little far-fetched considering smoking is significantly more harmful to you than sitting. Smoking comes with a long list of health risks that can even be life-threatening. That doesn’t mean we should overlook the potential health risks that come along with sitting all day. Sedentary behavior can lead to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and back and neck pain. In some cases, sedentary behavior can increase your risk for certain cancers like breast and colon cancer. It is never too late to prevent sitting disease. With a few small steps, you can be one step closer to reducing your risk for health issues. Unlike smoking, sitting is not an addictive activity. Just by standing occasionally and going for short walks, you will be on the right track to a healthy lifestyle.