Fat, Sick and Getting Worse: Why Sitting is the New Smoking

As we’ve made the transition from the fields and the factories to cubicles, our bodies have begrudgingly had to come along for the ride.

While longer life spans, lower risk of workplace-related injuries and death, and a lot more leisure time are amazing things that we should all be grateful for, all of these benefits don’t come without a bit of risk.

One of the biggest risk factors of our new, more sedentary lifestyle, is sitting.

It’s such a major issue that it can be classified as its own risk factor when talking about the development of disease, illness, and even death, much in the same way a doctor would say you are at a higher risk of something due to being a smoker.

You may have heard it before, but “sitting is the new smoking”.

Studies are now showing that sitting is slowly killing us, and the negative effects start as soon as our butt hits the chair.

The Current State Of Sitting

People are sitting far more than ever before.

Conservative estimates, taking into account those who are not office workers, puts the average person sitting for around 6 hours per day.

However, there are some who estimate the average person’s time spent sitting at closer to 12 hours per day.

Image Source: CareofLife.com

And it makes perfect sense when you break down an average work day for most people in the West.

Average commute times in the US are about 30 minutes each way. Assuming an 8 hour work day, you’re spending 9 hours of your day mostly sat down already.

We can safely add an hour throughout the day sitting down to eat, bringing our total to around 10 hours.

We’re not even including any leisure time, yet, which for many people involves multiple hours of TV or computer activity.

I think it’s plain to see that for most people, it’s only too easy to hit the 12-hour threshold.

How Is Sitting Actually Bad For Us?

There are so many horrible things sitting does to us, it’s difficult to know where to start.

Overall Death

First of all, sitting increases your risk of death anywhere from 12-40%, for all causes. Those who sit the most (13+ hours per day) are almost 200% more likely to die early than those who sit the least throughout the day.

Without even getting into the specifics, that’s a huge impact on your likelihood of early death, just from being sedentary.

Sitting Makes Us Fat And Gives Us Diabetes

Sitting also makes you fat (though some dispute this) and can cause the development of Type 2 diabetes.

There was a study done where the researchers controlled a diet across all participants, meaning that all things being equal, they should all gain, lose, or maintain weight equally.

Interestingly, even with the same diet, the people who gained weight were the ones who sat the most, showing that sitting can impact even the most fundamental building block of our health: the food we consume.

One of the reasons this happens is that when we sit, our bodies drop to burning about 1 calorie per minute, compared to anywhere between 3 and 6 calories per minute when we’re walking.

Additionally, enzymes that help break down fat drop by 90% as soon as we sit down.

Increases Cancer Risk

Sitting is also a huge risk factor for cancer.

The National Cancer Institute did a study that tells us that sitting increases the rate of cancer significantly.

It increases the risk of lung cancer by 54%, colon cancer by 30%, and uterine cancer by a whopping 66%.

Combatting It Isn’t Easy

Unfortunately, the negative side effects start right away.

From dropping calorie-burning down to 1 calories per minute and reducing enzymes that break down fat by 90%, to shutting off the electrical activity in your leg muscles, sitting sinks its fingers into you immediately.

After 2 hours of sitting, good cholesterol rates drop by as much as 20%.

After 24 hours of sitting, insulin effectiveness drops 24% and the risk of diabetes increases.

For a more long-term picture, people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs.

And none of this can be counteracted by spending more time in the gym, which is perhaps the most frightening part of all. Once you’ve sat, the damage is done.

Sitting Is Slowly Taking Years Off Your Life – Here’s How To Fight Back

While there are a few tips and tricks you can use to limit the effects we’ve talked about, the best way I’ve seen it broken down into an actionable piece of advice is this, from Keith Diaz, a Columbia Research Scientist:

“For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at a brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting.”

Basically, you should set a timer to go off every 30 minutes when you’re at work or otherwise sat down. When that timer goes off, find something to do to move your body around and get your blood flowing.

You could do a walk around the house, drop down to do a few pushups or burpees, or hit the stairs a couple of times.

Some things you can do while at work to limit the time you spend sitting include getting a sit-stand desk and remembering to fidget more.

As for the desk, don’t get a stand-only desk, as standing all day has negative effects of its own. Get one that can move up and down, and aim to eventually be standing for between 2 and 4 hours per day while working.

Make sure you get a comfortable mat to stand on, preferably one that encourages you to move around and change the position of your feet as you work.

The simpler thing you can do is fidget more. It sounds a bit silly, but fidgeting-like activities increase energy expenditure from 25-100% when compared to sitting motionless, so swing your feet, tap your fingers on the desk, and do anything else you can to refrain from being completely motionless when you’re at your desk.

Once you get home, do everything you can to watch less TV. Not only will you find more enriching things to do with your time, you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease.

People who sit for 3 or more hours per day watching TV are 64% more likely to die from heart disease.

Every extra hour of TV watched increases your risk of death by 11%.

The Final Word

Sitting so much is alarmingly bad for us. It makes sense, though, when you think of the environment in which our bodies evolved.

This relaxing and safe (but sedentary) lifestyle we’ve recently adopted is a brand new thing, and our bodies are absolutely not made to spend so much time in the positions we now frequent.

Luckily, research has been done that gives us tools to fight back.

Remember to move around after every 30 minute stretch of sitting, fidget more, and if it’s in the cards, try out a sit-stand desk.

You may literally add years onto your life, and enjoy a happier, healthier existence!

Author Bio: John Roark, ManRevived.com

John Roark is a dad and a husband, who is passionate about helping men get the most out of their lives by getting back to the basics and doing the least to get the most results. He writes about fitness at ManRevived.com.


Opt In Image
Get your free e-book!
99 Workouts, no equipment required

Join the "Moose is Loose" tribe and receive health, fitness and wellness tips to keep you motivated, educated and inspired... and it all starts here!

In This E-book, You'll Learn:

  • Fast and effective workouts
  • Low to moderate to high intensity options for all levels
  • Constantly varied movements to keep you from getting bored
  • No equipment required for any of the 99 workouts

Stop making excuses for not having a gym or access to equipment, get the free e-book now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.