triathlons, running, exercise, sitting, smoking, healthy, active, lifestyle

Why Sitting is the New Smoking

I’m sure you know physical activity is a key ingredient to good health. What you may not know is that sitting for a long time is harmful to your health even if you are exercising regularly.

Who is at Risk from Sitting Too Much?

The typical adult in the U.S. sits for 6 hour per day on average. A recent study that included over 120,000 U.S. adults found that those who sat for 6 hours or more per day had up to a 40% greater risk of death within fifteen years compared to those who sat for less than three hours a day.  The really significant factor is that this risk did not change regardless of whether the participant:

  • was male or female
  • retired
  • had elevated cholesterol or not
  • was a smoker or non-smoker
  • and whether they exercised regularly or not

Those with the highest level of exercise that sat for 6 hours or more per day were still at the highest risk of death from all causes. What this means is that sitting is an independent risk factor for chronic disease and early death. Let’s look at the time that you may spend sitting, considering these factors:

  • commuting to work
  • sitting at meals
  • relaxing in front of the TV at night

Those numbers can rapidly climb to 12 hours or more per day. This could be a factor in why the average life span in the U.S. has been declining compared to other countries including France, Germany, Canada and Japan.

Is the Gym the Answer?

The answer to that question may surprise you. Spending an hour doing intense exercise at the gym or doing extreme endurance events like running marathons does not reduce the health risks of sitting. In fact, it increases the risk of injury but does not reduce the risks associated with prolonged sitting.

A common situation I see in my practice is the Couch Potato/ Weekend Warrior syndrome. Someone who has a desk job is more prone to put on weight and get desk injuries like shoulder and back pain, wrist injuries and carpal tunnel.

But they want to stay active so they train for triathlons and do 90-minute Spin classes. Then they get laid out with a sprain or strain or over-use fracture and can no longer be active. So now they’re back to sitting 12 to 15 hours per day.

That is why Sitting is the New Smoking.

If you’d like to find out what you can do to reduce your health risk read my blog How to Stop Sitting so Much That it’s Killing You.

And now I’d like to hear from you. How has prolonged sitting affected you in your life? Have you been on the Couch Potato/ Weekend Warrior circuit?


image provided by Renjith Krishnan,

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