Is sitting the new smoking? We give you the facts.

You may have heard that “sitting is killing you” or that “sitting is the new smoking”… sedentary behaviour has been getting a lot of attention recently but what is it, and why should be care about it?

What is sedentary behaviour?

Essentially, sedentary behaviours are any behaviour performed during waking hours that is performed sitting down, and involves very little energy expenditure.  Things like sitting in front of the TV, sitting in front of your computer, sitting on the bus to get to work, or sitting in meetings at work are all classified as sedentary behaviours.  Most of us spend between 50 and 75% of our day in a seated position!  However, not every activity that we do seated counts as sedentary behaviours – riding a bike, or rowing for example involve large amounts of energy expenditure so are not sedentary activities.

Why should we be concerned about the time we spend sedentary?

The results of a large number of scientific research studies indicate that people who spend a lot of time sitting are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and are more likely to die earlier than those who spend less time sitting.  Importantly this association exists even in those individuals who are regularly physically active.  Going for a run or to the gym every day doesn’t necessarily protect you from the harmful effects of sitting for long periods.

How can I limit my sedentary behaviour?

An important thing to remember is that it’s not about never sitting down, it’s about sitting less, and moving more, more often.  In fact some research suggests that the best thing for our health may be incorporating regular transitions from sitting to standing into our day.  Here are some tips to help limit periods of prolonged sitting:

1)    Think about the activities you do throughput the day, do they REQUIRE you to sit, or is sitting just the default?  Can you pick some activities that you do regularly throughout the day and do them standing?  e.g. always stand-up when you are talking on the phone.

2)    Schedule walking meetings – most people are concerned that walking meetings limit note taking ability, but if you take notes as soon as you get back and email them to the attendees to check you don’t miss much!

3)    There are several software options available that will “lock” your computer at regular intervals to encourage you to take an active break… but some people do find these annoying!

4)    Drink lots of water – filling up your drink bottle, and going to the bathroom are good ways to force yourself to get out of your chair.

5)    If you need to talk to someone in your building, or nearby go to their office and talk to them in person, rather than sending and email or picking up the phone.

6)    Locate the printer some distance away from your office.

7)    Make commercial breaks active breaks.  Get out of your chair and move during every ad break while watching TV – Do the dishes, the ironing, a little vacuuming, or maybe a few star jumps or squats.


Want to read more? Here’s a recent and interesting article

Levine 2014 Lethal sitting

And here’s another video clip, from Australia but totally relevant here too. It’s all about sitting at work.



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