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Sunday 7 April 2019

perils of modern life

Sitting is the new smoking

Is our sedentary lifestyle killing us? Here’s the uncomfortable truth

By Chris Newell and Imogen Harper

At a recent ThinkIn, a member standing at the side of the newsroom was offered a seat. Responding with a triumphant smile, she declared “sitting is the new smoking” and chose to stand for the next hour.

Numerous reports have told us that parking our bodies for more than seven hours a day, the UK average, is detrimental to our health. Sitting slows down our metabolism, affecting our ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and may also cause weaker muscles and bones.

A typical 24 hours

In the United States, adults typically spend nine hours a day sitting. This increases to ten hours with age. Similarly, Japan has an average sitting time of 8.5 hours a day.

Meanwhile in China only 7.6 per cent of people sit for that long with the the largest proportion of people sitting between three and four hours a day.

How is it affecting us?

The World Health Organisation estimates that 3.2 million people worldwide die prematurely each year due to a sedentary lifestyle. Smoking causes 6.2 million deaths each year.

A sedentary lifestyle is one with no or irregular physical activity and an excessive amount of daily sitting. Sedentary behaviours include sitting at a desk, watching TV and driving a car.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers claim that the health risks associated with smoking “far outweigh” those for sitting.

If we look more closely at specific cause of death, although excessive sitting time almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes, it only increases incidence and mortality risk associated with other common chronic diseases by 10 to 20 per cent.

Still, eliminating sedentary behaviour in the UK would reduce cancer cases and cardiovascular disease (CVD)…

… our vascular and nervous system depends on movement to function. We are made up of 360 joints, and rely on over 700 skeletal muscles to help us move.

Health problems start with a strained neck, perhaps spreading to your shoulders and lower back, and then often imperceptibly, get a lot worse…

Is there anything we can do?

If average Americans reduced their sitting time by more than three hours per day, life expectancy would increase by two years.

Yet 86 per cent of workers in America are required to sit down for most of their day.

Mohamed Taha, clinical director at Form Clinic in London, says: “The average person is not able to sit down for more than three minutes without falling into a slumped or slouched position.”

So having and maintaining a good posture can alleviate pressure on the neck, shoulders and back.

NHS recommendations include:

How to sit properly

Sources: NHS; WHO; Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking? Vallance J.K. and others, published in the American Journal of Public Health, 2018; Uijtdewilligen L. and others, published in the American Journal of Public Health, 2018; Rezende LFM and others, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2016.

Got it? Join us for a StandIn on Is sitting the new smoking? The other dangers of daily life on Thursday 16 May. You can book your ThinkIn ticket here.