So damaging are its repercussions for our health, that sitting has been dubbed “the new smoking” by doctors. If you’re basically desk-bound at work all day, then flop on the sofa all evening, you could be at risk of serious health issues later in life.
Unless you have a physical a job, or at the very least one that requires you race between appointments, there’s a pretty high probability that you’re sat all day, slumped in a chair, shoulders curving forwards and head jutting towards your computer screen at an unnatural angle. Besides being terrible for your posture, this sedentary way of life might be leading you towards an early grave, if one recent study is anything to go by.
Researchers used accelerometers (a device that measures speed and distance) to track the habits of almost 8,000 adults aged 45 or older—a phase of life when the amount of time we spend sitting increases steadily. Over the four year duration of the study, 340 deaths occurred and the team were able to deduce that as sedentary time increases, so does the risk of mortality, regardless of the cause. This rule also applies to the duration of sedentary time. No matter their body mass index, gender, ethnicity, or age, those who sat for more hours each day, and for longer bouts at a time, died earlier.
Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.
—Dr. James Levine
Now, if you’ve heard the sensationalist claim from Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University, about sitting being the new smoking, then perhaps you’ve invested in a standing desk. Maybe you’ve told yourself that regular sessions at the gym negate the effects of your job. Unfortunately, these two measures only help so much.
For example, if your daily routine involves sitting for eight hours at your job, then squeezing in a workout before heading home for Netflix, you are 30% less likely to die compared to somebody who skipped the exercise. However, you are still 16% more likely to die than a person who punctuates their day with regular movement.
These statistics align with the research conducted in Blue Zones—the world’s longest living communities. Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones project, discovered that, rather than spending time at the gym, these exceptionally healthy people naturally incorporate activity into their daily lives. They are always habitually on the go.
While it might be unrealistic for you to follow their lead, small efforts can have a big impact. Set a timer to remind you to get up and move every 30 minutes. A quick march up and down the stairs, or around the block (or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, a few sets of jumping jacks) will dramatically improve your health and could help increase your longevity.