Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Article

Since inactivity accounts for 10-16% of breast cancers, colon cancers, and diabetes cases, as well as 22% of heart disease, some researchers believe too much sitting can cause just as much harm as smoking.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 28% of males and 34% of females aged 15 years and older were insufficiently active in 2008, resulting in at least 3.2 million deaths annually. Additionally, inactivity accounts for 10-16% of breast cancers, colon cancers, and diabetes cases, as well as 22% of heart disease. As a result, some researchers believe too much sitting can cause just as much harm as smoking.

One researcher from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore recently published a review of this issue and described potential solutions for prolonged workplace sitting.

Although the large skeletal muscles of the legs, back, and trunk are responsible for maintaining an upright posture and consume a considerable amount of energy, prolonged sitting greatly suppresses this energy expenditure. In turn, suppressing those large skeletal muscles negatively affects skeletal muscle enzyme activity; for example, altering lipoprotein lipase elevates plasma triglycerides and cholesterol.

The paper noted immobility also leads to significant peripheral insulin resistance and negative behaviors like increased high energy-dense snacking. In fact, many researchers now believe sitting for long periods of time negates the benefits of regular exercise.

The review author proposed the following 5 possible interventions from previous studies for reducing prolonged workplace sitting:

  1. Interrupting long periods of sitting by having workers take fragmented standing breaks, such as standing for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes spent sitting
  2. Introducing commercially available seat cycles that allow workers to pedal at their desks and maintain a degree of physical activity while working
  3. Providing treadmill desks
  4. Using a sit-stand workstation that allows workers to alternate between positions in their work environments throughout the day
  5. Installing computer prompts at workstations that remind workers to engage in movement with no goals aside from muscle stimulations every 45 minutes

All of the interventions have been proven to provide varying degrees of relief to sitting-induced problems, such as decreasing blood pressure and improving moods. However, the challenge seems to lie in finding methods to introduce these types of interventions in workplaces and enticing an increasingly sedentary society to get on the move.

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