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Sitting is the New Smoking | Kick This Habit Too!

office cubicle with chair and desk

In the future, when you buy a new couch, office chair or TV, it may carry this warning: “Caution: According to the Surgeon General, prolonged use of this device can cause potentially lethal diseases and may shorten your life expectancy.” 

Sad but true, some of the most dangerous threats to your life are disguised as comfy furniture and electronics for passive entertainment. Even if you are good about getting daily exercise, and don’t smoke, a habit of prolonged sitting every day can be expected to shave about two years from your life expectancy, according to a study in the British Medical Journal in July 2012, which followed 167,000 people for about a decade.

Both Joan and I have always had a difficult time sitting still for more than a few minutes. Slouching in a chair in front of a computer and keyboard, or sitting and staring at a TV screen for a prolonged period of time makes us both miserable. Seated inactivity just feels uncomfortable to us. For Joan, it’s hard to even sit down to dinner for more than a few minutes at a time.

Just several hours of physical inactivity can cause an immediate drop in the levels of an enzyme that clears fat from the bloodstream, which causes the blood levels of triglycerides (fats) to rise, in turn triggering a surge in free radicals that cause inflammation and dysfunction in the brain, heart, blood vessels, and liver. In essence, too much sitting results in inflammation throughout your system, and eventually increases risks for obesity, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s dementia.

More TV = Less Life

A landmark study of Australians showed every hour of TV viewing could be expected to shorten a person’s life by about 22 minutes. This means that if the average adult person watched no TV, he or she would probably live about 1.5 to two years longer.

According to this large study, watching TV for more than four hours a day (compared to watching less than two hours of TV daily) increased chances of dying from any cause during the follow-up period by 50 percent, and increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 80 percent. And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that all those extra hours freed up might be better spent in activities that bring meaning and vitality to life, such as time spent cultivating relationships with family and friends, pursuing hobbies, being active outdoors, traveling, etc.

And sitting too much can also predispose to cancer. Shockingly, the numbers of Americans developing malignancies linked to obesity and physical inactivity, such as cancers of the pancreas, esophagus, kidney, and uterus, have risen every year from 1999 through 2008. One recent study reported that individuals who have worked 10 years or more in jobs that required them to be physically inactive had twice the risk of colon cancer compared with people who had never worked sedentary jobs.

Benefits of Standing or Strolling. Prolonged sitting causes problems even for those who exercise regularly. An eight-year study that followed a quarter-million American adults correlated daily activity levels with their long-term general health. One of the best predictors of survival and overall health was the amount of physical activity they did on a daily basis: the more the better.

Although regular physical exercise somewhat diminished the health and mortality risks caused by prolonged sitting, even those who exercised for seven hours or more a week but spent at least seven hours a day in front of the television were more likely to die prematurely, than the people who exercised at least seven hours weekly and watched less than an hour of television daily. In other words, it’s not enough to just get your 30 minutes of physical activity during the day. You should try to be on your feet at least, and moving, even if at a slow pace, as often as you can. 

In Good Health,

James O'Keefe, MD

Photo Credit:  Pixabay Creative Commons