Sitting Can Be as Harmful as Smoking

Many of us find ourselves spending hours each day in a seated position—whether it’s during our daily commutes, at work, or even while enjoying our favorite TV shows at night. However, the startling truth is that this prolonged sitting could be posing a significant threat to our health.

Although sitting may appear innocuous, medical professionals caution that extended periods of daily sitting are linked to severe health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, joint discomfort, blood clotting, and cardiovascular disease.

You might have encountered the saying, “sitting is the new smoking,” coined by Dr. James Levine, a distinguished Medicine Professor at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Levine’s years of research into the science of sitting have revealed the inadvertent peril we subject ourselves to by leading largely sedentary lives.

Dr. Levine asserts that our bodies were not designed for the extent of sitting that has become commonplace. Unlike our ancestors who spent most of their time on their feet while hunting and gathering, modern lifestyles have transformed us into “chair sloths” according to his book, “Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You.”

The apparent contradiction between the relaxation of sitting and its adverse effects stems from the duration and frequency of our seated habits. Remaining immobile for extended periods triggers a cascade of detrimental consequences, including impaired blood circulation—crucial for overall well-being—across various bodily systems.

Diminished blood circulation permits the accumulation of fatty acids in blood vessels, elevating the risk of heart disease. The World Thrombosis Day organization highlights another peril: prolonged leg stillness can prevent calf muscles from contracting effectively, hampering blood flow and potentially leading to deep vein thrombosis [DVT], a condition where clots form in leg vessels. DVT’s consequences can be dire, as detached clots can migrate to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolisms [PE] with potentially fatal outcomes.

What You Can Do

So, how can we counteract the negative impacts of excessive sitting? It’s not simply about replacing sitting with prolonged standing, as advised by Dr. Henry Ddungu, a renowned Ugandan thrombosis specialist. Staying fixed in any static posture, whether sitting, standing, or lying down, over time, can be detrimental. While exercise, like hitting the gym or going for a run, is crucial, it alone cannot counteract the pitfalls of excessive sitting. Sitting itself is a standalone risk factor, and the solution lies in integrating movement into every facet of our daily routines.

Dr. Ddungu is part of the 2023 global World Thrombosis Day campaign committee, which, in its 10th-anniversary celebration, is urging individuals to adopt more movement to enhance blood circulation, ultimately lowering the threat of blood clots.

Stay Moving!

The value of incorporating small movements throughout the day cannot be overstated, advises Dr. Ddungu. The key lies in seamlessly integrating motion into every aspect of life. During workdays, break up prolonged sitting by introducing motion wherever possible—stand while on the phone, take a stroll during lunch, and stand for five minutes each hour of sitting.

Dr. Ddungu also advocates for lifestyle changes at home, suggesting dancing while cooking or cleaning, family walks in the evening, parking farther from destinations during shopping trips, and choosing stairs over elevators or escalators.

“Every minute of physical activity matters,” asserts Dr. Ddungu. “Sitting will always be a part of our daily lives, but we should strive to shift our sitting habits from automatic to intentional. Incorporate more movement into your day as a daily routine. The less you subject your body to prolonged stillness, the greater your prospects of enjoying a healthy life.”

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