Sitting gets a seriously bad rap. At this point, I'm sure you've seen some of the articles that suggest "sitting is the new smoking," which basically equate a primarily chair-ridden lifestyle with a nasty nicotine habit. Understandably, these comparisons might freak you out a little, especially if your butt is parked in a chair most of the day while you're studying for school or working that 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. life. However, it's important to represent all sides of the issue in the ongoing debate of whether sitting is really as bad as smoking — and a brand new study has done exactly that.
For the study, which appears in the American Journal of Public Health, a monthly public health journal published by the American Public Health Association, researchers from the U.S., Canada, and Australia looked at several different lines of research on the effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have on a person's health. According to ScienceDaily, while this new research does suggest that sitting for more than eight hours a day may increase "the risk of premature death and some chronic diseases by 10-20%," this apparently doesn't even compare to the risks associated with smoking. Did anyone else just breathe a massive sigh of relief?
To really put this in perspective, the study authors wrote in their research that "any level of smoking increases risk of dying from any cause by approximately 180% versus a 25% risk increase for sitting." So uh, yeah, I would say that's a pretty huge difference, wouldn't you?
As per ScienceDaily, Dr. Terry Boyle, a researcher involved in the study and epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, said in a statement,
The simple fact is, smoking is one of the greatest public health disasters of the past century. Sitting is not, and you can't really compare the two.
Equating the risk of sitting with smoking is clearly unwarranted and misleading, and only serves to trivialize the risks associated with smoking.
Dr. Boyle definitely raises a good and thought-provoking point, but it's still important to acknowledge that sitting for long periods of time on the reg, while not as bad as smoking, is certainly not great for your overall wellbeing.
To that point, a research paper published in the British Journal of General Practice noted that, even when you add moderate to vigorous exercise to your routine, if you're otherwise mainly sedentary (whether it's at a desk job or in a classroom), all that sitting is still considered a risk factor for "all-cause mortality" (aka premature death).
Again, though, as this newer research from the American Journal of Public Health found, the risks that come with sitting really aren't the same at all as the risks associated with smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking causes over 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and smokers, compared to nonsmokers, are more likely to develop stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer over the course of their lives.
Regardless, if you're genuinely worried about how much you're sitting each day, the good news is that there are a lot of easy ways to minimize the time you spend seated in a chair and, in turn, increase your physical activity.
For instance, if you take public transportation to school or work each day, getting off the subway a few stops early and walking to your destination could be a great way to start your day off with some mindful movement. Additionally, maybe a few days a week you could consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or perhaps you could take a couple of walking breaks throughout the day when you have some downtime. There are even some super inconspicuous desk workouts you can try if you're feeling especially ambitious — the possibilities are endless, friends.