July 25, 2022

Sitting is the New Smoking

When someone asks you about life-threatening experiences that you’ve come in contact with, I’m sure that sitting in a chair isn’t something that comes to your mind. Studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time can lead to different types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and back pain. If we can make a single life change, we can avoid such issues.


Statistics show that sitting kills more people than smoking and HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. Everyone is literally sitting themselves to death. We are not designed to sit, but throughout the day, we continuously sit for the entire duration of the day; however, most of our activities like office work, driving, or watching TV is also considered as sitting. There is a common ideology that exercising a couple of times a week could make up for bad habits like sitting. However, this is not the case as sitting is an independent risk factor. Doing more exercise is not a way to help sitting for long periods of time.

Sitting for long periods of time can change the body’s metabolism. It slows the metabolism by 90% after 30 mins of sitting, and this slows down the metabolism. In this process, the enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to the muscles where they can be burnt slow down, letting them settle in the body, and this increases the chance of obesity. If this continues for 2 hours, the good cholesterol drops by 20%. This can be avoided if you walk for 5 minutes in between to help all this et move.

Effects of sitting for a long time:

One of the proven diseases due to prolonged sitting is cardiovascular disease. There was a study made by Dr. James Levine showed that people who spent 2 hours a day watching TV with people who watched TV 4 hours a day, and it revealed that there was a 50% increase in the risk of death due to any cause and a 125% increase in the risk of events associated with cardiovascular diseases.

With the addition of exercise, there was a 34% chance that excessive sitting can lead to heart failure than people who are moving or standing.

Another major concern due to sitting for excessive periods was type 2 diabetes. It showed that people who drove to work and used elevators rather than stairs had a case of metabolizing sugars and fats. The dilution of the body fat also varied, and this made such people fatter. These changes are the first steps toward the road to becoming diabetes.

People who avoided longer durations of sitting showed a decrease in the triglyceride count. If the count is high, it can increase the chances of getting diabetic.

Deep vein thrombosis is another issue that can be contracted due to excessive sitting. It is a condition where a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body; it usually occurs in the leg. The clot by itself is not a problem, but if the clot breaks away and gets launched into the bloodstream, it can cause a pulmonary embolism which can lead to the blockage of a lung artery. It can also lead to low oxygen levels, which in turn can damage other organs as well.

There are studies shown by the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA that people who sit around a lot in their workplace have a reduced medial temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged adults. This is part of the brain that is responsible for creating and storing memories, in simple words, that means that they have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A study in Australia also indicated that people who sat around for over 6 hours a day reported higher levels of psychological distress. This was more evident in the case of women than in men. There were also reported cases that showed people over the age of 50 showed signs of depression due to excessive sitting.

Tips to reduce the risk due to prolonged sitting:

Find the ideal ratio between the time spent sitting and standing. You can start with a 50:50 ratio. If you are sitting for 8 hours a day, make sure you have also stood or moved around for 8 hours a day. If you can stand longer, then increase the ratio to 60:40.

Use desks that help you to work comfortably standing if possible. Most people avoid standing and working as it makes them uncomfortable.

Wear comfortable footwear. It is stated that most people prefer to sit rather than stand because of uncomfortable footwear. The use of orthotics could help encourage you to stand more as it would be more comfortable to do so. The use of memory from soles also helps with the same.

Positioning the screen either higher or lower can also lead to lower back pain. Your head weighs about 10lbs, so even light bending can cause severe injuries to your back. Make sure that you position your screen at eye level.

When you sit at a desk, make sure you position your elbows close to your body, the further they are away from your body, the more tension there is going to be on your back. Make sure you are using a keyboard. You place it at 90 degrees from your shoulder and elbows; this will reduce the risk on your wrists and your back.

Small tips that you can follow around your office to help reduce the risk of sitting are as given below:

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Go to a colleague’s desk if you have any queries or you need to pass information rather than messaging them.
  • Try to have walking meetings, avoid sitting and taking meetings.
  • Set an alarm on your phone to remind you every 20 minutes to stand up and walk around.
  • Park further from the entrance do not park near your office as you can get some steps in.
  • Take the stairs if it is just a couple of floors rather than the elevator.
  • Use public transport and I you have good weather get down at the previous stop and walk to your office.

So, make sure to choose healthier options; by making the slightest changes to your lifestyle, you can make a huge difference to a better life.

Article written by :

Varun Vignesh, HSE Trainer, Green World Group – Dubai .

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