“Sitting is the New Smoking”

I learned this phrase (“sitting is the new smoking”) from Galen Cranz, with whom I taught a class called Office of the Future in 2001. We agreed that sitting was bad. I believed that sitting was bad because I discovered that if I stood a great deal, I slept better. A recent review:

A study published in the journal Diabetologia in November 2012 analyzed the results of 18 studies with a total of nearly 800,000 participants. When comparing people who spent the most time sitting with those who spent the least time, researchers found increases in the risks of diabetes (112%), cardiovascular events (147%), death from cardiovascular causes (90%) and death from all causes (49%).

I wonder whether any effect of sitting would remain after adjustment for quality of sleep. Maybe those who sat less slept better, as I did. Epidemiologists haven’t yet grasped the importance of sleep — part of an overall failure to realize that the immune system matters. Whether or not you sleep well is surely as important as whether or not you smoke. Here is a study that connects poor sleep and heart disease.

At a recent conference, I foolishly sat a lot more than usual. Maybe I sat for 7 hours two days in a row. After the first day I woke up with a minor muscle spasm in my lower back that went away. After the second day, I woke up with a really bad muscle spasm in my lower back and could barely move most of the day. Maybe my sitting muscles are weaker than other people’s.  Maybe eating more sugar than usual (sugar is inflammatory) and less flaxseed than usual (flaxseed is anti-inflammatory) also contributed to the problem.


9 Replies to ““Sitting is the New Smoking””

  1. A physiotherapist I had once said “the body was made for walking and lying down, not for standing and sitting”. It works better in Danish because it rhymes but the phrase still stuck with me, to the point where I am considering trying out treadmills for my desk..

    1. I find lounging — between sitting and lying down — works fine. Weight is spread out, like lying down, but eyes face forward, like sitting.

  2. i think one would have trouble teasing out cause and effect here. (if you have a metabolic issue you’d probably spend less time on your feet because it would be less pleasant.)

  3. Your lower back issue could be a result of shortened hip flexors (as a result of sitting) + not bracing your core/keeping neutral spine, therefore hanging out on your lower back/discs. See mobilitwod for much more.

  4. Seth,

    One of my favorite books is Pete Egoscue’s “Health through Motion”, linking posture and health. Sitting is bad, but even when people move, they’re repetitively using the same muscles over and over. They don’t get the variety of movement needed to maintain the entire muscular system. The result is some muscles go dormant, while others do extra work they weren’t designed to do to pick up the slack. These muscle imbalances shift the skeletal system out of alignment, posture deteriorates, and overall health declines. The book teaches how to analyze posture, and how to re-engage dormant muscles.

    Egoscue also fits into your theme of outsiders vs experts. He’s contended that some things like cartilage loss can be stopped and repaired naturally once the muscular system is rebalanced (http://bepainfreeforlife.com/2010/01/26/the-body-is-amazing/). Even things like digestion and sleep improve when posture is improved.

  5. It’s also possible that the casual effect goes the other way. I would expect high blood sugar to wake you up, so maybe the effects of standing on sleep quality are mediated by glucose control.

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