Is Sitting The New Smoking?



Recently I purchased a lovely new standing desk. I've wanted one for about 2 years now, but with arguably more important things to be saving/spending my money on, it got pushed back as a priority. So I thought I'd do some digging into the research behind how beneficial a standing desk can be and the results are, quite simply, staggering.


With the almost overwhelming rise in technology over the last 100 years sitting has become more prevalent than ever. Commuting, working, TV, video games and the internet take-up more and more of our time and the fight for more quality time away from these things seems to be increasingly harder.


We certainly didn't evolve to be sitting 7-9 hours a day and such periods of inactivity have some staggering implications on our health, which we'll dive into.


But, before you say "Oh it's easy for you, you run a gym and are up on your feet all day" I'd like to point out that the two weeks leading up to Christmas 2019 I spent an average of 6 hours a day at my laptop (sitting). Hense the purchase of my standing desk. While you may not be so lucky as I to be able to work at one of these beats I'll try to include strategies for 9-5'ers to help combat sitting.


What The Research Says (you might want to stand up for this)


To sum on up - a 40% increased risk in death, a 112% increased risk in diabetes and a 95% increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

I'm not going to beat around the bush on this - instead, I'm simply going to throw some facts and figures at you with the appropriate references - is sitting the new smoking?


A study [1] that points to sitting 10 compared to 6 hours a day to having an associated 95% increased chance in myocardial infarction & coronary heart disease.


Sitting reduces your Multiples of Basal Metabolic Rate (MET) to 1 where are light-moderate physical activity such as walking, cycling or swimming increases MET to 8 [2].


The same study found that for each extra hour of TV time (average per day) you increase your risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 11%-18%. Compared to those who watch less than 2 hours of TV a day there was an average increase of 46% risk in all-cause death and an 80% increased risk in cardiovascular disease mortality [2].


A staggering analysis that compares 18 high-quality studies of which 10 show an increased risk (112%) in diabetes, 147% increase in the risk of CV disease, 90% increased risk of CV mortality and a 49% increase risk in all-cause mortality. [3]


There is one study [4] that investigates the amount of time people spend on computers in Korea after a 24-year-old male died from pulmonary thromboembolism after playing a computer game for 4 days straight. Due to inactivity, deep venous thrombosis occurred in his lower legs (the formation of clots in the veins) which broke off and can become lodged in the lungs, brain or heart.


Did you know that Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) was first recognised as a result of prolonged sitting during the Blitz in World War II when cases of fatal embolisms emerged among Londoners who sat for long periods in deckchairs in air-raid shelters [5].

It's proposed that these long stints of inactivity trigger a C-reactive protein response [6]. C-reactive protein is made by the liver when the body undergoes a tissue injury, state of infection or other inflammation. Thus if the above wasn't enough evidence that our body doesn't like to be sat down for long periods of time the presence of c-reactive protein shows it treats sitting as an infection!


Strategies For Combatting Sitting


It's not all bad news. Most of these studies are for prolonged periods of sitting with absolutely no movement. Some studies report that frequent bouts of light activity in between long periods of sitting have been seen to reduce, but not eliminate, CV mortality, diabetes, insulin sensitivity and weight gain [6].


Move Often

If you find yourself sitting for prolonged periods of the day the best thing you can do is move often. Every 20-45 minutes get up and go for a 3-5 minute brisk walk. Or even better, go for a walk and perform 50-100 star jumps before you sit back down again. Not only will this help re-stimulate the electrical activity of your muscles, but it will also get the blood circulating and help prevent any sort of thrombosis risk.


Fight Technology With Technology!

So even though the presence of technology is partially responsible for the "sitting epidemic" things such as phones and smartwatches track steps. Set yourself a goal of 5-10,000 steps a day and be sure to hit it while also applying the above principle.


Become A Weekend Warrior

If you absolutely cannot implement the above two strategies during the week (most likely because of work) then use your weekends. Go walking, swimming, cycling or better yet all three! It's been shown that the intensity of the exercise is not so important as long as we are doing exercise and moving frequently.


Conclusion


Is sitting the new smoking? Actually, it could be worse:


  • 95% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease

  • Reduces your Multiples of Basal Metabolic Rate (MET) to 1

  • Each extra hour of TV time (average per day) you increase your risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 11%-18%

  • Increased risk (112%) in diabetes, a 147% increase in the risk of CV disease, 90% increased risk of CV mortality and a 49% increase risk in all-cause mortality

  • Long stints of inactivity trigger a C-reactive protein response (the body thinks it's ill)


How to combat sitting for prolonged periods:every day

  • Limit sitting where appropriate (standing desk)

  • Break long periods of sitting with brisk walks or a quick dose of exercise (star jumps)

  • Use technology to track steps

  • Engage in low-moderate activity everyday where possible

  • Make weekends count!

I write this, you'll be pleased to know from my standing desk! But I might go and do 100-star jumps anyway,


All the best everyone and take care,


Mike


References


[1] Petersen, C.B., Bauman, A., Grønbæk, M. et al. Total sitting time and risk of myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality in a prospective cohort of Danish adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 11, 13 (2014) doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-13


[2] Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105–113. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2


[3] Wilmot, E.G., Edwardson, C.L., Achana, F.A. et al. Diabetologia (2012) 55: 2895. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z


[4] Lee, Ho. (2004). A New Case of Fatal Pulmonary Thromboembolism Associated with Prolonged Sitting at Computer in Korea. Yonsei medical journal. 45. 349-51. 10.3349/ymj.2004.45.2.349.


[5] Simpson K. Shelter deaths from pulmonary embolism. Lancet 1940;I;744.


[6] Genevieve N. Healy, Charles E. Matthews, David W. Dunstan, Elisabeth A.H. Winkler, Neville Owen, Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003–06, European Heart Journal, Volume 32, Issue 5, March 2011, Pages 590–597, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehq451



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