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Sitting is the New Smoking

January 11, 2017

By Jocelyn Weiss, PhD, MPH

In today’s world, most of us spend the majority of our days sitting. The average American may commute for an hour in car or on a train, then spend 8-10 hours at a desk before commuting back home to eat dinner and then sit on the couch for 2 hours before bed. In short, we have come to live very sedentary lifestyles.

What is Sedentary Behavior?

Sedentary behavior has been defined as any waking behavior that requires an energy expenditure of less than ≤1.5 METs (metabolic equivalents) while in a sitting or reclining position. Basically, these are activities that require little to no energy.

The Problem with (lots of) Sitting

Research now shows a sedentary lifestyle, regardless of exercise or other good habits, to be associated with a greater risk of mortality – one that rivals smoking. In fact, about 9% of global mortality can be attributed each year to physical inactivity and smoking.

While many of us aim to fit in a few workouts every week, some even daily, it may not be enough to compensate for an overall sedentary lifestyle. A large Canadian study of over 17,000 men and women observed a strong relationship between sitting and all-cause mortality, even if people were meeting the minimum physical activity guidelines. In other words, physical activity does not cancel out the negative effects of too much sitting during the day.
In 2016, the American Heart Association published a Science Advisory that explored the role of sedentary behavior as a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality, as well as all-cause mortality. Their recommendation? “Sit less, move more.”

Check out this TedEd video that further shows why sitting too much is bad for you:

Added Perks of an Active Lifestyle

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of optimal physical, mental and social wellbeing – not merely the absence of disease. Therefore, it is vital not only to be free of illness but also to be feeling our best and thriving every day. Outside of the reduced risk of chronic disease and mortality, there are additional benefits to an active lifestyle that can improve your quality of life.

Ways to Fit in Daily Activity

There are many ways you can incorporate movement into your daily routine, outside of the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day. Outside of the usual recommendations to take the stairs over the elevator and park your car further away, here are some tips for getting daily activity from the American College of Sports Medicine:


1. Take a family walk after dinner.
2. Get a pedometer and start tracking your steps. Progress up to 10,000 steps or more a day.
3. Walk your dog daily.
4. Replace those Sunday drives with Sunday walks.
5. When watching TV, stand up and move with every commercial break.
6. Walk up and down escalators instead of just riding them.
7. Run or walk fast when doing errands.
8. Pace the sidelines at your kids’ athletic games.
9. Walk up and down the shopping aisles at the store before you shop.
10. Pick up a new active hobby, such as cycling or hiking.
11. After reading six pages of a book, get up and move a little.
12. Try standing and moving whenever you are talking on a cell phone.
13. Play with your kids 15-30 minutes a day.
14. Dance to your favorite inspiring music selections.
15. Walk briskly in the mall.


1. Take a walk break every time you take a coffee break.
2. Do some leisurely walking with colleagues after you eat lunch together at work.
3. Stand up and move whenever you have a drink of water at work.
4. Whenever possible stand up as opposed to sitting down.
5. Stand up and talk on business phone conversations.
6. Stop at the park on your way home from work and take a walk.
7. Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling her/him.
8. Walk briskly when headed to meetings.
9. Take the stairs whenever you can.
10. Take the long route to the restroom at work.

Sourced with permission from the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2011 American College of Sports Medicine.

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