I am sure you have heard the saying “Sitting is the New Smoking”. But is it really the new smoking, and if so, why? The phrase was coined by Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative—but is he just saying this to sell more of the treadmill desks he invented or is there science behind it? And yes, he did invent a treadmill desk…
I remember when I was about 10 and would spend hours on Saturday mornings watching cartoons and my mom would tell my sisters and me that if we didn’t get up and move, we would get “secretarial spread”. No one wanted a wide derriere from sitting too much. (And yes, it was the 1970s so saying that was perfectly acceptable.) Little did I know that equating health concerns to inactivity was actually a thing.
Dr. Levine, the aforementioned inventor of the treadmill desk, points to real health problems caused by too much sitting and not enough moving. He says, “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” Yikes, Doc!
Is anyone else saying this besides Dr. Treadmill? As it turns out, yes. In 2015, Canadian researchers looked at 47 studies that highlighted the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. In a nutshell, the participants who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes—even those who were regular exercisers. The results were even worse for people who did little or no exercise. Commenting on the research, Dr. Joanne Foody, Director of the Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “While we often think of the dangers of inactivity in terms of worsening cardiovascular health, there are a myriad of negative effects”. The Canadian study noted higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cancer-related deaths in very sedentary people. Another study has linked inactivity with an increased risk of developing dementia. (It’s sounding more futile as I continue writing this…who picked this downer of a topic anyway?)
What to do, what to do. I have thought about this a lot, especially on Tuesdays when I am basically sitting in class from 10 am to 5 pm. And from the looks of this information, the non-stop running around I do on my clinical days does not counteract the long-term sitting. Dr. Levine does have some tips besides a treadmill desk (which I am sure I’m not coordinated enough to try…):
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
- If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk—or improvise with a high table or counter.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
And my own suggestions:
- Do stretches with your classmates on breaks.
- If you are someone who learns by writing, stand and write at a whiteboard instead of sitting down and writing on paper. There are study rooms with white boards that can be reserved at The Priddy Library.
- Stand in the back of the lecture room during class for a few minutes every so often.
So, let’s look on the bright side and try to incorporate a little more standing, a bit more moving, and a lot more stretching. Who is game in joining me to take a “stand”? I just came up with that…clever, right?