Why sitting is considered the new smoking

Around the world, health warnings about the dangers of sitting for too long have been issued by experts including the Mayo Clinic and Harvard University, and in Australia VicHealth and Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.

This is because sitting for 6 hours or more a day can put us at risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes, plus stiffened muscles, reduced circulation and even decreased levels of our ‘feel-good’ hormones (endorphins).

Physiotherapist David Hall confirms that while the research is only fairly recent it is well accepted by health practitioners.

What he finds particularly interesting is the research that suggests that even regular exercise doesn’t fully cancel out the negative impact of prolonged sitting. Hence the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’.

“It’s not that the exercise isn’t helpful, it’s just that it won’t remove a factor that is shortening your life, in the same way exercise won’t cancel out the health impact of smoking a packet of cigarettes a day,” says Hall

Encourage employees to move more every day

Despite the bad news, Hall says there’s hope if people commit to countering the impact of prolonged sitting time from here on out.

Start by building awareness in your workplace about how much sitting people actually do. From there, you have impetus to take on the real challenge of helping them find ways to stand and move more throughout the workday.

“The research is showing that if you get up for 2 minutes every 30 minutes then the impacts of prolonged sitting can be reduced,” says Hall. This shift in behaviour can be achieved through encouraging individuals to:

  • stand more during daily commutes
  • walk over to each other and talk about work rather than just calling or emailing
  • stand to greet visitors to their workspace
  • use the stairs instead of relying solely on lifts or escalators
  • walk about at lunchtime rather than spending the entire time sitting
  • stand, move or stretch during meetings
  • have ‘open stand’ meetings in break out areas (best suited to short chats or discussions)
  • conduct walking meetings to connect with a colleague or a small team
  • configure their computers to printers that are not right by their desks so they have to get up to retrieve printouts
  • drink plenty of water in the course of the day so they need to get up regularly to refill their water bottles and go to the bathroom.

Modify the work environment

To further help people reduce and break up their sitting time, you may also need to make changes to the occupational environment.

You could try:

  • installing some ‘sit-to-stand’ adjustable workstations so employees can continue working while varying their posture
  • providing headsets or speaker phones during teleconferences so people can stand
  • moving bins away from desks so you all have to get up to dispose of rubbish.

If seated workers make small but consistent changes to integrate more standing and movement into normal daily activities, it could add years to their lives and also deliver more immediate health benefits, such as improvements in sleep and energy levels.

More good news is that studies suggest increasing the number of breaks people take won’t have a detrimental effect on productivity, despite time away from computers. In fact, researchers have observed increases in focus and productivity or, at the very least, a neutral effect.

Heart Foundation. Sitting less for adults [Online] 2011 [Accessed May 2016] Available from: www.heartfoundation.org.au

Victorian Government. VicHealth. Reducing prolonging sitting in the workplace. An evidence review: Summary report [Online] 2012 [Accessed May 2016] Available from: www.sacoss.org.au

Does your workplace offer sit-to-stand workstations for employees?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...