Why To Exercise Today: Because It’s Not Sitting

If you’re like me, this bout of November weather in June provides yet another excuse to ratchet back your exercise regime. And that means more sitting. Do not give in. Here, two more reports underscore the perils of sitting, one from the U.K. and one out of New York City.

In the U.K., sedentary behavior “now occupies around 60% of people’s total waking hours in the general population, and over 70% in those with a high risk of chronic disease. For those working in offices, 65–75% of their working hours are spent sitting,” according a new study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.



To try to get workers off their bums, public health experts issued a consensus statement urging periodic stand-up breaks during the day.

According to the panel backing the new recommendations:

…for those occupations which are predominantly desk-based, workers should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 hours a day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 hours a day… To achieve this, seated-based work should be regularly broken up with standing-based work, the use of sit–stand desks, or the taking of short active standing breaks.

Along with other health promotion goals (improved nutrition, reducing alcohol, smoking and stress), companies should also promote among their staff that prolonged sitting, aggregated from work and in leisure time, may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality.

Even New Yorkers, who live in one of the best walking cities on the planet, are sitting far longer than what’s considered healthy, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and researchers at New York University, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Researchers found great differences among various demographics — surprisingly, higher income folks spent more time sitting compared to those with lower incomes. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: For Women, Svelte Aging Without Disability — And It’s Not Sitting


This winter is a struggle. We’re awash in excuses not to get outside and move freely, and exercise seems secondary to just getting through the day. Yesterday, when it started raining ice, for instance, didn’t you just want to wrap up in layers with a hot cup of sweet tea? But, of course, that’s precisely what you shouldn’t do.

Two recent reports re-emphasize everything you already know, but with added detail: fitness (and that involves weight, nutrition, exercise and overcoming a sedentary lifestyle) matters.

Why? Well, here are some of the specifics (that are not actually about exercise per se, but related to it): for women, staying at a healthy weight and avoiding obesity can truly allow you to age (past 85, even) without disability.

Here’s Paula Span in The New York Times on “Weight Gain and Older Women“:

When the researchers looked at the impact that obesity or being overweight — calculated by body mass index — took on the women’s health, “we found that women with a healthy body weight had a greater chance of living to 85 without developing a chronic disease or a mobility disability,” Dr. Rillamas-Sun said. “The heavier you are, the worse your chances of healthy survival.”

And in another blow to the reclining life, researchers at Northwestern report that “every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled.”

This is less a “why to exercise” finding than a “why not to sit” finding. Still, my point is that the more you’re jogging (or doing water aerobics, or yoga, or shoveling when necessary) the less you’re sitting.

Here’s how the Northwestern news release sums things up: “If there are two 65-year-old women, one sedentary for 12 hours a day and another sedentary for 13 hours a day, the second one is 50 percent more likely to be disabled.” Continue reading

‘Sitting Is The New Smoking’? Well, No, But Got Your Attention

A sign in the MIT gym (Sprax Lines/WBUR)

A sign in the MIT gym (Sprax Lines/WBUR)

I’d been nagging — I mean, gently reminding — my husband to arrange some sort of standing work desk for himself for months, so when he came across this big sign in the MIT gym recently, he texted me a photo as reassurance that mine was not a voice in the wilderness. My message had been reinforced in a palace of fitness.

Any sort of “You’re right, honey” is surely pleasant, but I found myself also struggling with some ambivalence that I can sum up in one word:


That is, do the health data really show that sitting is tantamount to smoking, the ultimate unhealthy behavior?

I didn’t rule it out. In recent months, study after study has suggested that sitting too much can shave years off your life — even if you work out. We’ve written about some of them, and included Dr. Eddie Phillips’ nicely turned phrase, “Sitting is a ‘disease state.’

I certainly don’t want to feel that every time I cuddle up next to my wife on the couch it’s the equivalent of lighting a cigarette.

But the ‘new smoking’ headlines have been proliferating to the point that the phrase seems to be turning into one of those little viral units of culture called memes. Runner’s World warns: Sitting is the new smoking even for runners. Wired reports from the center of its universe: In Silicon Valley, Sitting Is The New Smoking. Baltimore TV weighs in: Sitting Is The New Smoking, with the sub-headline, “Are chairs causing more deaths than cigarettes?” And even the august Harvard Business Review: Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation.

I suspect that one particular researcher may have particularly helped fuel the sitting-smoking meme. From the Los Angeles Times piece headlined, “Don’t Just Sit There.”

“Sitting is the new smoking,” says Anup Kanodia, a physician and researcher at the Center for Personalized Health Care at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. As evidence, he cites an Australian study published in October 2012 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that compared the two pastimes. Every hour of TV that people watch, presumably while sitting, cuts about 22 minutes from their life span, the study’s authors calculated. By contrast, it’s estimated that smokers shorten their lives by about 11 minutes per cigarette.

For a reality check, I turned to Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine and author of Disease Proof, a new book he describes as sharing “the truth about what it takes to get to health” and offering the skill set needed to get there. I asked him to take my question — “Really? Sitting is the new smoking?” — and riff on it as he saw fit. His response, lightly edited:

It seems to be the case that for any message to break through in our popular culture, it’s got to be hyperbolic. As we’re talking, one of the hot news items is that Oreos are more addictive than cocaine, all of this based on a study of about three rats. It’s completely overblown. That’s what we do.

So the specifics of smoking and sitting would be best addressed by looking at populations that do both and asking what ‘gets’ them. If you’ve got populations that sit comparably, and one group smokes and one doesn’t — and we’ve had that natural experiment, we’re a very sedentary society, we all do a lot of sitting — but there are smokers and non-smokers, and smokers tend to die younger and horribly. So clearly smoking is worse than sitting.

But there’s what the message says, which isn’t quite true — smoking is clearly worse, and if you are a person doing both, I’d say focus on giving up the cigarettes and then we’ll get you out of your chair — but I think what he message is meant to imply rather than what it states explicitly is that this is a threat to health, being too sedentary, spending too much time on our backsides. Continue reading

Stand Up And Be Counted: Readers Share Do-It-Yourself Standing Desks

Joe D., A mortgage banker in Newport, RI, and his paper box-desk

Ah, American ingenuity!! Over the last few months, there has been a wave of findings on the harmful effects of sitting too much, even if you work out. One of our headlines was even “Off Your Bum For Longer Life.” Suddenly, our staid office lives are looking as potentially perilous as New England fishing.

Under the influence of that research, I bought a $17 table to devise my own standing desk; I posted a photo here and asked readers to share their own makeshift constructs. We’ll do a full-fledged gallery later, but the first few photos that have rolled in were so inspiring I wanted to share them right away.

The one above shows Joe D., a Rhode Island mortgage banker, who should have plenty of clients if his mortgages are as creative as his work arrangements. (Creative in a good way, I mean, not a 2008 way.)

Below is a modified Ikea desk, and our reader writes:

“I’ve been using this stand-up desk for about 6 months now. It’s an Ikea desk that I modified to be at standing height. I use the empty box on the floor to occasionally rest my foot on and shift around my weight while I work. I do have a regular desk (and chair) and I try to stand up as often as I can (especially on days I don’t work out.) As a health policy consultant (who sits down an awful lot), I read about the detrimental effects of sitting and knew I needed to change my own habits – so off to Ikea I went!”

Continue reading