Is Sitting the New Smoking? Um, no.

red chair, sitting the new smoking
credit: Flickr

The media loves an exploitive headline and when a study came out that said a lifestyle of mostly sitting was close to the statistics for smoking and heart disease the tag line was born, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

Perhaps this line sums it up best, “the chair is out to kill us,” says James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine.

One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said, “Every hour of TV that people watch, presumably while sitting, cuts about 22 minutes from their life span.  By contrast, it’s estimated that smokers shorten their lives by about 11 minutes per cigarette.”

Really?  Since the average adult American watches about 47 hours of television per week, you’d think we’d all be dropping like flies.  If you do the math we lose 17 hours per week or 36 days per year.

What if we added on some other known risk factors?  We are also a sleep deprived, stressed-out society.  How does stress and sleep deprivation factor into all this?  Does one hour of stress reduce our life expectancy by more or less than sitting?  Which one should we tackle first?  De-stress or stand up? It can get complicated fast.

Still, a predominantly sedentary lifestyle takes its toll.  Study after study has shown a link to several diseases, obesity being the obvious one, but also various forms of cancer and heart disease.

Physicians and Sitting

If you’re a surgeon you might be smirking a bit.  Perhaps you’re lucky if you get to sit five minutes on any given day between rounds and time in the OR.  But if you’re a Psychiatrist you are practically strapped to a chair 50 minutes per hour.  Each specialty will have to weigh the pros and cons for themselves.

What it takes to Stand Up

So let’s just stand up.  We’re Americans, we can figure stuff out and fix it.  Let’s bring on the treadmill desks and other contraptions that will get us standing and maybe even a little exercise while we poke at our keyboards.

Here are a few ideas …

  • Treadmill Desk
  • Non-moving standing desks
  • Computer “lift” devices that go up and down as needed
  • Apps that remind us to stand up regularly throughout the day

Standing desks don’t have to cost a fortune.  One home-grown do it yourselfer stacked milk crates until she reached the desired height for her laptop, while those treadmill desks can go for as much as $5,000.  There is a broad range of price points out there to work with.

What do you think about the “Sitting is the New Smoking?”  Does it seem overblown or is it a warning that we all need to heed … immediately!  If you’re an M.D. or a D.O. please join our lively discussion on this topic inside Sermo.