Sitting is the new smoking... is it possible to quit?

You may have heard it before… “Sitting is the new smoking.”

According to the research, more and more evidence suggests that a sedentary lifestyle increases our risk of morbidity and mortality. Simply put, excessive sitting increases the likelihood of poor health outcomes.

Fortunately, most people have caught on to this. Many of us now try to squeeze whatever activity we can into small compartments of our workday. The question then becomes; is that brisk walk over lunch enough to counteract time spent sitting each day?

Interestingly enough, a few others also asked themselves this question. After reviewing current research, authors of a 2015 review paper concluded that sedentary time was independently associated with poor health outcomes, regardless of physical activity. In other words, that lunchtime walk is a great start, but not quite enough.

This is where health care professionals can come in handy.

For example, as a Physiotherapist I begin each assessment with a detailed history taking. This is a very important step where I learn about each patient’s medical history, occupation, exercise habits, recreational activities and environment. Questions about lifestyle and daily routine are very helpful in understanding the environment in which our musculoskeletal system exists. Would you place a plant in a dark basement all day and expect it to thrive, regardless of giving it adequate water and soil? The same should be considered for our bodies. Several minutes of stretching, or 15 minutes of walking hardly combats 10+ hours of sitting each day.

That is why it is important to consider modifying our environment to allow for optimal health results to be achieved. Little changes such as 5 to10 minute stand and stretch breaks every hour can go a long way in terms of cutting down on total sedentary time.

To conclude, it is not my intention to have you stop your current physical activity program, or health initiatives. Rather, I hope this offers insight about considering your environment as a whole when optimizing your health. Work with a health care professional to identify environmental factors that may limit your ability to achieve your goals. Consider lifestyle changes in addition to your daily program modifications. Most importantly, don’t be victimized by your calendar. The human body craves movement; consider making it a regular part of your day.

-Daniel Caterini MSc, MSc(PT), Sport Physiotherapy Cert.

Taia Spencer-Yap