Sitting is the New Smoking!
This headline has become a popular one lately. Not just attention grabbing, the headline is backed up by extensive research. In the past 15 years, scientists have conducted more than 10,000 studies on the health effects of sedentary lifestyle. As a result of these studies, “Leading experts agree that sitting actually causes more ill health effects than smoking.”
Now another study just released confirms again that sitting down all day is the second-greatest risk to mortality behind lighting up all day. This study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, is unique because it followed middle-aged men for 45 years. The researchers wanted to see how the men’s physical capacity levels impacted their risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
When they were 54 years old, the men completed an exercise test that measured their maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 max. VO2 max is a commonly accepted measure for physical fitness with higher VO2 max levels meaning you are more fit. The study participants were examined again about once every ten years until 2012. The researchers were able to compile large amounts of data about these men and tease out what was associated with earlier death.
The lead researcher Dr. Par Ladenvall explained the study’s most significant finding: “lower aerobic capacity was associated with increased rates of death . . . The effect of aerobic capacity on risk of death was second only to smoking.” Dr. Ladenvall noted: “We have come a long way in reducing smoking. The next major challenge is to keep us physically active and also to reduce physical inactivity, such as prolonged sitting.”
The last part of Dr. Ladenvall’s sentence is particularly important. Scientists and doctors now understand that physical activity alone is not enough. We also need to address inactivity. Exercise alone does not negate the health risks of sitting all day. While understanding of this concept is taking hold, public health efforts still have not followed. The risks of smoking are well known and resources very rightly are being used to end cigarette use. Employers spend as much as $1,000 per employee on smoking cessation programs. Yet employers might also spend $1,000 to buy each employee a fancy office chair, which may then increase their risk of the second most dangerous activity in which we can engage: prolonged sitting. Stop smoking but, please, have a seat all day! States have spent an estimated $468 billion on anti-smoking campaigns. Public health messages about prolonged sitting are almost non-existent.
Perhaps sitting seems like a more innocent activity than smoking. Everyone sits and most people sit for at least 7 hours a day. How can something we all are doing – even kids – be such a big risk to our health? Well, the same things were said about cigarettes before awareness of their risks were fully understood. Smoking was a part of life in much the same way sitting is now. As mom always said, just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
This new study further cements the risk of inactivity to our health. Sitting in chairs, on couches, or in cars is how inactivity creeps into each of our days. We should sound the alarm on this public health crisis and help people to take a fresh look at the furniture around them. We should empower them with information about how to make healthier activity choices throughout the day. Let’s change the way we view chairs in the same way we changed the way we view cigarettes.
In 1967, at 54 years of age, the 792 men did an exercise test. Of those, 656 men also did a maximum exercise test in which they pushed themselves to the limit. The remaining men were excluded from the maximum exercise test because they had a health condition that could make it unsafe. Maximal oxygen uptake, called VO2 max, was measured in a subpopulation of the 656 men using ergospirometry.
A 45-year study in middle-aged men has shown that the impact of low physical capacity on risk of death is second only to smoking. The research is published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
- Content contributed by Kathleen Hale from The Chair Free Project