House Call

Sitting Is the New Smoking

The alarming consequences of a sedentary lifestyle

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel
Sitting Is the New Smoking
Photo by Henry Xu on Unsplash

I have heard the saying that “sitting is the new smoking.” Can this be true?

In effect, yes! In recent years “sitting is the new smoking” is being used more in health and wellness circles. This catchy expression underscores the alarming consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, drawing parallels between the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting and the well-established hazards of smoking.

The dangers of smoking were denied and covered up for many years. Society has become more desk-bound and technology-driven. Health experts are appealing for a reevaluation of our work habits and environments because of the proven risks and dangers of extended periods of sitting.

The comparison to smoking is dramatic, but serves as a powerful wake-up call. Just as smoking was once considered an acceptable and harmless behavior, sitting has become part of our lives, particularly in office-based occupations. Mounting evidence suggests that excessive sitting can contribute to numerous health issues.

Research has demonstrated that prolonged sitting may impact cardiovascular health through poor blood circulation and an increased risk of heart disease. A sedentary lifestyle promotes the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, raised blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels. Over time, these changes can manifest as heart attacks or strokes.

Studies have indicated that people who sit for more than eight hours a day, especially without regular breaks for physical activity, face a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular issues compared to those who lead more active lifestyles. Sedentary behavior has been linked to an increased risk of such conditions as obesity and diabetes, further compounding the toll on the body.

The health of the musculoskeletal system is compromised by prolonged sitting. Hours spent in a seated position can contribute to poor posture, back pain, and stiffness. The lack of movement puts undue stress on the spine and can lead to the weakening of core muscles.

Mental health and emotional well-being are negatively impacted by a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers. When individuals spend extended periods sitting, they miss out on these crucial mood-boosting effects. Consequently, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

The growing awareness of the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting calls for us to redesign our work/learning environments and habits. Initiatives encouraging standing desks, walking meetings, and regular breaks are gaining popularity. Incorporating physical activity into daily routines, such as taking short walks, stretching exercises, or opting for active transportation, can mitigate the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. Ultimately the message that “sitting is the new smoking” serves as a warning that seemingly innocuous habits can have profound implications for our health. We need to intentionally exercise and stretch our muscles, thereby preserving our physical and emotional well-being even as we work at our desks and/or attend many lengthy meetings and committees. By so doing, we will live healthier and more productive lives and even make better decisions, by God’s grace!

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.