Sitting is the New Smoking

The Toll Of Sitting - sitting smoking .jpg

Sitting Is the New Smoking

There’s this saying going around that sitting is the new smoking.  One might think it’s a bit snarky or a little bit of a dig at those of us that spend a little too much time on our rears, for work or for pleasure.  But Dr. James Levine, who is credited with this saying, is serious.  He even believes that sitting could be worse than smoking.

So what’s one to do about it? “Get Up” is the title of Levine’s new book.  It’s a tale of how he came to the scientific conclusion that our chairs are killing us and what needs to be done in order to stop this threat. 

Levine writes that we lose two hours of life for every hour we sit.  Sitting all day is not natural and can be blamed for all kinds of ailments, including obesity.  Levine happens to be the inventor of the treadmill desk (why didn’t I think of that first?!)   The obvious answer he goes on to say is to move more – go for a walk after a meal, park your car farther away from the store.  And on one hand the good news is that this is incredibly easy, but on the other hand, is the bad news is that this is incredibly difficult. 

The revolution to overthrow sitting is at hand.  More and more work places are creating wellness type programs to encourage their employees to move more.  Just next week at UM we are starting a Wellness Walking Program.  They pass out pedometers and encourage you to wear the pedometer for a week to see what your average steps are for the day.  The following week is when the challenge begins.  But let’s be honest, not everyone is near the 10,000 steps a day that are recommended.  The goal is simply for us to move more.  Baseline you need to find out how many steps you are doing a day and improve upon that.   I’ve thrown the challenge out to my colleagues and no one wanted to do the challenge.  They all said I’d win.  But as I explained to them the challenge is within themselves.  It doesn’t do any good to compare yourself to others.  You have to be honest with where you are and again improve upon that. 

Levine goes on to say that the science can’t be refuted – “the workforce will be more productive if they get up and move.  Kids will get better grades if they get up and move.”  Levine at first was ridiculed by many colleagues when he first began addressing the dangers of sitting.  But then he began to do some studies and prove his theories.

NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is the energy expenditure of activity other than sports.  This would include going to work, shoveling snow (none of which us Floridians would know about), and taking a walk.  For example a construction worker uses a lot more NEAT calories during the day than would a computer programmer.  “Low NEAT is linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer,” Levine writes. 

Levine and his colleagues conducted an experiment in which people were overfed by the same amount – 1,000 calories a day.  What they found is that some people had a “powerful NEAT switch” that gets them moving to use excess energy.  And then they found that those people that do not have a NEAT switch remain sitting in response to overfeeding and are predisposed to obesity. 

The simple difference – two hours and 15 minutes a day of movement versus sitting.  As Levine puts it, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.  We are sitting ourselves to death.”

The New Year is here.   Many people have created their new year’s resolutions (goals, whatever you want to call them).  Make movement one of them (if it isn’t already).  I get many patients in my office and challenge them on this.  While I’m no exercise expert, what I do know is that as a society we are very sedentary.   I used to be.  I’ve mentioned this many times before but I used to have a 150 mile-daily commute.  That’s right.   150 miles.  It was an hour and a half each way.  My day was 6:30 – 6:30.  During that time period I’ll be honest the only exercise I did was my early morning runs 3 times a week.  Once I got home I was done, zombieville.  It’s hard to explain to many that don’t have this kind of commute (but others that have done it confirm the same thing happened to them) but I literally was wiped out after I got home.  I’d want to go for a walk but it was as if my body was drained.   The only way I could offset all that sitting that I was doing was by waking up uber early and getting a short run in.  I would’ve loved to known what my step count was back then.   But that’s why it’s so important to figure out what your baseline movement is during the day (don’t alter anything this next week, but really see how many steps you get in a day).  Many phones come with an application built in to help monitor your steps.  Or you can go all out crazy and get a tracking type device, fitbit, jawbone, whichever you fancy.   Once you know how little (or how much) you’re doing, the goal is to increase it.  You must begin where you are at.  It might be surprising to see how many NEAT calories you are using during the day.  Remember, low NEAT is what’s linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart attack, and cancer.  10,000 steps a day is the recommendation.  Find out where you fall.  You might just be surprised. 

Sitting Is The New Smoking - sitting smoking2.jpg