When Professor James Levine, MD-PhD, coined the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking,’ it might have come across as an exaggeration. However, the health problems caused by sitting are scientifically proven. In an interview with the the Los Angeles Times, Dr Levine, currently the president at Foundation Ipsen, Paris, states, “sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us.”
While this statement alerts us to the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting, there is a valid counterargument. Some argue that sitting is not comparable to smoking, given the significantly higher risks of chronic diseases and premature death associated with smoking. Smoking also leads to diseases with a larger economic impact and number of deaths, and sitting is neither an addiction nor a danger to others like passive smoking.
However, sitting for extended periods, traditionally associated with slothfulness, is now proven to be a causative factor for non-communicable diseases, poor mental health, and a diminished quality of life.
Chronic diseases resulting from prolonged sitting include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, varicose veins, anxiety, depression, weakening of muscles in the lower body, and metabolic syndrome. A 2014 study revealed that a large percentage of people in India are inactive, with fewer than 10% engaging in recreational physical activity. With faster and affordable internet and smartphones, this number has likely increased exponentially in the past 9 years.
Our bodies were not designed to sit all day. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were active most of the time, sitting only to rest or cook. Yet, our default mode today is prolonged sitting, whether at home, school, work, or during travel. Exercising or walking for one hour in the day does not offset the ill effects of sitting for the rest of the day. The fitness app in an Apple watch has three distinct rings – move, exercise and stand – that highlight the importance of all kinds of movements in the overall physical well being of an individual.
How Does Sitting Affect Metabolism?
Sitting for just 30 minutes at a stretch slows down our metabolism and reduces the caloric expenditure. Sitting leads to the inactivity of major muscle groups of the legs, glutes and core. A sedentary life leads to insulin resistance, where cells are less responsive to insulin, and blood glucose levels may remain elevated. Lack of muscle activity prevents the blood glucose from being shunted into the muscles, decreasing the ability of muscle cells to absorb glucose. When you sit for long periods, the activity of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fat, decreases. This can result in poor fat metabolism and accumulation of fat in the body.
How To Reduce Your Sitting Time In The Day?
While 30 minutes of sitting has negative effects on metabolism, it can be reversed with just a five minute break from sitting, which can be effortlessly incorporated in your daily life. As a manager or CEO, consider opting for a more dynamic approach to discussions. Instead of calling your team into your office to talk while seated, take a stroll around the office. This not only fosters better rapport with your colleagues but also encourages a more open and collaborative atmosphere. Embrace face-to-face discussions, especially for smaller matters that are often relegated to emails.
Incorporate physical activity into your work routine by using the stairs a few times a week and avoiding prolonged sitting during calls by walking around the office. At home, transform tidying up into a physical activity. Rather than making one trip to put things away, take several trips, incorporating movement into your daily tasks. Use every opportunity to get up as a gift rather than feeling annoyed at having to attend to the doorbell or getting yourself a glass of water from the kitchen.
Extend this mindset to public spaces. If you find a seat on public transport, consider offering it to someone else and choosing to stand. Opt for small adjustments like getting off a station or stop earlier and walking to your destination. Encourage movement by asking your driver to park further away in the parking lot.
In your leisure activities, prioritise standing or walking options. Consider gallery visits, parks, and exhibitions that involve movement. Choose public transport over cabs when possible to introduce more physical activity into your daily routine. The days I take the metro in Bengaluru, I invariably end up walking 10K steps effortlessly. In a world where the risks from a sedentary life are looming large over us, there is an urgent need to address the sitting epidemic by embracing movement and make it an integral part of our everyday life.