Is Sitting Really the new Smoking?

I listened to a podcast last week by Ben Greenfield  talking about the headline that most of us read a month or two ago stating that “Sitting is the new Smoking”. Even Runnersworld had an article titled “Sitting is the New Smoking – Even for Runners”. 

I think a lot of us runners thought when we saw the initial article that it applied to all those coach potatoes who sit at work, and then go home and sit some more, and that it didn’t apply to us because clearly we are healthy and active, and all the hours a week that we spend running and working out will more than make up for the hours we spend sitting at a desk each day. The Runnersworld article states that on average, even us active people, spend on average 64 hours a week sitting.  That the hours that we spend exercising don’t actually reduce the average amount of time we spend sitting, and that this is the issue.  The risks of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease go up exponentially for those who spend a lot of time sitting, and the study quoted found that the exercise we do doesn’t actually combat these stats very well.  Sitting is even found to up your risk of getting cancer!  There are lots of scary stats in these articles.

For the most part I think I’m a very healthy person, I’m fit, strength train, run, am a healthy body weight, eat pretty balanced and healthy, but now you’re telling me that it’s my sitting that’s going to kill me! I guess I’ll go eat a bag of chips and give up on the rest…

Ok maybe not… but what can we do to combat this, or should we even worry about it?


How the heck would you drink coffee at your desk!
How the heck would you drink coffee at your desk!

One of the biggest solutions I’ve seen marketed is either a standing or walking desk. I don’t know if I could walk and work at the same time, sometimes walking and talking challenges my multitasking abilities.  As for a standing desk, I think these are awesome, and if I worked at a big oil company or Google, or somewhere that they like to shell out big bucks for their employees comforts, then I’d be all over this option.  But as I work for a small engineering company, this is not something that I’m going to get.

I wouldn't be wearing those heels if I were standing all day!
I wouldn’t be wearing those heels if I were standing all day!

Should I worry about these reports? I wouldn’t say I’m worried persay.  It isn’t something that I think is worth losing sleep over, but I also think it’s worth being aware of these stats, and the risks, and trying to mitigate them as best as possible.  I will say that I’m not super concerned with the diabetes or heart disease risks, but more the muscular/physical issues, as those problems seem like they are more likely to strike someone who is as active as I am, and they could impact my ability to continue to be active and to do the things I love (run).  I also noticed during my last marathon cycle that on the days that I was sitting for long periods of time at work my legs would feel a lot creakier, that while sitting they would stiffen up, and things would start to feel really tight.

So I’m trying to do a few things to mitigate these risks, but not going crazy and quitting my job and moving to SF to try to get a job at Google… though that would be awesome too!

  • First of all I’m trying to take breaks during the day. Even if they are just 2 minute breaks.  On the Ben Greenfield podcast they suggested setting an alarm for every 45 minutes or an hour to remind yourself to get up, move around or do a few exercises.  I think this is a great idea!  I also drink a lot of water during the day, so that at the very least my bladder can act as my alarm 🙂
  • Once or twice during the day I am taking an extended break (like 5 minutes) to take a walk. As long as the weather is decent I’ve been walking outside. I just head outside and take a big loop walk around our parking lot. I will listen to an audiobook or podcast, get some fresh air and stretch my legs. It isn’t a long break but it feels really good and I find that I even focus better when I return to my desk.


  • Years ago, I always sat on an exercise ball instead of a regular office chair. I took the ball home the last time I went on maternity leave, and then just got lazy and never brought it back in. I’ve resurrected the ball, and have it in my office again. Sitting on an exercise ball doesn’t totally negate some of the risks that are quoted in sitting, but I find I have better posture, my hips and butt feel better aligned or positioned (if that even makes sense?). I also move around more, if I’m waiting on my computer to process something I’ll do a quick V-sit, or a few reverse sit-ups (hoping that my boss doesn’t come into my office at that moment!). When I first used the ball for my office chair, my abs and back would fatigue quickly, and I’d need to take breaks. This time when I brought it in, it feels great from the start. I’m much more active in general these days, and do a lot of core work in my strength training, so I’m sure that helps.


Those are the big three things that I’m doing. They may not seem like much, but I’m a big believer in changing what you can, and not trying to jump into perfection if it isn’t achievable.  If there is something that needs to be changed in a person’s life, they are much better off changing 20% of it, than giving up and not changing a thing.

What about you, have you read about these stats on sitting? Have they prompted you to make any changes?  Does it worry you, or do you think your active lifestyle negates the risk?


One thought on “Is Sitting Really the new Smoking?

  1. Brendan

    Um gonna have to say that I’m just going to avoid sitting and just lay on my back from now on :)~
    Nicely written piece terry and love the sitting on the ball lol

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