Why sitting is the new smoking

I recently attended a conference in the US which focused on all the things I feel so strongly about when it comes to how we choose to live.  It was such a privilege and pleasure to be in a room full of other clinicians who shared the same views. 

It was made clear at the start of this conference that sitting was not going to be tolerated.  In fact, there was a treadmill desk and a bike desk in the hall which we were all encouraged to get up and use throughout the two days.  I have to say, there was barely a moment when they weren't both in use.  And if you wanted to stand up during the talks, well that was fine too. 

How refreshing to not have to sit down for hours on end!  If there's one thing I find really challenging about lectures, talks, seminars and conferences, it's having to sit on my bottom all day long.  There is more and more emerging evidence highlighting the dangers, yes dangers, of sitting.  Sitting really is the new smoking as these days, our sedentary lifestyles are responsible for more deaths than those attributed to smoking.  This is quite a scary thought.  And it's even scarier when we realise that sitting has become so deeply embedded in our cultures. Sitting at work (unless you work for a forward thinking, progressive company which has treadmill boardrooms and standing desks etc), sitting at home, sitting when out...

There's always a lot in the media about the benefits of exercise and I don't think anyone doubts that physical activity is great for you and an essential pillar in living a long, healthy life.  But it's only recently that I've seen more about our sedentary approach to life.  So, it's not all about exercise, it's also about just getting up.  Studies have shown that getting up for just 2 minutes and having a little walk around your office or living room can make a world of difference to your health and well-being now and in the future. And if you can get up every 20 minutes or so to do this, well, then even better. 

There continues to be more and more compelling research proving that sitting for long periods of time increases the risk of developing serious illnesses like certain cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.  And contributes to musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues.

We were not designed for prolonged sitting, if we had been we would have completely different anatomy.  So continue exercising but also start just getting up.*  Exercising after work is great but it doesn't counterbalance sitting for hours on end.  Find your ways to change, whether it's not having a bottle of water on your desk but keeping it in the office kitchen or something bigger like investing in a standing or treadmill desk, it doesn't matter as long as you start somewhere.

* Interestingly, I started writing this on a busy train whilst standing up.  It wasn't easy and I nearly dropped my laptop several times so I resigned myself to my seat to write the rest.  Sometimes it's not easy to just get up, particularly because our environments have not been created with this in mind.  But I'm sure that the Lifestyle Medicine revolution which is spreading like wild fire will mean that sooner or later we will start seeing huge changes everywhere.