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Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

by Tanner Neuberger, PT, DPT, TDN Level 1Leave a Comment

There has been a lot of media attention the past few years equating sitting to being as bad for your health as smoking. The public concern has resulted in what you might expect: office workers switching to stand-up desks, sales of exercise balls, fitness tracker purchases, and even people utilizing treadmills while they’re working on a computer. But is all this worry over sitting warranted? Let’s take a look.

The Health Impact of Smoking

First off, it may not be fair to compare sitting to smoking. Smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year1. Smoking is also an addiction, while prolonged sitting is oftentimes a habit that can be changed with the right mindset. Various health conditions are directly related to excessive smoking: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung cancer, etc. – all of which cause their own health concerns and complications to daily life. So what about sitting? Are there any health conditions that can be linked?

The Health Impact of Sitting

There are certain risks that come with prolonged sitting, but what exactly constitutes as prolonged sitting? Researchers are defining prolonged sitting as sitting more than 8 hours a day. Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. However, unlike some other studies, this analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.4

The main issue associated with sitting for prolonged periods of time is its tendency to lead to a general sedentary lifestyle. As you may know, leading a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative impact on your health and usually comes with unhealthy diet and a lack of physical exercise to maintain muscle tone and mass, which is very crucial in dictating general health of an individual. Moderate amounts of activity can help offset the sedentary lifestyle, and once that ball gets rolling it is easier to stay active.3

Get Up and Move!

What can you do to get out of the habit of sitting too much? Get up and move. After all, our bodies aren’t designed to be stationary. Try going for a walk around the block, doing some stretches throughout the day to keep your body moving, joining a gym or working out with a friend – some people have an easier time sticking to a new routine if they have someone to go through the process with. I recommend getting up at work once every half hour or hour, whichever works best for your situation, to move around and get out of a seated posture. If that frequency doesn’t work for your particular situation, don’t fret, just get up and move around as often as you can. That being said, don’t neglect the impact that diet and nutrition can have on your lifestyle as well. You don’t have to change all of your habits, but you can swap out unhealthy snacks with fruits or veggies, and try to eat as healthy as your budget and time allows.

Working with a physical therapist can also help you with getting started on an active lifestyle. In fact, you don’t need an injury to see a physical therapist, you can use them as a guide to get your health journey started. Begin by scheduling your appointment at your neighborhood Athletico today.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. “Fast Facts | Fact Sheets | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2. Vallance, Jeff K et al. “Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?.” American journal of public health vol. 108,11 (2018): 1478-1482. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304649
3. HHS Office, and Council on Sports. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”, US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Feb. 2019,
4. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. “Sitting Risks: How Harmful Is Too Much Sitting?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 May 2018,

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