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No, Sitting is NOT the New Smoking

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Over the years we have been told about the dangers of sitting down for too long. The media, certain articles and specific opinions have gone so far as to compare the dangers of sitting to the dangers of smoking. While sitting is not the greatest thing you can do for your health, it is nowhere near as bad as inhaling toxic smoke into your lungs.

Due to the growing number of corporate jobs, increasing work hours and weighty commitments, sitting for eight hours a day is common practice for many people. A study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health found that adults typically spend nine hours per day sitting. This is due to many jobs requiring a heavy amount of computer time. Headlines have been dropped on many occasions that point to the negative effects that such sitting can have on your health. Typical of the media, these accusations are really quite drastic and comparing sitting to smoking is yet another wild indictment without any scientific backing.

Smoking is one of the worlds biggest cause of preventable deaths. The drastic effects caused by smoking on the body’s circulation, heart, brain, lungs, stomach, skin, throat, mouth and bones are incredibly far reaching and the increased risk in many forms of cancer is paramount. Sitting for eight-hours a day has been linked to cancer, heart disease and depression but the most notable negative impact that that sitting to much has is increasing the risk of diabetes. In this case, it doubles the risk of the health implication to occur.

That said, let’s have a comparative look at sitting versus smoking. In 2012, smoking led to an annual global health cost of $467 billion in cigarette-related illnesses. According to the new study, in 2013 studies suggested that the cost of physical inactivity (not getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week) was $53.8 billion. This figure is only about 12 percent of the health-related costs of smoking. In the 21st century alone, smoking will cause over 1 billion deaths. In fact, researchers have claimed that “any level of smoking increases risk of dying from any cause by approximately 180 percent versus a 25 percent risk increase for sitting”.

Smoking has very devastating health outcomes. When looking at relative risks in regard to smoking and sitting, smoking equates to 1554 excess deaths per 100 000 people, per annum for men and 1099 excess deaths for women. Sitting equates to a much smaller number with only 190 excess deaths per 100 000 people per year for men and 170 excess deaths for women. Quitting smoking would increase life expectancy by 2.4 years, while sitting for less then four hours a day will only increase life expectancy by 0.23 years.

A major difference in the comparison between whether sitting is as bad as smoking is that all smoking is detrimental to your health, with even one cigarette having a negative impact on your wellbeing. Whereas, you need to sit for a very long period of time, every single day to see the effects of sitting on your health. It is unfortunate to see something as serious as smoking being compared to something as underwhelming as sitting. It is actually a very dangerous part of the media, with comparisons confusing the public with false claims and essentially downplaying the effects of something as hazardous as smoking.

Epidemiologist, Dr Terry Boyle, from the South Australian University says that this comparison has increased drastically over the years, with some respected scientists even spreading the myth. He states, “The simple fact is, smoking is one of the greatest public health disasters of the past century. Sitting is not, and you can’t really compare the two”. He goes on to say “Finally, unlike smoking, sitting is neither an addiction nor a danger to others…. Equating the risk of sitting with smoking is clearly unwarranted and misleading, and only serves to trivialize the risks associated with smoking”.

There have been many tests conducted to assess whether sitting does have an outrageous effect on the public’s health like that of cigarettes. One study conducted by “The Conversation” found that it could possibly be the type of sitting that is having an effect on health, rather then the amount of time sat. The study wanted to see if there was a different effect from sitting at work, sitting at home watching television or sitting at home without watching television. The conclusions of the study fou2nd “Once we took into account obesity, physical activity, and other factors contributing to developing type 2 diabetes, neither total sitting time, sitting at work or sitting at home but not watching TV were linked with developing diabetes”. The study did find that people who are inactive and had a high level of sitting in their lifestyles had a higher chance of developing diabetes.

It is clear to see in the study that what had the most impact on the effects of sitting was the amount of physical activity that the person incorporated into their lives. Therefore, instead of the media trying to insight levels of fear about the dangers of sitting, they should be encouraging exercise and movement on lunch breaks, to and from work and whatever other way people can incorporate exercise into their busy lives.

Unfortunately, what makes news headlines and newspaper articles is not always accurate and can lead to confusion and mistrust of serious health claims. It is important to look at in depth studies for claims such as “Sitting is the New Smoking”.

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