You better sit down to read this

Last week I was speaking to a friend who is a keen technophile. He has an iPhone, naturally, and an Apple Watch to go with it and of course he uses the Activity app. We had just finished a bicycle ride and he was very pleased to see that all his fitness goals for the day had been reached – apart from the 12 hours of standing. I’ve heard about how “sitting is the new smoking”, as I’m sure everyone has by now, but this seemed a bit extreme.

I asked my friend where he got this goal from and he said: “Oh that, I just picked a random number when I was configuring the app”. This, to me, was a very interesting revelation at a time when the Fitbits and other wearables are proliferating freely and to a large extent driven by fitness tracking of some sort or another. Maybe we’ve gone just a little overboard in our love for these apps if we don’t even know why or how they should be used?

Is sitting the new smoking?

This led me to look into the whole sedentary society dilemma in some more detail. I’d never realised quite how complex the ramifications of sitting supposedly are. Sitting makes you fat, shuts down your normal blood flow to the lower body, reduces cholesterol, increases risk of diabetes, causes back pain and simply leads to an un-timely death. As a friendly infographic tells us, if you sit more than 6 hours a day, you are more likely to die in the next 15 years – an odd conclusion that doesn’t seem to take into account the age of the person who is doing the sitting down.

Sitting = cancer?

Perhaps a more reliable source, an article in Time Magazine tells us how “a recent review of 43 studies analyzing daily activity and cancer rates found that people who reported sitting for more hours of the day had a 24% greater risk of developing colon cancer, a 32% higher risk of endometrial cancer and a 21% higher risk of lung cancer—regardless of how much they exercised.” Whether such link between sitting and cancer can really be drawn is still unclear to me – there may have been other factors at work. A link between inhaling cigarette smoke and developing lung cancer seems a lot more plausible and easier to prove.

The Times article went on to state that “in another study involving a group of men and women who reported exercising the same amount, each additional hour they spent sitting was linked to a drop in their fitness levels. In other words, sitting was chipping away at some of the benefits of exercise.”

Healthy behaviours at work

There are many small changes that would make the daily routines healthier and improve your fitness even whilst at work. Taking breaks to get some fresh air gives your brain more oxygen and so it will perform better. Getting up and walking or doing simple stretches will prevent or reduce back pain. Walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift is great for your base fitness, especially if you have a few floors to climb!

For sure, sitting at your desk all day without any breaks and then going home to sit on the sofa all night can’t be good for the body or the mind. Perhaps it won’t kill you, though.