Is Sitting the New Smoking? | Can Too Much Sitting Increase the Risk of Depression?

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 year. 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.

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.

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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By Tanner Neuberger, PT, DPT, TDN Level 1 for Athletico Physical Therapy


Related article: Can Too Much Sitting Increase the Risk of Depression?

The average adult can sit for up to 10 hours a day. Sedentary behaviors are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and premature death. While these risks may be partly offset by high levels of exercise, most people do not achieve the levels needed. Recent evidence suggests that high volumes of sitting can also be associated with poorer mental health.

In a series of studies linking sitting survey data with clinician diagnoses of depression and anxiety, investigators tested the possibility that certain types of sedentary behavior might be worse for mental health than others. They found that mentally passive sedentary behaviors like TV-viewing increase the risk of depression, whereas those involving mental activity (i.e., reading, office work and problem solving) reduce such risk.

Thus, in the context of psychological well-being, the way we use our brain while sitting appears to be important. Structured exercise should always be encouraged for better physical and mental health. In addition, encouraging more mentally active sedentary behaviors may be an effective approach to prevent depression, especially in those for whom physical activity or structured exercise can be challenging.

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