Sitting is the new smoking, so get moving

Nick McClary

You’ve decided you want to make a change and lead a healthier lifestyle. You know how important it is to make smart food choices and become active. You know that being overweight and being inactive are both independent but connected risk factors for chronic disease and premature death.

So you start eating lower-calorie foods and cutting back on your portions and snacking. You start exercising to the recommended amount for adults, at least 150 minutes per week at a moderate intensity, including at least two strength training days per week. You also have quit smoking if you currently smoke.

But, have you taken care of all of the modifiable behaviors you can to decrease your risk of premature death and diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer? What if there is a behavior you may be performing that can negate some of the beneficial effects of exercise?

Most people wouldn’t believe such a behavior exists. After all, you’re told to stay active through exercising regularly, and that’s it. But the actual recommendation to stay active is greater than just your regular exercise regimen. Even if you exercise regularly, there is a behavior that still puts you at increased risk and can even negate the beneficial effects of your workout. So what is this behavior?


According to a systematic review in the Annals of Internal Medicine published in 2015, if you spend a prolonged amount of time sitting throughout the day, you are still at an increased risk of chronic disease and premature death even if you exercise regularly.

Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, explains it nicely: “Up until very recently, if you exercised for 60 minutes or more a day, you were considered physically active, case closed. Now a consistent body of emerging research suggests… that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.”

This emerging body of evidence has led many to use the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

As stated, sitting too much appears to be very similar to smoking with regard to disease. So, while formal exercise remains an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, if you sit too much and are inactive for the majority of your day, you still have increased risk for disease and premature death.

The most obvious solution is to just sit less throughout the day. Try to stay moving. But what if you work at a desk or have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time? Change your posture often. Set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to get up for a short break every hour. Purchase a standing desk for your office if you are able. Make frequent trips to the water fountain to stay hydrated and keep moving. All of these little frequent movements add up. And you’ll likely feel more energized through your work day.

In addition, make sure that you are minimizing your sedentary time when you aren’t at work. Take a few walks and stay busy around the house or in the community before or after work. While sitting may be your required position at work, the time outside of work is within your control. Make the most of it to decrease your sedentary time.

Our bodies were made to move. Help keep yours healthy by moving often throughout the day in addition to your formal exercise routine.

(Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from the University of Tennessee. He is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He was born in Georgetown and lives and works in Pawleys Island. Send him your health and fitness questions at: