Is Sitting as Bad as Smoking?

Written by Emily Morris

People sit a lot these days — a lot. Whether we sit at a desk all day or on the couch all night, being an adult in the modern world means being sedentary. The first step to fixing any problem in life is to gain a better understanding of the problem, so let’s take a look. 

According to the American Cancer Society, there’s a strong correlation between long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, digestive diseases, and more.  It doesn’t matter if we are sitting and watching TV, resting, reading, or working at our computer, it’s all considered “sitting,” and it’s important to know the associated health risks for sitting that long during the day. 


It might seem like the two have nothing to do with each other, but if we’re always misplacing our phone or forgetting to answer important emails, it could have something to do with how much we’re sitting.  While sitting seems quite harmless on the surface, it’s believed to have a negative impact on blood flow to the head, which links to the deterioration of the part of the brain that helps us retain both old memories and new information. Doing a few mid-afternoon jumping jacks suddenly sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?! 


Sometimes we find ourselves just sitting in front of our computer screen or smartphone staring blankly ahead, suddenly unsure of what we were doing, or what we were supposed to be doing? I know I’ve been there.  These weird, spacey moments could have something to do with the fact that we’ve been sitting for too long.  When we are sitting, we are not actively working our musculoskeletal system or our cardiopulmonary system, which all affect how well the brain functions. These long bouts of sitting dial down the volume of our thinking and perspective. If we are sitting for long periods of time, we are missing out on a potential neurotransmitter boost that comes with varied movement. 


Being sedentary can lead to a lack of oxygen in our brain.  All of this sounds serious, if not downright scary, but the solution can be as simple as tweaking a few minor things in our everyday routine. How about kicking off our mornings by getting upside down in a headstand (side note: using the wall for support is totally fine)? The increased blood flow to the brain will feel refreshing, especially first thing in the morning.  If headstands aren’t our thing, combatting the sitting dilemma can still be as simple as making our next business meeting a walking meeting. 

Not to worry! We can add more standing to our days in really simple ways, such as walking/pacing around whenever you take a phone call (honestly, who doesn’t already do this?), using commercial breaks as a workout or stretch break, and taking the long way to places we visit regularly, like the office or the grocery store.