Why sitting could be the new smoking

After reading this article you may want to sit down, and then stand up again: it’s becoming clear that sedentary lifestyles – a lifestyle with irregular or no physical activity – has more of a bearing on a range of health conditions than first thought.

As Cambridge Sport & Medicine Specialist Cathy Speed knows, the prime culprit when it comes to inactive lifestyles is sitting, something that takes up as much of 70% of the average day for a huge amount of people. For many people, it’s an unavoidable fact of life: our working lives have moved away from the physical grind of the factory and towards the mental grind of the office. When you spend your spare time doing more of the same – be it in front of a television or laptop – that’s where the problems begin.

Time to stand up and fight

The list of ailments that a sedentary lifestyle can help being on is manifold, and frightening. Cardiovascular disease and its offshoots – heart disease, circulation and blood pressure – are the most obvious consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle, and the risks of them occurring can increase with as little as two hours of sitting time per day. Even worse, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increase in the risk of contracting cancer.

Need more bad news? People who watch TV for more than two hours a day gives you a 20% increase in the chances of contracting Type 2 diabetes. High amounts of sitting have been linked to an increase in the chances of contracting depressive symptoms. Older adults who spend over six hours of their day sitting are more likely to develop muscle degeneration than those who don’t. And overall, sedentary lifestyles have been associated with an increase of all-cause mortality by up to 49%.

What you can do

So what can we do to combat a sedentary lifestyle when it seems like the world we live in is pushing us towards it? The first thing you need to do is review your lifestyle – honestly and unflinchingly – and make plans to improve it. You’re not being asked to throw away your armchair: rather, you need to pick out moments in your week when you know you’re wallowing for no real reason, and work out what you could be doing instead that will do your body some good.

The next plan of action is to set realistic short-term goals that can spur you on to greater things in the long term. Aiming to lose a pound of weight per week…going on a 30-minute walk at least three times a week…completing one major job in the house, from tidying the garden to finally putting up that bookcase…all of these things are infinitely preferable than finishing off a box set that you’re not really into.

From there, you can start to think about making the move into a truly healthy lifestyle. The walk around the park can turn into a jog around it if you put yourself in the right frame of mind. That pound you’re losing every week can be magnified with a few regular gym sessions. And if you want to spend a chunk of time sitting, you can always do that on a bike.

We all know that sedentary lifestyles are very easy to slip into, especially when the weather starts to worsen, but it’s just as easy to slip into good habits too.

As Cambridge Sport & Medicine Specialist Professor Cathy Speed explains: “Physical activity for health-related benefit can be the most effective prescription ever written.” To arrange a consultation at her Cambridge clinic, call 01223 200 595 or 01223 200 594.