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Is Sitting Really The New Smoking?

You may have heard the media headlines that 5 or more hours of sitting is the new smoking, but is this really true or is it just another sensationalist headline? 

You may have heard the media headlines that 5 or more hours of sitting is the new smoking, but is this really true or is it just another sensationalist headline? 

Office workers spend 70-85% of their time sitting at work which means they are currently one of the most sedentary populations. Even when adults meet the physical activity guidelines, sitting for prolonged and unbroken periods of time has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and even weight gain 1, 2

What’s more, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis which included 1184 participants showed that if a 65kg person were to substitute sitting with standing for 6 hours per day they would expend 54 more calories each day which would translate to a fat loss of 2.5kg in one year 4. People who sit for long periods of the day have been shown to have a higher rate of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and this risk is increased irrespective of weight gain.  

What’s more, sitting for extended periods of time cooped up behind a dark desk may negatively affect mental health and moral. Research has shown that fresh air and nature are associated with greater vitality which is why exercise such as walking meetings can even improve mood and even self-esteem. What’s more, exposure to daylight can increase the production of our happy hormone serotonin, and is particularly important for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 4, 5.

Whilst it’s too early to put sitting and smoking within the same bracket, there is a wealth of research to support the benefits of sitting less. Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that sit-stand workstations could improve markers of health and even boost work performance. These height-adjustable stations were implemented in the trial which involved 146 NHS staff. Over a 12 month period, results showed an improvement in job performance, work engagement, occupational fatigue, presenteeism, daily anxiety and quality of life 3.  

What are 5 simple exercises to help you move more...

  1.  Arm Circles

Sit on the chair with your back straight, and legs on the floor. Touch your shoulders with your fingers without moving any other parts of your body. Roll your arms backwards in a circular motion. 

  1. Clenches

The best thing about this exercise is that no one knows you’re secretly fitting in a workout. For buns of steel, clench your buttocks, hold for 10 seconds and repeat 20 times.


  1. Toe Reaches

This one can instantly get the blood flowing around the body for an energy hit. Stand up behind your desk, reach your harms to touch your toes and then gradually move your harms up to reach the sky. Repeat this 10 times. 


  1. Chair dips

For this exercise, you want to use an office chair that won’t roll away from you. Place the chair behind you and hold the seat with your legs out in front of you. Use the chair to balance your weight whilst you raise your body up off and down the chair. You should feel a burn in the back of your harms as your muscles work hard to lift the weight of your body up and down. Aim to do a set of 10-20. 


  1. Back Twist

This is a great one for relieving tension in your back. Sit in your chair place your right arm behind your right hip. Twist to the right side and hold for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.


By leading London Nutritionist, Lily Soutter BSc (Hons) Food & Human Nutrition, Dip NT

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