Sitting could be as bad as smoking

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Image: Shutterstock/LOFTFLOW

When I used to live in Nashville, nobody ever walked to get somewhere, because the city is so spread out that people only get around by car or by bus. There aren’t even sidewalks on many streets. Most residents of Nashville, like those of many other cities in the US, follow a monotonously sedentary position: at the breakfast table, in the car on the way to work, at the computer at work, at lunch, again at work, again in the car on the way to the bar, on the barstool, and so on.We Americans may love sitting, but like a lot of things we love, it turns out it’s not so good for us. A predominantly sedentary lifestyle causes backaches, tension headaches, sluggishness, and it increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular illness and even cancer, according to a recent report. This has led James Colquhoun, founder of Food Matters, to callexcessive sitting “the new smoking” of our generation.

Want to guess what the solution to too much sitting is? You got it: spend less time sitting. But how do we do this in our culture in which so many of our jobs and hobbies involve long periods of staying put on our butts? While there do exist some radical options, like a standing desk, not everyone is willing to go to such extremes. Here are some easier solutions that can be easily integrated into your daily life. After all, it’s better to adopt small changes that you can keep as habits than radical ones that you’ll give up in a few weeks.

For time spent sitting at work, the easiest solution is just to take as many breaks as possible. Not such a bad solution after all, huh? So you don’t forget, set an alarm reminder to stand up and stretch every 10 or 15 minutes. Another solution is making excuses to get up from your desk, like to go to the printer, to talk to colleagues in the same space in person instead of by e-mail or by phone, heck even to run errands. It may not sound like much, but moving your body around just a little bit, thanks to the minimal oxygenation it provides, goes a long way toward preventing the nefarious effects of the new smoking.

Sitting in the car is a hard one to change. We’re not going to transform our car-dependent cities into pedestrian ones overnight, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to sit. If possible, use the bike as a means of transportation. Or if you’re on the bus or the subway, instead of sitting, stand on your feet. If you do have to take your car and you have a long commute, take little breaks to get out and move around a little. Additionally, when you park, you could always find a more distant parking space to walk a few more steps in and out of where you’re going.

Lastly, when you’re with friends, or even if it’s just a phone call, go for a walk! Putting the body in motion adds some energy and zest to the conversation. Or even if it’s to clear your head, going for a walk can be a great technique—take it from some of the greatest Western philosophers like Aristotle and Nietzsche, who according to legend got their ideas while walking!

Marcus Wade loves to surf the Internet, drink coffee and travel. He loves meeting new people and having interesting conversations about art, politics and society.