Sitting is the new smoking

by Ruth Griffiths

You better stand up while I break the bad news to you; just sitting there can be bad for your health.

A recent University of Massachusetts study showed that inactivity has swift and punishing health consequences.

A group of young men wore a chunky platform shoe with a four-inch heel on their right foot, leaving the left leg to dangle. For two days, the men hopped about using crutches. Each man’s left leg never touched the ground. Its muscles did not contract. It was fully sedentary.

After two days, scientists tested muscles in both legs and found activity was expressed differently in each man’s two legs. Repair mechanisms had been disrupted in the inactive leg, insulin response was dropping, oxidative stress was rising and metabolic activity within individuals muscle cells was slowing — all after only 48 hours of inactivity.

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An eight-year National Cancer Institute study showed that people who watched television for seven or more hours a day had a much higher risk of premature death than people who watched less often. Exercising only slightly reduces the health risks of sitting. People in the study who exercised for seven hours or more a week but spent at least seven hours a day in front of the TV were more likely to die prematurely than the small group who worked out seven hours a week and watched less than an hour of TV a day.

Seven hours of inactivity sounds like a lot, but that’s how much screen time many North American children are getting every day. Are they doomed to a premature death because they are sitting too long with their electronic babysitters?

The good news is that if you break up your sitting with brief movement, your health outlook is better. Maybe those TV commercials that motivate you to walk to the refrigerator aren’t all that bad. Just remember to choose water and veggies when you get to the kitchen and leave the chocolate cake for tomorrow.