Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Think about how much time you sit during your day. If you are like the average college student, you are likely sitting for long periods of time sitting in classes, studying for tests, and writing blogs. A friend of mine was recently expressing his opinion to me that sitting is like the new smoking. As a curious (and worrisome) individual, I wanted to see for myself whether sitting for long periods of time can have a negative effect on our health. I wondered, is there a correlation between sitting too much and negative health effects such as early death? And if so, could the correlation be causal or is it due to chance?

1111Figure 1

First, I needed to find a non-biased, recent study that could at least give me a better understanding to what we are looking at. I first looked at the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that studied people’s actions throughout their day using accelerometers. According to this study, U.S. adult citizens spend on average more than half of their day in a sedimentary position.  Below is a chart depicting the average time one spends in a sedimentary position.2222Figure 2:

Next I looked at a study conducted by Canadian researchers studying the link between sitting time and mortality rates. The study accounted for multiple possible confounding variables such as physical activity, body mass index, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. As seen in figure 3, the results show a particularly strong correlation between time spent sitting and survival rate over a span of 14 years.

The P-value in this particular case was determined to be less than 0.0001. This study makes a strong inference that the link between sitting for too long and early death is causal because it studied a large group of people (17,013 Canadians), accounted for multiple potential confounding variables, and has a considerably low P-value.

Although the researchers have conducted what seems to be a thorough and convincing study, more studies should be taken into consideration in case of the extremely small possibility that the correlation between sedimentary position and higher mortality rate are due to chance.

I do not have the time nor the resources available to me to conduct a thorough meta-analysis. However with that being said, meta-analyses can be very helpful in proving correlation between two possible occurrences. Australian researchers included six studies ranging from 1989-2013 in a thorough meta-analysis. In total, more than 595,000 people were involved with the studies, accumulating more than 3,500,000 person-years of data (Chau). The study concluded that it is very likely that sitting too much decreases one’s life-span. However, it should be noted that no P-value was made evident.3333Figure 3:

Though the mechanism is not clear, some scientists believe that when muscles are not used frequently, lipoprotein lipase activity, an essential process of the human body becomes suppressed (Dunstan).

Although the effects may not be immediate, there seems to be a positive correlation between sitting and negative health effects. The more time spent sitting per day generally associates you with a higher likelihood of developing serious health issues and earlier mortality. After looking into this myself, I will attempt to stand up and move around to break up my studying. So next time you are cramming for a test or trying to write 5 blogs the day before the deadline, make it a point to move around.

Works Cited:

Dunstan, David W. “Too much sitting – A health hazard.” Elsevier, vol. 97, Sept. 2012. Science Direct, Accessed 13 Oct. 2016.

Katzmarzyk, Peter T. “Sitting Time and Mortality from all Causes, Cardiovascular disease, and cancer.” . Google Scholar,

Chau JY, Grunseit AC, Chey T, Stamatakis E, Brown WJ, Matthews CE, et al. (2013) Daily Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80000. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080000

10 thoughts on “Is Sitting the New Smoking?

  1. Mallory Dixon

    I thought this post was really interesting because I would have never thought that too much sitting could negatively affect your health. After sitting for an extended period of time I feel the need to get up and stretch and now I realize that a healthy thing to do. I found this article that is also about sitting too much and I think you might find it interesting and you could relate it back to the research you have already done.

  2. Victor William Gregory

    Hey Nathan,
    It was really cool to see how you used the information from class in your blog. You use of multiple studies made this blog very compelling to read. It caught my attention because not long ago my mom bought a stand up desk for her to use at work, because she felt that she spent too much of her time sitting during the day. I would have like to see you define the term sedentary, because i feel that it made a negative effect on your blog. Had you explained sedentary as completely lacking in movement or exercise, then your blog would have had a stronger impact. Even those in wheelchairs can still be active and avoid living a sedentary life style.

  3. Jessy Severino

    Man you did an awesome job with this blog post. It awesome to see that you’re comfortable applying what we are learning in class into your blog. I would’t have imagined that sitting and health can be closely correlated. The post was very informative. I did some online surfing and came across an article in the Washington post that touches base on this topic and backs up what you’re saying.

  4. Olivia Frederickson

    This topic was very eye-catching to me since I am currently researching for one of my topics that looks at the relationship between being active and being intelligent. Although, I find it very interesting that you researched from the viewpoint of how sitting could possibly affect mortality rates. It really makes me wonder about the negatives that apply to extended amounts of time sitting down. Long car rides? Flights? Classes? Tests? Especially for classes, tests, and many office jobs our thoughts and extended studies or work habits are accomplished usually when we are sitting down. This article explains a series of experiments that placed people who usually work at desks into sit-stand work stations. The experiments were randomized control variable tests and surveyed the subjects after the series of experiments asking about the change in their posture, what type of tasks were accomplished sitting/standing, etc. This article also takes a really good look at the health risks of sitting for extended periods of time which certainly prompt the reason behind the experiment. You should definitely check it out since it can support the positive affects of moving around while in focused times of studying.

  5. Summer A Carson

    Hi Nathan! This was a very intriguing post, and you also did a fantastic job of incorporating ideas that we have been learning in class. For example, stating a z variable and mentioning p values. Too much sitting it not good for anyone of any age! I think it was a interesting point that you related sitting to smoking becuase they are often seen in two completely different aspects. I will personally always think smoking will have more risk than sitting, but I do see the point you are trying to make. For one of my RPTM classes the other day we had a guest speaker come in and tell us that people are now living longer than ever! People that were born in the baby boomer generation are now considered to be part of the Silver Tsunami and are very healthy. The Silver Tsunami people are very healthy for reasons like daily walking and being active. Living longer should be enough of a reason to get up and stop sitting down so much! Here is a link to read more about the Silver Tsunami generation becoming more active and living longer

  6. Valerie Lauren Murphy

    This is a really great blog post. You incorporated a few different studies to explain this topic and the validity of the answer to the question. I think that confounding variables definitely account for the correlation between sitting and higher mortality rates. If a person were to spend excessive amounts of their day sitting, chances are they aren’t getting enough exercise or getting quality blood circulation. Poor eating habits and lack of daily exercise could be possible variables to consider when evaluating the positive correlation. What are the causes of death of these people that are being observed in these studies? Are they all related to physiological complications? If there is a common cause of death amongst the people being studied, it would definitely make the correlation appear stronger. I think that a logical person would conclude that taking breaks from extensive periods of sitting and incorporating exercise throughout the day (no matter how low the intensity may be) would be beneficial to their health.

  7. Mary M. Brown

    Nathan, this blog is awesome. I love how you incorporated so much that we learned in class, and your sources are extremely credible. I’ve often wondered about the unhealthy consequences of spending too much time sitting, and sometimes I even find myself feeling more exhausted from sitting all day as opposed to walking and exercising. It all makes sense to me though, because when you sit too much you aren’t exercising all of your muscle groups. After reading this blog, I will definitely be spending as much time standing as possible, whether it means just going on a walk after my classes are over or hardcore exercising. Here is a link to an article I found, claiming that at least a little daily exercise will lower the chances of an early death caused by excessive sitting.

  8. Margaret Marchok

    Nathan- this was a great post! I’ve never really thought of sitting as being detrimental to my health. I really hate sitting for long periods of time. I get super antsy. Maybe this is my body telling me to get up and move! I actually wrote an article similar to this during the first blog period. I was reflecting on a study that stated the slower you walk, the closer you are to death. When I first heard to this hypothesis, I was very alarmed. I am a slow walker! However, after coming to my senses I realized that was ridiculous. While things like sickness and old age do make people walk slow, so do so many other things. For example, my short legs don’t exactly propel me quickly as I walk. The same can be said for this study. Sure, some people may be extremely sedentary and stay inside playing video games all day. This would put them at a high mortality rate due tot he fact that they don’t really do much. However, some people, such as those in wheelchairs, have no other option but to sit down. However, that often doesn’t stop them from partaking in sports and other activities and being healthy. Also, many perfectly healthy people sit in an office all day but use their free time to eat healthy and get exercise. I believe health is all in your actions and the way you eat. While people love to jump to conclusions, you are very smart to be wary of the hypothesis that states sitting kills people.

  9. Avery Elizabeth Holland

    This was really surprising to learn that a significant amount of time spend sitting could ultimately lead to an earlier death. It’s common for college students to spend a great deal of time in the sitting position learning, studying, or eating but I don’t think anyone realizes the potential harm they are doing to their bodies. After reading this post, I will be sure to take breaks every so often during studying or writing papers to stand up, stretch, and walk around. Your post is really well constructed and uses a lot of evidence as well as relatively new material from class to back up your topic. Your statistics and graphs are legitimate and you take into account all possibilities. Well done!

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