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Is sitting really the new smoking?

By November 19, 2018 No Comments

Maybe you heard it on the news. Maybe you heard it from your doctor or read it online: Cardiovascular disease is on the rise and sitting is to blame.  And yes, sitting can ultimately kill you.

As our society becomes more and more entrenched in digital media, the rate of inactivity has increased dramatically. We have become a sedentary society but this does not agree with our physiology.  In fact, there are numerous studies that clearly demonstrate the perils of a sedentary lifestyle, especially it’s link to cardiovascular disease.

On average, Canadians spend approximately 9.5 hours per day sitting. Many of us work in an office setting where productivity is demonstrated primarily while sitting at our desks. We also spend hours at a time commuting to and from work.  In this information age we are all reading more online and interacting more on social media via screens. And we are doing it all sitting down.

On average, we are using less than 40% of the energy expenditure our hunter & gatherer ancestors required to survive. Probably, we are also eating more and hence, health problems emerge. To list just a few, the less active you are the higher your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood sugar levels,  and the higher your chance of developing obesity, certain cancers, back and joint problems, diabetes and heart disease. Shall I go on?

This is unfortunately most evident in the young generation.  Our kids are spending less time running around and playing outside and more time sitting; sitting in the classroom, sitting in front of a tv or computer screen. This leads to lower energy expenditures and often, higher caloric intake, as our kids become habituated to eat in front of screens. As the imbalance between calorie supply and demand grows, so does the young generation’s waistline. With time, this leads to higher rates of abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome, and what comes with it: diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. It is not uncommon nowadays to see heart attacks and heart disease in ER patients who are in their thirties!

The numbers are scary. A recent study published in The Lancet demonstrated that on a global scale, inactivity accounts for approximately 5.3 million premature deaths annually!

What can we do?

As with most things in medicine, prevention of the disease is key. The best thing to do is to stay active every day, and abstain from sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. Studies clearly demonstrate that regular physical activity can offset these negative effects of sitting and can somewhat reverse the damage that’s been done.

The biggest barrier is finding the motivation to exercise. We all find excuses: the weather, illness, one more show on Netflix… However, we must realize that we need to exercise to prevent and counteract the damage done by our sedentary lifestyles. There are many ways to get motivated to get active; from apps to social networks, to personal reward systems. It’s not a one-size fits all solution but there is a right way to do it for you. The time to act is now!

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