Are you sitting down…because sitting is the new smoking

As a post-graduate Health Promotion student, I’m well aware of the impact that settings like the workplace can have on our physical, psychological and social health and wellbeing. Many organisational leaders now understand how a healthy workplace can positively impact business by increasing productivity, and reducing absenteeism and presenteeism.

We see numerous examples of this playing out in organisations across Australia – many of which have swapped biscuits for fruit and nuts, constructed bike racks, and offer employees discounted corporate gym memberships. But while the benefits of physical activity and sound nutrition are widely understood, the detrimental impacts of prolonged sedentary behaviour are not quite as ingrained in our minds.

In recent years, a campaign was introduced in the UK to illustrate the consequences of prolonged sitting. The headline: ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ was particularly confronting for anyone in a deskbound job. In Australia, those of us in professional or administrative occupations spend on average, 23 hours of our weekly work hours sitting down. And according to research conducted by Medibank and the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, office-based employees spend 77 percent of their workday on their backside.

A quick Google search will reveal the risks of prolonged sitting: from an increased risk of cancer, to cardiovascular disease and even death. But if you’d like to know what happens to your body just as soon as you sit down, this one minute animation may enlighten you. In short:

  • Electrical activity in your muscles shut down
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Enzymes that break down fat switch off
  • Insulin effectiveness and good cholesterol drop

And it’s all downhill from there. After three hours of sitting, blood flow decreases. After two weeks of sitting more than six hours a day, your muscles begin to breakdown, which hinders the blood pumping to your heart. Recent studies go as far as to suggest that even doing regular exercise will not counteract the effects prolonged sitting has on your health.

The good news is, there are small changes those of us with deskbound jobs can make to feel better in the long run. Simple incidental activity can help – like taking the stairs or walking over to a colleague to speak, rather than shooting off another email. At KPMG, many of our leaders have embraced the walking meeting, which is great because steps like these are likely to encourage long-lasting cultural change when they come from the top.

Some may argue that prolonged standing can also have an adverse impact on health, and that is certainly true. But what we need to work towards is a happy medium – our bodies are not designed to sit still for long periods. We were made to move.


Image: Copyright: melnyk58 / 123RF Stock Photo

One thought on “Are you sitting down…because sitting is the new smoking

  1. Gennevieve Stokes

    - Edit


    Thanks for the reminder Emma of the health effects of mixing it up. Walking meetings, stairs and dropins need to feature in every week’s calendar, and they boost productivity too.

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