Take a Stand

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

That quote from Dr. James Levine made the rounds on social media and various news sites when it first appeared in 2015. But it’s actually a shortened version of his full statement, which reads as follows: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Fitness fanatics and health nuts held it up as proof of what they claim to have been saying all along.

Meanwhile, skeptics and naysayers viewed it as ridiculous, comparing the act of sitting still to something as dangerous as smoking. Some even claimed to take personal offense, as if this was an affront to people who were suffering from a crippling addiction to nicotine and all its ill effects.

While I understand why people might be skeptical when confronted with an extreme comparison such as this, joining in on the debate at that level won’t do us any good. If we want to get an idea of the level of truth behind the statement, we should first look at the source.

Dr. James Levine is the director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical practice and research group. Their main facility, a hospital located in Rochester, Minnesota, is widely regarded as one of the United States greatest hospitals, and is ranked No. 1 in the country.

Their research division employs nearly 600 doctoral level physicians and research scientists, with an additional 3,400 other health personnel and students with positions in research. I’ve said previously that we should critically examine all information promoted by the “experts” in these fields, due to how easy it is to mislead the public when it comes to these types of studies.

The fact that Dr. Levine is the director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at one of the highest ranked, most renowned medical institutions in the country should lend some credibility to his statement; though that shouldn’t stop us from examining its validity. However, many of his detractors act as if he meant this statement literally; that sitting being more dangerous than smoking will cause you to contract things like emphysema and lung cancer.

I don’t think it’s necessary to point out how ridiculous those assumptions are; given the mans credentials we can pretty safely assume he’s smarter than that. If you look at his statement and take from it, as I do, that the act of frequent sitting causes a host of negative health effects, similar to the way that smoking does, you’ll find that the research backs up his statement almost unanimously.

I previously discussed with you the effects that constant sedentary behavior has on your stress and anxiety, as well as increased blood sugar levels. But those facts are just the tip of the iceberg. Other studies over the years have linked excessive time spent seated to a whole host of ailments, including heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, back pain, depression, anxiety, and even early death.

We could dive into each of these studies to look at their methodology, results, and everything in between; but we would literally be here all day. So we’ll take a closer look at those studies in future articles. Today we’re just going to look at the most thorough, reputable studies that have been conducted.

The first study was conducted in 2012 by the University of Leicester Department of Cardiovascular Sciences. It was a systematic review of 18 different studies related to sedentary behavior, with a total sample size of nearly 800,000 participants.

A comparison of participants found that those with the greatest average sitting time had a 147% increased chance of a cardiovascular related event, a 90% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality, a 112% increased risk of diabetes, and a 49% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality.

Meanwhile, in 2015 The Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed 47 different studies to attempt to quantify the association between sedentary time and various ailments. The Annals of Internal Medicine is an academic medical journal published by the American College of Physicians, and is one of the most widely cited and influential medical journals in the world.

Their review corroborated the findings of the University of Leicester study when it comes to sedentary time and diabetes risk, cardiovascular disease incidence rate, cardiovascular mortality, and all-cause mortality. However, it also found an increase in cancer incidence and cancer mortality rates among those who spent the most time seated.

Now, I believe that these serious health conditions should be at the forefront of the discussion on the dangers of sitting. After all, we’re talking about the health and well-being of our family, friends, and co-workers. However, we also need to address some of the more common problems associated with extensive sitting; including lower back pain, general fatigue, and even psychological problems like depression and anxiety.

A 2014 study conducted by the Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne found that allowing employees to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes led to a 32% improvement in lower back pain in a mere 5 days.

Another study from 2012 published by the CDC found that providing a sit-to-stand device for employees, and reducing sitting time by 66 minutes per day led to a 54% reduction in upper back and neck pain. However, what’s more interesting is what happened after the study. The sit-to-stand devices were taken away, and all of the observed improvements disappeared within two weeks.

Meanwhile on the side of mental health: The British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a quantitative summary of 13 different studies, including a total of over 100,000 participants. It found that those with the highest amounts of sedentary behavior had a 25% higher risk of depression than those with the lowest amounts of sedentary behavior.

Another review of 9 different studies conducted by the peer reviewed, open access journal BioMed Central found a positive correlation between excessive sedentary behavior and risk of anxiety.

Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have both linked sedentary behavior to obesity, as well as the various ailments that go along with it.

Now, statistics are great and all. But the following maps provided by the CDC give a better visual indicator of how massive this problem is.

This first map shows estimated levels of physical inactivity in different geographic regions of the US, with the darker blue sections being where people are less active.

This second map shows levels of obesity on a state by state basis, with the darker red sections having the highest levels of obesity.

This third map shows heart disease death rates among women aged 35+ in different regions, again with the darker red sections meaning higher rates of incidence.

The correlation between the different factors on this map is staggering; it also provides a good visual representation of the facts, which are now agreed upon by many top universities including Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, as well as the CDC, the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic, and many other top organizations in this field.

Now, many people who hear this information for the first time may brush it off, as outside of their desk job they go to the gym often and remain physically active.

However, the study I referenced earlier by the Annals of Internal Medicine also found that prolonged sedentary time was associated with negative health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality, regardless of physical activity levels outside their sedentary time.

With the rate of advancement in technology, it can be easy to forget that the way we live is a very recent development. People were significantly more active in their work before the US began moving heavily towards office jobs in the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, it was around that same time that the obesity epidemic really began to take off, as this chart shows. 

Now, I’m not suggesting we all go back to working on farms and foraging for berries. It’s obvious that the benefits of the technological revolution have been staggering, and I’d be lying if I said I didn't enjoy them just as much as the next person. But I’m also very practical, and the truth is that for things to move in the opposite direction; for us to move back towards manual labor and away from sedentary work, is a highly unlikely scenario. For better or worse.

This is where our mission started. Human beings are meant to move, and modern life is making it harder to do so. If we want to live up to our potential and be as happy, healthy, and fit as possible, we must decide to make the changes ourselves.

This course is the first part of that change. The essential points you need to understand in order to make the right changes and begin healing. Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe”. Now that you’ve completed this course, consider yourself mentally sharp.

The next step is to start swinging this metaphorical axe. All the knowledge in the world won’t help one bit unless you take action, and by now it should come as no surprise that the most important action you can take is to move more.

This is why we offer the highest quality standing desks out there. Not only that, but we’ve decided to provide an exclusive offer for those with the drive to stick with this course to the end. Order a standing desk through our website and use coupon code MOBILEME at checkout to receive a 25% discount on your order, AND free shipping!

This offer is only valid for three days. So don't wait, take a standing for your future health before it's too late!