The OneStep Blog
From the therapist's corner

Do you sit most of the day? Is Sitting the new Smoking?

Hila Glick, OneStep PT

Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist from the Mayo Clinic, was credited with saying “sitting is the new smoking.” He has been among the first researching the negative health consequences of excessive sitting (we’ll get to what exactly is excessive shortly).

It is well known that prolonged sitting effects the entire body and mind, whether we find ourselves sitting for many hours at work or at home. You might not expect such a simple and passive form to be so consequential, but it truly can be!

Starting from head to toe, here are the main problems with prolonged sitting and their effects on our body:

Neck – Hunching over your phone or at your desk puts additional extra pressure on your spine, and can cause wear and tear to your spinal cord, disc issues, nerve problems, headaches and possible shoulder problems. The more your neck is flexed, the heavier your head gets and pressure increases.

TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) – The forward ‘head on neck’ position from slouching can lead to problems with jaw mechanics and is a source of teeth grinding, jaw dysfunction and headaches.

Shoulder dysfunction – Slumping over a chair can cause shoulder impingement, rotator cuff dysfunction, shoulder instability and pain.

CTS (Carpal tunnel syndrome) – Sitting with rounded shoulders and poor neck position can cause compromised neurodynamics which can lead to the narrowing of the Carpal tunnel.

Low back pain – Too much sitting is often the root cause of non-specific low back pain and disc pathology.

Poor diaphragm function – Prolong sitting compromises diaphragm function which can lead to decreased VO2 max, change in breathing patterns, increased stress and possible sleeping issues at night.

Hernias – The abdominal wall functions poorly while sitting, increasing the risk for herniations.

Pelvic floor dysfunction – The pelvic floor muscles function poorly while sitting, which can lead to bladder incontinence, poor spinal stability and even sexual dysfunction.

Hip dysfunction – It is not natural for your hip to be at 90 degrees all day. It can lead to impingement, shortening of tissue and muscles or osteoarthritis.

Knee problems – Too much sitting can lead to shortening of muscles and tension to the knee which cause mechanical pain.

Lower extremity problems – Sitting for long can cause problems with the lymphatic flow and lead to congestion and swelling.

Before we get to ‘what can be done’, let’s see how much sitting is actually too much:

The average person sits between 8-11 hours/day (at home, at work, going to work and coming back, in front of the TV/computer, at dinner and more).

Among the highest ranked sitting jobs are software developers and accountants, however the elderly population sits most of the day as well. The pandemic also limits our ability to walk around, forces us to stay at home and so most of us sit even more!

On the other end of the spectrum, the most heavy standing jobs are food service, cleaning and retail.

While exercising and going for walks several times a week or on weekends is important and wonderful, sadly they don’t do enough to protect us from the consequences listed above, as a result of prolonged sitting.

Sitting too much is just not good for us. 

So what can you do? 

  • To start with, make sure you get up every 20-30 minutes even for a short 30 second break. While you are standing you can stretch, walk in place or take a walk around the room. If you are using the OneStep app you can record a short 30 second walk!
  • When you do sit, make sure you are seated comfortably and correctly. Keep a 135 degree angle between your thigh and upper extremity and adjust your working area accordingly.
  • Try sitting for no longer than 4 hours/day.
  • Whenever you can, use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk over to talk to someone instead of sending a message or shouting over.
  • Talk on the phone while walking or standing instead of sitting.
  • And most importantly, stay active!

Whether “sitting is the new smoking” is just a catchy headline or actually true is a question engaging researchers around the world. While there are over 300 studies showing that the effects of excessive sitting are worse than smoking, the results are inconclusive as there are many that still show the opposite.
What both smoking and prolonged sitting do have in common is that they both have a bad effect on our body, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

So whether it is as bad as smoking or just bad for you, get up and stay active.