My Take

Sitting for too long is the new smoking

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 2:47am

Maybe it's the approaching middle age; my waistline has been expanding at an alarming rate. I used to blame myself. Now I have identified the real culprit: the chair in my office. Come to think of it, I am sitting in it now as I type these words. I am locked in its deadly embrace eight to nine hours a day. Maybe it's time to fight back and start typing standing up. NOW!

My chair's true evilness has finally dawned on me, thanks to Nilofer Merchant, whose blog post in the Harvard Business Review, "Sitting is the smoking of our generation", has gone viral since last week.

"We're averaging 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping," she wrote.

"I've come to see that sitting is the smoking of our generation."

She goes deep into the health hazards. Here's a partial list: After just one hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat goes down by as much as 90 per cent. Extended sitting slows the body's metabolism and affects HDL levels, the good cholesterol. The lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6 per cent of heart disease, 7 per cent of type-2 diabetes and 10 per cent of breast cancer and colon cancer in the US.

According to a study in the journal Circulation, for each additional hour of television a person sits and watches each day, the risk of dying rises by 11 per cent. In short, excessive sitting, defined as nine or more hours per day, can be lethal.

Of course, Merchant is not the first one to sound the alarm. A few years ago, I used to repeat "your chair is your enemy, your chair is your enemy …" in my head like some Buddhist chant after reading about it in a New York Times article by Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist. But that article didn't go viral. Gradually, I was lured back into the deadly confines of my office chair.

Merchant says she has been inviting colleagues with whom she needs to talk shop to take walks with her. This may work one on one. But for business meetings of more than two people, you may have to knock some pedestrians out of the way. Judson has more practical advice. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Walk over to talk to your colleague rather than sending an e-mail. Do housework instead of watching television.

Take their advice. It may save your life.