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Sitting: The Smoking of Our Generation

Elizabeth Sweers Headshot

Do you feel like you’re always sitting? If you answered yes, you may want to read this.

The longer you sit, the sicker you get. It’s true. Sitting is the smoking of our generation — it’s killing us. Even if you are meeting the recommended daily amount of physical activity, prolonged sitting can still affect mortality. Here are the facts.

Prolonged Sitting

Sitting for 6-12 hours per day causes a:

  • 24% increase in overall mortality risk
  • 91% increase in risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • 18% increase in heart disease mortality
  • 13% increase in the incidence of cancer

It’s no secret to anyone that the above-mentioned diseases are on the rise. Have you ever wondered why? I would almost bet that every one of you reading this knows someone who is affected by one of these diseases. But what causes them? Is it inactivity and too much sitting? Is it diet? Is it the stress that our professional and personal lives place on us? To answer that, it’s the combination of all of the above.

Today, however, we’re focusing on inactivity and the perils of sitting. I have to be honest — I always thought I was a fairly active person. But when I really started thinking about how much time I actually spent in a seated position, I was pretty surprised. When someone asks you about how much time you spend sitting throughout the day, I bet most of you translate that to, “how much time do I sit at my desk at work?” Unfortunately, many common forms of sedentary behavior involve sitting. It not only involves sitting at your desk during the work day, but also in your car, in front of the TV, while eating a meal, while playing video games, and while using a computer.

So now I ask, how many hours in a day are you REALLY sitting? In a study published by the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers found that even within physically active individuals, there was a strong association between sitting and the risk of mortality. This is important to know, because it suggests to us that high amounts of sitting cannot be compensated for with occasional leisure time physical activity, even if the amount exceeds the current minimum physical activity recommendations. The results get worse for those overweight. The highest mortality rates were observed in obese individuals who spend most of their day sitting.


I share these facts so that you will start to become aware of how much you sit. Awareness is the first step. Once you have truly evaluated how much you sit, you must motivate yourself to get more active throughout the day. You must form these healthier habits before it’s too late. Being proactive now is much better than reacting to the devastation of being diagnosed with an illness later.

Now you are probably thinking, “Well I can’t just quit my job!” This is true.

What You Can Do

Try some of these tips to help get a little more active throughout your day: 

  • Get up at least once every hour at work. Whether this is to go to the bathroom, take a lap around your building, or to take a few minutes to stretch. Getting some blood pumping will help in so many ways.
  • Alternate between sitting and standing at your work station. If that isn’t possible, refer to #1.
  • While we are on the subject of getting the blood pumping, consider trying the cat-camel stretch (see directions below if you are unfamiliar). Not only will this put some activity into your day, but it will also help to protect your spine. People who sit more are at greater risk for herniated lumbar discs or disc bulges — someone you know may have described this as their “back went out.”
  • Try sitting on something wobbly. At my office, I have my chiropractic assistant sit on a physio ball or a backless stool to engage the core muscles more frequently throughout the day.
  • Walk during commercials at home. If you’re a serious Netflix binge watcher like me, make sure to get up between episodes. You have at least 15 seconds if you’re streaming! Make it count.
  • If purchasing a gym membership just isn’t going to happen for you, please try and take the time to walk once a day. Before work, after work, or during your lunch break, it doesn’t matter — You have more time than you think you do. You don’t even have to get crazy about how long or how fast you go. Even walking at a snail-like pace of 1 mph would burn twice the calories of sitting, and more vigorous exercise would burn even more. Start with 10 minutes and work your way up to 30 minutes. 

Now, about that stretch I mentioned earlier, the Cat-Camel Stretch: Get down on your hands and knees. Relax your head and allow it to droop. Round your back up toward the ceiling until you feel a nice stretch in your upper, middle and lower back. Hold this for as long as it feels comfortable, or about 15-30 seconds (cat phase of stretch). Return to the starting position with a flat back while you are on all fours. Let your back sway by pressing your stomach toward the floor and your buttocks and head toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds (camel phase of stretch).  Repeat 2-4 times.

Sweers Family Chripractic LogoElizabeth Sweers is a family and pediatric chiropractor at Sweers Family Chiropractic in Clive, Iowa. Questions or comments for the doctor can be directed to elizabeth@sweersfamilychiro.com or (515) 987-9574. Sweers Family Chiropractic is located at 2200 NW 159th Street, Suite 900, Clive, IA 50325. Visit the website for more about chiropractic care.

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