Is sitting the new smoking? Despite the hyperbole, the WanderingYogi does believe it is time to quit the sit.

Stand up while you are reading this. Unless you are like my grandfather, and read this in the toilet. In which case, stay put and read on…

In 2014 Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine, wrote, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” And it stuck.  We love slogos. So does Dr. Levine.

But it’s not true. Some facts for you and the good doctor.

Parachuting (or skydiving, as most of us call it) is among the least treacherous things to do – in the US, 21 people died last year sky diving last year out of 3 million+ jumps.

In 2014-15, 14,900 people in Australia died from smoking-related illness.

In 2016, 1.9 million people around the world died from AIDs-related illnesses.

How many people die from sitting every year? Uh, zero.

“But while sitting might not kill you straight away, it may just kill you slowly.”

Because simply, we were not built to sit for any extended periods of time. Tell that to your online gaming husband, wife or child. We were built to do stuff, like create amazing art, and hunt for food (I do not recommend you head to local supermarket with a bow and arrow, if you wish to combat the effects of sitting on your office chair for extended periods of time, though).

Our sitting increases as we get older. From 45 years old, we increase our sitting from 9 -10 hours a day, to up to 12 hours a day. I still can’t believe we sit even for that long before we are 45.  And where we sit doesn’t depend on how old we are – most popular of places to sit are in front of the TV followed by tables or desks.

Young woman having back pain at work

How many times have you done this while at your desk?

Sitting increases load on the spine and discs resulting in slouching, or loss in the natural curve of the spine. Over time, this can cause changes in muscle length and affect the strength and performance of the postural muscles in the spine and shoulders. In turn, this can result in pain and predisposition to injury. Are you rubbing your lower back about now? Feeling it already?

Sitting impacts the way our digestive and endocrine (immune system) also work, slowing them both down, causing no end (pardon the pun) of problems in these departments. Except for those of you sitting on the loo reading this. Probably nothing wrong with you.

It has been linked to many health issues: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.  The key word here is linked, which means there is some connection which is high, but not direct. But most of these studies weren’t on people at desks but those who watched TV.

One American team decided this wasn’t good enough, too, and took a closer look at the data in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (Regards) project, a study sponsored by the US National Institute of Health. A study over 4 years with about 8,000 black and white adult participants, 45 years and over (it was originally designed to examine why African-Americans had a greater risk of stroke than Caucasians).

Ready for it?

“As total sitting time increases so does early death by any cause. It held pretty constant across age, sex, marital status, race, body mass index and physical activity.”

Sitting is very bad for us, but not as bad as smoking.

PS Standing upright for long periods of time is also not good for us.

Rather than seeing sitting as the trendy  “new smoking”, perhaps we need to view it as part of the wider problem of our growing physical inactivity.

Stop reading this and go for a brisk walk now.  Please note previous caveat if you are on loo. 15 minutes, anywhere. Join one of ANZA Singapore’s physical activity groups – cycling, running, even fishing.  If you are here, or go join them in your own town.

Some tips to help those of us ‘chained to the desk’

Back pain

  • 20-20-20 rule – Every 20 minutes, stand up and focus on a point 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Even this short break will allow your spine to experience some relief and reduced load. It will also allow the small muscles of your eyes to rest, as well as the muscles around your shoulders and neck.  Go for a walk around the office
  • Shoulder rotations, turning your head gently from side to side, and reaching both arms up overhead will also reduce the negative effects of desk sitting.
  • Forward folds – followed by a gentle back bend.


Ed and ANZA yogis backbend 6.jpg

That’s Ed, one of ANZA WanderingYogi regular teachers doing Ustrasana – Camel Pose.

Yoga is better than most other forms of physical exercise for back pain. Yoga is particularly adept at reducing inflammation in the body, which means it can actually stave off disease. And the physical asanas of yoga were designed to help sitting for long periods of time (aka meditation). And it can alter your brain and your personality (something most other exercise can NOT do), so you can rewire yourself for health, success and a longer life.

And if you live in Singapore, you can join us in yoga, outdoors, with some great teachers and even greater community.   You can register here.

*An edited version of this article appeared in January/Feb 2018 edition of ANZA Singapore


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