I have had my doubts about the popular claim that sitting is the “new smoking” for a while now. The idea seemed to gain exponential growth and support in the media over the past few years. It is an effect I will refer to as PSM (Popular-Science Momentum). We’ve seen this sort of thing throughout history, i.e. unjustified yet perpetuating beliefs (ex. fat consumption or eating eggs are bad for you). I am glad that PainScience has brought a new study to light, with results contradicting the idea that sitting is as dangerous as smoking. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to exercise; simply, that we can compensate for sitting by exercising.
I have personally worked with a client with CP (cerebral palsy), who despite being very active and exercise-conscious, MUST sit virtually all day. In light of research, we now know that those with paraplegia have almost no discrepancy in life expectancy, as compared with “able-bodied” folk. And, to offer another example which may assist us in concluding that sitting is perhaps not as dangerous as once thought: cultures including Chan Buddhist monks, sit or remain inactive much of the day (and of course, are famous for their good health). Contextualizing is absolutely necessary.
Here is what PainScience had to say: (full PainScience Sitting not = smoking article)
“This study is a nice FUD-fighter: its results directly contradict the overhyped notion that a lot of sitting is just as dangerous as smoking, an idea that’s been around for a few years now and it reeks of premature, fear-mongering speculation. There was never any good evidence that “sitting is the new smoking,” but this is good evidence that “sitting time was not associated with all-cause mortality risk” in over 5,000 subjects.
This doesn’t remotely get us off the exercise hook. It doesn’t mean that a sedentary lifestyle is safe or healthy, but it does strongly suggest that we aren’t doomed by it (that is, you likely can compensate for a lot of time in a chair by being as active as possible otherwise).
And it’s still possible that sedentariness is unhealthy independently of other exercise, and I’m sure we’re going to see more research about it. Regardless, the scary headlines over the last few years were not defensible, and this new evidence is definitely reassuring.”
Colin Badali, RMT, CSCS