Warning: Sitting is the new smoking

With most of us now spending nine hours a day sitting down, here is looking at how our sedentary modern lifestyle is fast be-coming a ticking health time bombAre you sitting comfortably? You might not be that comfortable by the time you finish reading this, because spending too much time perched on your posterior could be seriously damaging your health.Those prolonged periods of inactivity increase your risk of obe-sity, but they also cause a staggering list of other conditions. This includes heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscular and back issues, deep vein-thrombosis, brittle bones, depres-sion and even dementia.Experts are now describing sitting as ‘the new smoking’, a tick-ing time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode. The World Health Organisation has already identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer on the planet, ahead of obesity.For example, in Great Britain, studies show that the average Brit spends a staggering 8.9 hours every day sitting down. That might be at work, in a car or on the sofa in front of the TV. Add another seven hours sleeping and that means most spend just one third of their time on their feet.A new campaign has now been started, which aims to get the country back on its feet and help turn back the rising tide of ill health that is caused by spending too much time sitting down.Gavin Bradley, director of the campaign, says: “It’s like smoking during the 1970s and passive smoking during the 90s. We all know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us, we just don’t realise how bad it is. Spending less time sitting down really can add years to your life. That is the most important message. “Unfortunately, it also seems to be the hardest one for people to believe.’’Limits of exerciseThe World Health Organisation recommends that an adult should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, — 30 minutes on at least five days. That is enough to gain the main benefits of regular exercise. However, it won’t protect you from the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle if you spend too much time sitting.Dr John Buckley, an expert in exercise science at Chester Uni-versity, says: “A person may have got more than 30 minutes’ exercise by cycling to work and home again, but if they have been sitting still all day they will lose some of those benefits. It is like exercising but then eating an unhealthy diet or exercising and being a smoker. Physical inactivity is equally as important as those other well-known issues like diet and smoking.”What happens to your body when you’re sitting down?Sitting for too long slows down the body’s metabolism and the way the enzyme lipoprotein lipase breaks down our fat reserves. On the other hand, blood glucose levels and blood pressure both increase.Small amounts of regular activity, even just standing and mov-ing around, throughout the day is enough to bring the increased levels back down. And those small amounts of activity add up — scientists have suggested that 30 minutes of light activity in two or three-minute bursts could be just as effective as a half-hour block of exercise.But without that activity, blood sugar levels and blood pressure keep creeping up, steadily damaging the inside of the arteries and raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.Getting people more active so they spend less time sitting down is the single biggest step towards cutting the risk of developing those deadly diseases.“The human race didn’t evolve to spend so much time sitting down,” says an expert.“Up until relatively recently, we spent much of our time moving around.”What’s the evidence?A study of bus drivers and conductors carried out by Transport for London in the 1950s provides stark evidence of the dangers of spending too much time sitting down. It found that drivers, who spend more of their time sitting, were 1.5 times as likely to develop heart disease as conductors, who stood more often.Getting people on their feet can prevent and alleviate back prob-lems, which are commonly caused by spending too much time sitting or sitting with poor posture.As well as the physical benefits, there are less-tangible rewards. Many people notice their mood improves, they can think more clearly and enjoy a general sense of well-being. “If you could put that in a bottle, people would pay a lot of money for it,” says Dr Napton. “If you want to put that into activity levels, it would be the equivalent of running about 10 -marathons a year, just by stand-ing up three or four hours in your day at work.’’Taking a stand at workThe benefits of standing instead of spending so much time sit-ting are finally starting to catch on. Just last month, Victoria Beck-ham was photographed walking while working after swapping her office chair for a treadmill desk.Such luxuries are not for everyone. Adjustable sit-stand desks that allow workers to alter the height and work while sitting down or standing up offer a more practical solution.Interestingly, standing desks are much common in Scandinavia, where staff have the right to work standing up. In this country, they are usually seen as treatment tools for patients who already suffer from back problems, rather than a way to prevent issues in later life.Experts say standing and moving around will make people hap-pier and healthier; it will make them more productive, too. “Win-ston Churchill used to stand at his desk,’’ says an expert. “That’s not a bad example to follow. We are more positive, more alert and more task-driven when we are standing.”Time to make a changeThere is still some way to go before all of us follow the Scanda-navian lead on workers’ rights to sit and stand. Convincing firms, schools and families to act will play a vital role in creating a more active lifestyle.