Ergonomic Myths

Debunking Ergonomic Myths: Sitting is the New Smoking

It’s week two of National Ergonomics Month and time for our next ergonomic myth.

MYTH: Sitting is the new smoking.

Here’s where we stand:

The phrase “sitting is the new smoking” may cause a few eye rolls, but people had the same reaction 50 years ago when scientists began to suggest that smoking leads to cancer and heart disease. It may seem provocative to compare smoking to sitting, but it’s not just a made-up headline. This comparison originated with Anup Kanodia, a physician and researcher at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, and scientists from the Mayo Clinic (James Levine, “Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It”) to NASA (Joan Vernikos, “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals”) agree.

Cigarette in handSedentary behavior research shows that prolonged, uninterrupted bouts of sitting impact the human body similarly to smoking because both behaviors initiate changes at the genetic level. They each can contribute to serious short- and long-term health consequences, including certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and even premature death.

The Greeks noted the connection between physical activity and health more than 2,000 years ago, but only in the last 50 years have scientists started focused research on this topic. They now realize the importance of light physical activity, especially in short bursts throughout the day, and the impact it has on our mental, cardio-metabolic and musculoskeletal health.

Just a few decades ago, more people died every day from infectious diseases than any other cause. But now, lifestyle diseases, like sitting too much, pose the biggest risk to human life even though we have more control over this reality than we realize. A lifestyle disease depends on choices that people make, from how they behave to the foods we eat to the activities we engage in to types of employment to the surrounding environment. Some of these factors are still out of our control, making it more important to mitigate known hazards whenever possible.

Ergotron’s 2016 JustStand Index survey of workers in the U.S. showed that people tend to under-estimate their risk because they don’t realize how much they sit throughout the day. Since awareness represents a crucial first step in embracing good lifestyle habits, we created an interactive Sitting Calculator to help you accurately assess risks associated with your sedentary time.

Just as smoking emerged as a real health concern, sitting now represents a valid threat to our overall health and well-being. And the medical and health effects are costly for employees and organizations. Implementing a sit-stand workstation may require an initial investment, but that decision will pay off in long-term benefits. Our Payback Calculator can help leadership and other key stakeholders understand the value of bringing sit-stand to your organization.

Sitting may be the new smoking, but just like smoking, you’re in control of managing this lifestyle disease—like increasing your daily movement by even an hour more a day. Looking for more ways to add activity to your day? Check out the tips on the JustStand.org, and stay tuned to another ergonomic myth next week!

Carrie SchmitzCarrie Schmitz
Senior Manager of Human Factors & Ergonomics Research, AOEAS, CHC

Carrie oversees ergonomics research and outreach, working closely with global researchers to advance knowledge around the health and well-being benefits of sit-stand activity.

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