Is sitting the new smoking?

by the Southern Cross team
Thursday , 9 February 2023 - 4-5 minute read
A man watching TV
Moving well

We consider the health risks of spending too much time on your gluteus maximus – and offer up some simple ways to help you get out of your chair more.

Here’s a question: where are you reading this article? At your desk, maybe. On the sofa, or perhaps even in bed. Wherever you’re doing it, the chances are you’re sitting down. And why wouldn’t you be?

Let’s face it, we all seem to live a more sedentary lifestyle these days. Whether we spend our time typing away at a computer or bingeing the latest season on our favourite streaming service, it’s part and parcel of how we live our modern lives. But the truth is, unsurprisingly, sitting down too much can also be hugely detrimental to our health.

Built to stand, not sit

Unlike most of the animal kingdom, we humans are designed to stand upright. Our bodies just work more effectively that way. Our bowels are aided by gravity in an upright position, our energy levels remain higher when we move around, and our muscles demand that we do so to prevent them from wasting away.

Conversely, sitting down too much can cause us a plethora of health problems. Lack of activity can lead to weight problems. Our hip joints, back, neck and shoulders can degenerate with poor movement, or a bad sitting posture. And those skeletal issues are just the start of the story.

Although we don’t fully understand the links between sitting and mental health, we do know that people who sit more are much more likely to experience anxiety or depression. A sedentary lifestyle has also been linked to diabetes and certain cancers, then of course there’s our heart health. In fact, one study discovered that men who watch more than 23 hours of TV per week have a 64% higher risk of dying from heart disease than men who only watch 11 hours a week.1

Sitting v smoking

Sobering stuff if you love your armchair. But is sitting actually the new smoking, as so many people would have you believe? Not even close, according to a recent study from the University of South Australia. Results showed that while sitting for more than 8 hours a day can increase our risk of chronic diseases and premature death by around 10-20%, the figure pales in comparison to the 180% risk caused by smoking.2

Nevertheless, it’s clear that too much sitting is not good for us. And as two thirds of New Zealanders still feel they’re not getting enough exercise3, we thought we’d suggest some simple ways to help you get off your butt and make your day more active, wherever you are:

1) Keep more active at home

According to the Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2022, energetic housework remains the most popular form of exercise at home. But why stop there? You could turn every household chore into a mini workout. Wash the car more often and more vigorously, turn weeding the garden into a race with your partner or children, or even vacuum the whole house top to bottom. The only limit is your imagination.

2) Be more active at work

If you work in an office, it can be only too easy to sit in your chair all day, so try some tactical changes for the sake of your health. Stand up to read your emails, walk around while making phone calls, or maybe move your wastepaper bin further away so you have to get up to throw something away. Multiple little steps can make a big difference to your activity levels throughout the working day.

3) Set yourself a timer

If you have a fitness tracker, you’ve probably already noticed that it gives you subtle hints throughout the day to try and get you moving. But you can easily do this yourself either via a phone alarm or an app. Just make sure you get up and move every hour – stand, walk or stretch, it really doesn’t matter which – anything to break that sedentary session is good.

4) Check your posture

If your parents always told you to sit up straight, it seems there was some wisdom in there after all. Having a poor or stooped posture can lead to reduced circulation, fatigue, loss of muscle strength and bone damage. So if you must sit down for prolonged periods of time, be sure to keep your shoulders back, your chin tucked in, and your stomach pulled backwards – don’t let it all hang out!

5) Stand for work

If you have an office job, ask your manager about investing in a standing desk. It’s not just your heart that will thank you either – standing while working has been proven to increase your brain function, and boost both your productivity and creativity.

6) Exercise daily

Last but by no means least, you knew this one was coming. Indoors or outdoors, try to get into the habit of taking some form of exercise every day. It could just be a lunchtime or evening stroll. It might be a fitness class or a game of squash. Or even just walking to the local dairy instead of driving. Whatever it takes to get you moving – because every bit of physical activity counts.

The average New Zealander currently exercises for 30 minutes, three times a week.3 So see if you can improve on that score. Your physical and mental health will certainly thank you for it – and possibly your backside too!




3 Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2022

Other reference:,Medicine%20at%20the%20Mayo%20Clinic.

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