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Sitting is the New Smoking

Where humans' health is concerned, Public Enemy #1 may not be fast food or sugar after all. And sadly, most people are sitting around (literally) doing nothing about it.

Sitting is the New Smoking

There’s a huge problem in the world. And I’m not talking about climate change. I’m talking about the obesity epidemic. Why, despite an escalating increase in knowledge in science and medicine, are humans becoming more unhealthy than ever?

Research can’t seem to hang the blame on poor nutrition, no matter how much high-fructose corn syrup there is out there. It also can’t seem to hang the blame on too little exercise, no matter how many unused gym memberships there are floating around. Sure, both play a role, but the real reason the world is so fat and unhealthy is too much sitting. And no, too little exercise and too much sitting are not the same thing. I’ll explain later.

Studies shows that when the body is sitting for 30 consecutive minutes or longer, genes that regulate metabolism, fat burning, and blood glucose are turned off. And the activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), a key enzyme in fat burning, is decreased. As well, the uptake of blood glucose is reduced. That means you start burning less fat and storing more. It also leads to numerous metabolic disorders and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.

Training is NOT Enough

Sitting and working out are not related. You can train hard in the gym and still ruin your health by sitting too much. And you can be the healthiest person on the planet without ever stepping foot in a gym or doing a “workout.”

Consider what a workout is supposed to be, and what it’s actually become. A workout is a way to make your body stronger, faster, more flexible, leaner, more muscular, and endure more, so that you can perform and look better on the field, court, or street. Yet, what a workout has erroneously become is a replacement for all the activity that our bodies are designed to do all day long.

The human body has not evolved far enough to be running on anything other than survival mode. And in survival mode you wake up with daylight, hunt or farm for your food, and hide from your predators all day long until nightfall when you can finally rest for a few hours. Then, you get up the next day and go at it again, physically working all day long until bedtime. If you don’t, you die.

Obviously, in today’s world, survival is much easier. You don’t have to hunt or farm or even prep and cook your own food in modern society. Most humans’ days go like so: They wake up and sit in their car (or the bus or the train) to go work. They grab a pre-made breakfast from a fast food joint or convenience store. They get to work and sit for several hours straight. Then they sit in their car (or the bus or the train) on the commute home. They have take-out for dinner, get home, and sit watching television all night until it’s time for bed. Then they wake up the next day and repeat.

If the individual described above was smart enough to at least work out for an hour every day, that only totals 1 hour of activity for the day, with basically 23 hours of inactivity/rest. It doesn’t take a doctorate in exercise science to understand why that 1 hour workout cannot make up for all the activity a human body would typically do in a day. And in fact, there’s research to prove it.

Over/Under: 40 Minutes

One Australian study looked at individuals who worked out intensely for at least 2.5 hours each week. They broke the group up into those who watched more than 40 minutes a day of television and those who watched less than 40 minutes. They reported that those watching more than 40 minutes a day had on average larger waist circumference (more body fat), higher blood pressure (unhealthy cardiovascular system), and higher blood glucose levels (prediabetic) than those watching less than 40 minutes, despite similar workout habits.

But don’t think you’re all set because you don’t watch TV. That’s not it. The amount of time spent watching television is just an indication of how much time that person spends being sedentary, whether it’s in front of the TV or dashboard, a computer, or sitting reading books. It’s all sitting and will wreak the same havoc on your health.

Your workout is NOT a replacement for activity. Your workout is simply a tool to allow you to perform better at all that physical activity that you should be doing throughout the day (no matter what it is), and to look better doing it. It’s not a free pass to sit on your glutes the rest of the day – that’s the last thing you want to be doing.

Yet, what are we supposed to do when we must commute and must work at very sedentary jobs? The very advances that allow us to better understand how to be healthier humans is ruining our very health by making survival too easy. Rarely do we need to do much physical activity in a day because technological advances allow us to be transported many miles in a variety of vehicles, or up flights of stairs through elevators and escalators. There are even “moving sidewalks” for people who really want to be lazy and refuse to walk even flat ground.

The 30/60 Rule

My 30/60 Rule is designed to combat this problem of too much sitting. The rule is based on the research finding that after sitting for longer than 30 minutes, metabolic disturbances start occurring in the body that impair fat burning, glucose regulation, and health.

After every 30 minutes of sitting consecutively, you should get up and perform 60 seconds of any activity. It could be stretching, running in place, jumping jacks, push-ups, walking the office, doing stairs, or anything that involves movement. Just don’t stand there.

I created the 30/60 Rule to help you be more cognizant of how much time you’re being inactive at work, at home, at school, on the commute, or anywhere. In addition to employing my 30/60 Rule, you should be looking for creative ways to keep active throughout the day. Park as far away from the grocery store as possible so that you get a real walk in and out. Don’t use escalators or elevators unless absolutely necessary. Walk or bike to more places when possible.

All these little bouts of activity throughout the day, in addition to your workout, will keep you looking and feeling your best.



Hamilton, M. T., Hamilton, D. G., & Zderic, T. W. (2007). Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes, 56(11), 2655-2667.

Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Salmon, J. O., Shaw, J. E., Zimmet, P. Z., & Owen, N. (2008). Television time and continuous metabolic risk in physically active adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(4), 639-645.


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