Why Sitting Is The New Smoking: An Animated Explanation

During the past year, sitting has become the new smoking. “Past studies have found,” declares a 2014 article in The New York Times, “the more hours that people spend sitting, the more likely they are to develop diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, and potentially to die prematurely — even if they exercise regularly.” What’s the science behind this alarming claim? The animated TED-ED video (above) begins to paint the picture. But it doesn’t get into the latest and perhaps most important research. According to science writer Gretchen Reynolds, a recent Swedish study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that when you sit all day, your telomeres (the tiny caps on the ends of DNA strands) get shorter. Which is not a good thing. As telomeres get shorter, the rate at which the body ages and decays speeds up. Conversely, the study found “that the telomeres in [those] who were sitting the least had lengthened. Their cells seemed to be growing physiologically younger.”


Several months ago, KQED radio in San Francisco aired a program dedicated to this question, featuring medical and ergonomics experts. To delve deeper into it, listen below. Or click here.

Meanwhile, if you have advice on how to incorporate movement into your day, please share it with your fellow readers in the comments section below.

And if your mind immediately drifts to buying a standing desk, then check out our related post: Who Wrote at Standing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dickens and Ernest Hemingway Too

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  • Dencon says:

    Good explenation on a very important issue.
    This is why employees should be working with sit and stand desk i their jobs. Then you will be working in a standing possition and burning a lot of energy…
    In denmark this is the biggest supplier of office furniture, and the only tables sold are sit and stand desk: http://www.kontormoebler.dk/borde/haeve-saenke-borde.html

  • Max Banfield says:

    My theory that sitting is harmful to health “The Posture Theory” was written in 1980 at a time when it was extremely controversial because it challenged the widely accepted view that sitting was not a physical activity, so the only cause of disease in sedentary workers must be psychological.
    However, nowadays the idea, and the treatment method of moving and standing have become widely accepted but no-one mentions my name, the previous controversy.
    Many people have stolen the idea and taken the credit and no-one has paid me, yet millions of people are now getting better health because of my research, and methods.
    See here http://users.chariot.net.au/~posture/#AnimatedPostureTheoryDiagram
    and here http://users.chariot.net.au/~posture/StandingComputerPosture.html
    Max Banfield

  • Ross says:

    so, Max, get out there and take this on man! You, mention wanting to get paid for millions of people having better health — you HAVE been paid! A lot more than you can imagine. Now, if you want to ‘capitalize’ on that, go for it, we will back you .

  • Make Your Move _ AU says:

    There definitely needs to be a greater awareness of the effects of sedentary behaviour and the entire cause. We’re so into technology now that we barely spend time off the couch or out of bed enjoying nature and getting physical activity into our day.

  • Thrilled that this is going mainstream. As a Yoga teacher in 2008 I published Drivetime Yoga for commuters & Fly time Yoga for frequent fliers. Still teaching it whenever I can.

  • Bijay Agarwala says:

    It is a good educative posting highlighting the sedentary affliction we are going through thanks to tech inspired habit .

  • Max Banfield says:

    To Ross – reply to your response of October 12th 2015
    Hi thankyou for your support.
    I made the observation that many health problems were caused by leaning toward a desk between 1975 and 1980.
    In 1993 I was diagnosed with cancer and given only two months to live so I began writing a book about posture and selling it to school and public libraries.
    I couldn’t afford to pay a typist or computer publishing so I soon learned to type and use a computer.
    I also began experimenting with writing, typing, and using the computer on higher desk levels.
    In 1997 I had coronary artery disease due to partial blockage of my coronary arteries with cholesterol and I cured it with a modification of the Pritikin diet.
    In 1998 I had cancer surgery and chemotherapy, and during that time I was standing at a desk and placed the computer screen at eye height, and the keyboard at elbow height and found that it relieved my main symptoms.
    I knew that I had invented the world’s first standing computer desk, and that it’s value would eventually be recognised so I published the idea under copyright with all rights reserved in the 10th edition of “The Posture Theory”.
    I then had more cancer surgery, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant and a few years of side effects before recoverying.
    During that time other individuals would have started peer reviewing the standing desk idea, and found it effective and began systematically stealing it.
    Any assistance you can be in getting me royalties for those desks would be appreciated.
    My only effective method of stopping people from stealing my other useful ideas at this time is to not publish them.
    Thankyou again for your supporting comments.
    My cancer diagnosis from 1993 can be seen here (note it is 23 years ago!) http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~posture/CancerShirt.html
    Max Banfield

  • Christian Hansen says:

    This is a very great article and the best explanation to all employees with back hurting. In our company we have a policy as we stand up for 10 ten minutes every hour and the feed-back from our employees is that it helped.

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