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Sitting Is Not the New Smoking: How Exercise Impacts Health

woman sitting in a chair working on a laptop

As a physical therapist, I frequently encounter discussions about health habits, ranging from beneficial to detrimental. While some habits are straightforward, like the benefits of exercise and the dangers of smoking, the topic of sitting often sparks debate and misinformation.

You may have heard the phrase "sitting is the new smoking," but it lacks substantial support in research. Smoking is unequivocally one of the worst habits for health, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer significantly.

Contrary to smoking, sitting does not carry the same level of health risks. While prolonged sedentary behavior can be harmful, it doesn't compare to the dangers of smoking. Research published in JAMA and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlights this distinction.

The BMJ study, involving over 12,000 participants aged 50 and above, tracked activity levels using accelerometers. It revealed that while excessive sitting correlated with higher mortality risk, this risk diminished with just 22 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise daily.

The emphasis shifts from merely reducing sedentary time to prioritizing moderate and vigorous exercise. This aligns with the World Health Organization's guidelines recommending 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise weekly, alongside muscle-strengthening activities.

Low-intensity activities, such as walking, also offer health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, mental well-being, and endurance. However, they do not replace the benefits of moderate and high-intensity exercise, crucial for muscle growth, bone density, strength, and cardiovascular health.

In conclusion, while sitting isn't as harmful as smoking, it's essential to focus on regular moderate and vigorous exercise for optimal health outcomes.

For a deeper dive, check out my full article on Medium (free link)


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