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Is sitting the new smoking?

Sitting is the New Smoking

It is no secret that the NHS is in a precarious position right now and that obviously has a serious impact on the future health of everyone in the UK. There are certain health issues that funding will be prioritised for but also some significant ones that will not.

Anti-smoking has been at the top of the investment list for years because of the severity of the impact but there is another epidemic that could replace smoking as the biggest killer – sitting, or sedentary behaviour in general. With technology becoming so prominent both socially and in the work environment, it is heavily influencing how much people sit each day.

Early research into sitting

A study showed that sitting for 11 hours or more a day resulted in a 12% increase in premature death. So if you have a sedentary job that involves sitting for the majority of the working day, sit on the Tube, then you get home and sit down for your dinner, watch TV for a while before going to bed – you can easily clock up 11 hours of sitting.

People try to combat inactivity by doing exercise on a daily basis but that is not enough. Research at the University of South Carolina monitored the sedentary behaviour of 377 men over a 21-year period and concluded that reducing sedentary behaviour as well as increasing regular physical activity was required for good cardiovascular health.

How to combat sedentary behaviour

Eliminating the length of time that a person is sitting throughout a day should be the main objective. There are different solutions to this, including habitual changes like walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead the lift or even introducing a standing desk. Creative solutions include having work meetings that are conducted whilst walking, or using apps to track and incentivise through fun challenges.

How employers can help to reduce sedentary behaviour

It is worth noting that employers benefit hugely from more active employees, both through uplift in productivity and lower levels of absence. So quite rightly, employers are taking on more responsibility to reduce sedentary behaviour.

Some of the more innovative solutions include active building design, where the working environment has design elements that encourage more active working. This can range from having an indoor climbing wall to use in breaks to designing the floor layout around moving more often to get to printers, bins, drinks, toilets etc.

There are also some great examples of companies encouraging more activity in the workplace by setting up app based challenges, with personalised health and fitness messages to motivate employees.


With the increasing pressure upon the NHS, the responsibility for the prevention of chronic diseases will sit with other entities such as employers. Whilst we do not have the benefit of knowing exactly how much sedentary behaviour will impact the future health landscape, we do know that it is much better to tackle this before it leads to unprecedented levels of chronic diseases.

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