Episode 3: Is Sitting The New Smoking

In the latest episode of The Balanced Leader podcast we dive into the question, ‘is sitting the new smoking’? We know physical inactivity is bad, but how bad is it? 

We cover: 

  • Is sitting the new smoking? (Spoiler alert: no, but it’s not good for you!)
  • The shocking health risks of physical inactivity.
  • Simple tips to get more movement in your day, both at home and in the office.
  • Inspiring story of Leanne Barnes, who went from couch potato to marathon runner!

Ready to ditch the desk chair and boost your health? Listen to the episode now and get your life moving again!


0:10 Introduction

1:05 Is sitting the new smoking?

2:13 Health risks of physical inactivity

3:00 So, are we really sitting more?

3:42 Benefits of moving more

4:06 5 ways to incorporate more movement in your day

6:14 6 tips for getting more movement at work

8:35 Inspiring case study for movement

9:55 Conclusion and call to action

Episode Cover - 3



[00:00:00] Welcome back to the balance leader podcast. Have you ever been so engrossed in your work or working really hard to meet a deadline that when you finally realized it, two or three hours had passed when you got up out of your chair, your ankles popped, your knees grinded into place and your lower back felt like an accordion was smooshed together.

That is totally me. There’s a reason my nickname should be Coco Pops. Snap, crackle, and pop. I’ve certainly experienced what it feels like to be sitting for too long. If you don’t believe me, you can check out the butt shaped dent in my couch. Our bodies are kind of like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz, stiff and noisy.

He needs a little bit of oil and a lot of movement to stop his tin joints from seizing up. And so do we. In today’s episode, I want to talk about the importance of movement, and how, according to the data, we [00:01:00] may not be getting enough. I read this article the other day that posed the question, is sitting the new smoking?

It really piqued my interest. I wondered what would be the implications for a workplace if sitting was proven to be as hazardous for our health as smoking is. I mean, would chairs go the same way that ashtrays went in the 80s? Have you seen an ashtray in your workplace lately? Me neither. So is sitting the new smoking?

I don’t think it is. I’m not sure sitting down is the equivalent of hanging out in a smoker’s lounge all day. But there are certainly a lot of risks. In the American Journal of Public Health, I read an article called Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health. Is sitting really the new smoking?

The authors state, It is obvious from examination of smoking research that sitting and smoking are distinct behaviors with different levels of associated risk. They also went on to state that given the current state of the evidence, Equating sitting with smoking is unwarranted. For [00:02:00] me, the whole sitting is the new smoking thing may actually just be a really good metaphor to encourage people to get more movement, and I think that’s okay.

But there’s certainly a lot of evidence that not getting enough movement has massive health implications. According to the Better Health Victoria website, physical inactivity contributes to over 3 million preventable deaths worldwide each year. That’s about 6 percent of all deaths. It is the fourth leading cause of death due to non communicable diseases.

It’s also the cause of 21 25 percent of breast and colon cancers, 27 percent of diabetes cases, and around 30 percent of some heart diseases. In fact, physical inactivity is the second highest cause of cancer in Australia behind tobacco smoking, which is why I think the two get compared together. There are also some studies out there that show there is a link between mental health and sitting, even though it’s not really fully understood why.

It can lead to depression and anxiety. So, are we [00:03:00] really sitting more? What do you think? Think about your own day. What does it look like? How much time do you spend sitting? In a recent survey, nearly half of employed people aged between 18 and 64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting. It’s funny, I was chatting with some colleagues on a Zoom meeting during COVID and mentioned that I’d only taken about 3, 000 steps that day and it was well into the afternoon.

Normally I’m pretty active, so this was a surprise to me. But my Apple Watch doesn’t lie. To my surprise, the two other people on the call had only done about 1, 500 steps for one of them, and the other person had only done about 500 steps that day. I think we need to do better. We need to get more movement.

According to the Center for Disease Control, being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Don’t get me wrong, rest is really important, but it’s all about balance. [00:04:00] See what I did there?

Balance. So what can we do? Here are my top 5 ways to get more movement in your day. Coming in at number 5. Leave the car at home. Walk. Ride a bike. Get a scooter. I think just by leaving the car at home, you’re bound to get more steps in your day. So it’s a great place to start. Number 4. Use the stairs instead of the lift or the escalator.

Or at least walk up the escalator. In a study cited by Men’s Health, only 2 percent of people took the stairs when there was an escalator nearby. I had a great example of this growing up because whenever we went to the airport, and for some reason we always went to the airport when I was a kid, my dad would always take the stairs.

Now, I was just a little kid, right? So I’m looking at my dad going, why would you walk up the stairs if there’s a perfectly good escalator there? But it wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I started to understand. And so now whenever I have the option, I always walk up the stairs. And the great thing [00:05:00] is my kids watch me.

And now they do the same thing as well. And that makes me really proud. Number three. Park further away from wherever you’re going and walk the rest of the way. Now, I do this whenever I go to the shopping center, much to my wife’s disgust. So, instead of trying to park close to the front door, I’ll always park at the back of the car park and walk the rest of the way.

And I know that’s contributing to my daily step count, which is awesome. Number two, change position regularly. If you are also the person who has a butt shaped dent in your couch, then I’m talking to you. Sit on the floor. It’s uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re not used to it, but it causes you to change position because you’re uncomfortable.

So you can try and do cross legged. Kneel. Go 90 90 with your legs. Stretch out a little bit. Whatever it is, but it’s encouraging movement, which is great. And the number one way to get more movement in your day is to plan a walk after your meal. I have a rule that I will walk after lunch. It’s usually [00:06:00] only 10 to 20 minutes depending on the day, but the science says that’s enough to help digest the meal because your muscles are actually using the energy for fuel rather than storing it as fat.

And the bonus with this one, the dog seems to appreciate it as well. What about if you were in the office? This is the Balance Leader podcast after all, so I got you covered. But for me, let’s not just bam the office chair. Standing desks are great, but I’m not sure we should be using them 100 percent of the time either.

And I certainly don’t trust myself to try and work from a walking desk. I mean, those things are just lawsuits waiting to happen. So here are my top six tips for getting more movement at work. Number six, take the stairs instead of the lift. I can tell you from experience that the stairwell is a lonely place.

And in the office, it’s probably less than 2 percent of people that are using the stairwell. Number five, walk over and talk to your colleagues instead of emailing them. I mean, that’s just courteous, right? Number four, take your lunch break away from your desk. [00:07:00] And if you can, bonus points here, go for a walk outside.

Number three, organize walking meetings. I don’t know about you, but I seem to think better and more clearly when I’m moving. So if I’m able to go for a walk and have a meeting at the same time, it’s a bonus. Number two, use a small glass of water, but refill it more regularly. The great part about this tip is that you’ll get more water intake too.

And it’s two birds with one stone. And if you want to get three birds with one stone, stop off and talk to a colleague on the way back to your desk. And the number one tip for getting more movement at work, there are plenty of office chair stretches you can do. Just do a quick Google search and I’m sure you’ll find a heap.

I know this may conjure up some pictures of Jane Fonda in your mind. in her leotard, like doing a full on choreographed exercise routine. But it’s nothing that serious. It’s just a couple of stretches. And it may feel weird at first, and you may feel like people are watching, but they’re probably not. But who knows?

You may also start a movement. [00:08:00] Yep, pun intended. Side note. I do wonder, though, if offices are set up for regular movement. I’d love to see some more stretching mats or foam rollers littered around the office to try and encourage people to stop and get more movement in their day. Of all the wellbeing initiatives that I’ve seen, I think this one would be particularly useful and I sure know that I would use it.

But ultimately, you need to find a way to incorporate movement in your day that works for you. There are so many stories of people who went from self proclaimed couch potatoes to marathon runners or athletes, for some of them even in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Leanne Barnes is an example of this. At 59, she was 297 pounds.

That’s 136 kilos for my Aussie friends. She had struggled with her weight for most of her life. She battled with depression, so when she was feeling down, she would turn to comfort foods. And that turned out to be a vicious cycle for her. When she lost her father to a heart attack, she vowed that she wouldn’t leave her children without their mother.[00:09:00]

So, she ditched the deep fried dinners and she started walking. First, she could only walk from the front doorstep to her mailbox and back, and that was a challenge. But then she went to the next mailbox, and then the next one, and so on down the street. Over about 18 months, she lost 160 pounds, which was over half of her body weight.

One day she actually entered into a 5k race in her hometown, and she fell in love with running. She loved the way it made her feel and the sense of accomplishment from finishing a race. She has now run 37 half marathons and 4 full marathons, with her latest triumph being the New York City Marathon. When she was asked about getting more movement and taking up running, she says, I can say that my life is definitely better, not only for getting mentally and physically healthy, but also meeting incredible people along the journey.

And for Leanne, it all started with a decision. So what about you? Are you getting enough movement in your day? If you could just take [00:10:00] one tip that I’ve mentioned and make it a rule in your life, which one would it be? Now decide, and then go and do it. And just for the record, I’m actually recording this episode standing up.

I hope you really enjoyed this episode. If you haven’t already, make sure you follow or subscribe, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Please note, this podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional health advice. Please consult a doctor or other health professional if you have any concerns regarding your health.