Sitting Is Not the New Smoking

The popular slogan comparing inactivity to smoking is misleading.

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Feb 11, 2019

The evidence is definitive. Risks of smoking far outweigh the health dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. It’s important to raise awareness of the hazards of inactivity, but distorted information about risks of behavioral choices can confuse the public. “The simple fact is, smoking is one of the greatest public health disasters of the past century. Sitting is not, and you can’t really compare the two,” said study author Terry Boyle, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, Adelaide.

In 2018, nine researchers from the U.S., Canada and Australia co-authored a study highlighting that people who sit excessively—more than 8 hours a day—have a 10%–20% higher risk of dying from some cancers and common chronic diseases than people who stay more active. In contrast, smokers have more than twice the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular diseases and a more than 1,000% higher risk of getting lung cancer compared with nonsmokers. Any level of smoking increases the risk of dying from any cause by 180%, versus a 25% risk increase from prolonged sitting. Boyle also noted that unlike smoking, sitting is neither an addiction nor a danger to others.

The study authors do support public health efforts to change sitting habits, just as there have been campaigns to decrease smoking rates. On a positive note, since sitting is not addictive, the authors think public health initiatives may be even more successful in increasing activity and reducing sedentary behavior.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health (2018; doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304649).

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Cheryl Schoolman on March 4, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    That was interesting, I had wondered but have never smoked. Thank goodness

  2. Avatar Interested on March 8, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    I find it hard to believe that smoking a few cigarettes a day, plus working out for over an hour a day would be worse than someone at a desk job who eats consistently throughout the day and most likely will have a stroke

    • Avatar Shirley Archer, JD, MA on March 9, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      Yes, that’s why analyzing data is valuable. What we often think intuitively may not be supported by research findings. Our intuitive opinions are likely informed by people we know and what we see in our daily lives, while researchers look at data from hundreds of thousands individuals. It can often be hard to believe what is substantiated by data. But, that’s why we look at it.

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