Leadership

American Heart Association Likens Sitting to Smoking

By / Oct 18, 2013 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Doctors have warned patients for years about the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. But a new scientific statement from the AHA raises the stakes, saying too much sitting could be just as dangerous as smoking.

Going cold turkey to quit smoking is tough, no doubt about it. But quit sitting—you’re kidding, right?

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in its journal Circulation, doesn’t exactly suggest that people give up sitting—many of us have jobs that all but tether us to a desk—but it does warn that people need to be more physically active during the day.

“Most healthcare providers have not routinely assessed physical activity levels among their patients because they have not had the right tools,” said Scott Strath, lead author of the AHA statement and associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s College of Health Sciences, in a news release. “Yet, physical inactivity is about as bad for you as smoking.”

The AHA statement suggests that doctors keep close tabs on patients’ physical activity—evaluating it medically instead of just with a few passing questions—in concert with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure.

A “decision matrix” designed to help physicians determine how to evaluate their patients based on what they can afford to pay is also featured in the AHA statement. It suggests that routine exercise checkups be used to gauge a patient’s level of physical activity throughout the day, including time spent at work.

Get Up and Move

During a televised interview, CBS This Morning contributor Dr. David Agus said that simply going to the gym and running on the treadmill before work won’t cut it.

“Every half hour, just get up and walk for four or five minutes, get up and move—the more over time you move, the better,” advised Agus, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California.

The AHA recommends “at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week or more, or at least 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week or more.”

Growing Evidence

The AHA’s latest statement is hardly the first evidence that sitting can be hazardous to your health.

A 2012 study by the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital, found “strong evidence” that physical inactivity contributes to a variety of health issues, ranging from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes to certain cancers.

A 2010 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise linked sitting—specifically, riding in a car and watching TV—to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Taking an Active Role

Across the country, professional organizations and businesses alike have attempted to promote healthier, more active workplaces.

A survey by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health earlier this year found that nearly 90 percent of employers now offer some form of rewards program for employees committed to physical wellness, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

One workplace fitness and wellness program at marketing agency Overit Media  encourages its employees work out together for two minutes every hour. “We’ve seen a big difference not just in terms of the way we look but the way we feel,” Overit managing director Jen Graybeal told Fast Company.

Does your organization promote physical wellness in the workplace?

Corey Murray

Corey Murray is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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