But being an active nonsmoker is still the best option.
Thanks to social media, popular headlines can make headway across the globe in a matter of hours, like ones claiming that sitting is as bad as smoking.
But experts point out that taking a seat is still not as bad as inhaling smoke filled with harmful chemicals into your lungs.
Although it’s a catchy headline, the actual science shows that while sitting isn’t the best for you, it’s not nearly as bad as smoking.
In a recent study, researchers from around the world found that sitting may not be as bad as the media makes it out to be.
The American Journal of Public Health study states that adults typically spend nine hours per day sitting. This is largely due to many jobs becoming more dependent on computers.
According to the study, those who sit less than four hours per day have fewer adverse health effects compared to those who sit for more than eight hours per day.
Despite this, the adverse effects of sitting aren’t equal to those involved with smoking.
This falsified idea has “been propagated in a number of different circles, including the scientific community and the media,” said Matthew Buman, PhD, Arizona State University College of Health Solutions associate professor and a study author.
Buman believes this headline was likely meant to be helpful and “to try to make people aware that sitting can be harmful for you. But some have taken it and sensationalized it to equate those two, as if sitting is just as bad for you as smoking is. Which doesn’t really add up.”
Sitting too much does increase your risk for poor health outcomes, like cardiovascular disease, all-cause mortality, cancer mortality, and even depression. The strongest risk of sitting too much is diabetes — it doubles the risk.
Comparatively, smoking has long been understood to be hazardous to health. In the 21st century alone, smoking will cause over 1 billion deaths. In 2012, it led to an annual global health cost of $467 billion in cigarette-related illnesses.
According to the new study, estimates suggest that the cost of physical inactivity (not getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week) was $53.8 billion in 2013 — about 12 percent of the health-related costs of smoking.
In comparison to sitting, smoking has more devastating health outcomes. The relative risk of death from all causes in current smokers compared to those who don’t smoke is 2.80 in men and 2.76 in women. That equates to 1,554 excess deaths per 100,000 people per year for men and 1,099 excess deaths per 100,000 people in women.
This is significantly more than the risk of 1.22 for sitting. It attributes to only 190 and 170 excess deaths per 100,000 people per year in men and women, respectively.
The researchers claim “any level of smoking increases risk of dying from any cause by approximately 180 percent versus a 25 percent risk increase for sitting.”
Eliminating smoking and inactivity can benefit your health in a great way. Not sitting more than three hours per day would increase the average life expectancy by 0.23 years worldwide and 0.13 years in the United States.
The study notes that in an analysis by the World Health Organization Mortality Database, quitting smoking would increase life expectancy by 2.4 years for men and 1 year for women globally, and 2.9 years for women in the United States.
“The science is real,” said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He recommends the public “look at the proof of any statement to see if it is backed by scientific studies.”
“It is up to the scientific community to back up all questions with the proper scientific method. This is the only way to confirm or refute any question,” Bhusri said. “It is also up to the reporting agency to disclaimer any statements as to if they have been backed by scientific studies.”
The study authors point out that conflicting or distorted stories “can lead to confusion and doubt with respect to important health recommendations.”
Although the study authors don’t know how much sitting time is considered hazardous, the issue is excessive sitting, not just sitting itself, Buman points out.
“Smoking is different in that while difficult for many, it can be abstained from, and even small amounts can be harmful,” Buman said. “Sitting is a necessity. We just need to find ways to reduce it.”
Smoking is associated with a host of dangerous medical conditions and a reduced life expectancy.
Not sitting more than three hours per day would increase the average life expectancy by only 0.13 years in the United States. But quitting smoking would increase life expectancy by 2.4 years for men and 1 year for women globally, and 2.9 years for women in the United States.
Rajiv Bahl, MD, MBA, MS, is an emergency medicine physician and health writer. You can find him at www.RajivBahlMD.com.